Several years ago my friend Sean (who is a personal trainer and just ridiculously healthy) was at my house when I was preparing some collard greens. In this mess of greens (mess being the actual collective noun for greens), I used one piece of bacon for seasoning – just one for this big, ole vat of greens. I explained the addition of this unheathful food to an otherwise healthful meal by using this analogy: Let’s say the greens have a health value of +10 and the bacon has a health value of -2. I’m still +8 if I eat the collards this way. If I don’t add the bacon, I don’t eat the collards at all and I’m at 0. Sean agreed that my logic was still basically okay. In nutritional metrics, let’s say that each serving of collards is one cup and that the mess had six servings. Before I added the bacon, that cup had 49 calories, .7 g of fat, .1 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 30.4 mg sodium, 9.3 g carbohydrates, 5.3 g fiber, .8 g sugar, and 4 g of protein. After I added the bacon, that same cup had 56.5 calories, 1.2 g of fat, .3 saturated fat, 1.5 cholesterol, 61.2 mg sodium, 9.4 g carbohydrates, 5.3 g fiber, .8 g sugar, and 4.5 g of protein. Clearly, the greens alone have less of the bad stuff; but, the bacon option is still acceptable.
Enter Bacon Brussels Sprouts Gratin.
This week, I saw this recipe with six servings which calls for 1.5 pounds Brussels sprouts, 1 sprig of rosemary, 1 tsp each of garlic and onion powders, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. All that is well and good; however, the recipe also calls for 1/2 pound of bacon, 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup fontina cheese, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tbsp olive oil and an egg. I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
If you steamed or roasted the sprouts only with those seasonings, figuring 1 teaspoon of table salt added in the whole recipe, the nutritional value of each of the six servings would be: 45.7 calories, .6 g of fat, .1 saturated fat, 0 cholesterol, 411.9 mg sodium, 9.2 g carbohydrates, 3.2 g fiber, 2 g sugar, and 3 g of protein. The sodium is a little high; but, overall, it’s not bad, right? Now let’s add in all the dairy and oil. That makes each serving have 461.5 calories, 35.6 g of fat, 14.9 saturated fat, 87.1 cholesterol, 1525.1 mg sodium, 10.9 g carbohydrates, 3.2 g fiber, 2.7 g sugar, and 26.5 g of protein.
Wow. And this is a side dish – not even the entree.
But there’s so much more nutrition in the casserole, right? Weeeeelllllll, not so much. Let’s look at what you’re getting in each of those servings. In the sprouts and seasonings alone, it’s 18% RDA of sodium, 1% RDA of saturated fat, and 5% RDA of protein (for a sedentary man). For each calorie, you get .1 g of protein and 1.04 mg of calcium. In the casserole, it’s 66% RDA of sodium, 62% RDA of saturated fat, and 47% RDA of protein. For each calorie, you get .3 g of protein and .7 mg of calcium.
Granted, you get significantly more protein per calorie in the casserole than you do with the veggies alone; however, it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to eat just a cup of Brussels sprouts during the day. I’m betting that you’ll pick up that other protein you need along the way since Americans typically eat way more protein than we need daily anyway.
While the Brussels Sprouts may have a health value of +10, because of their excess sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, the other ingredients have a health value of -15. That gives the casserole a value of -5. It’s better to skip the veggies hidden in the cheese and stay at 0. I’m sure that this casserole tastes great – if I cooked dirt clods from my yard in that much cheese and cream, they’d be palatable – and if you want to eat it, eat it! Just don’t kid yourself that you’re doing a good thing by eating your vegetables.
*All nutritional information gathered from LoseIt! and from the FDA.