Election season is a marathon, not a sprint. So why do most politicians have the diet of a couch potato?
"They should be eating like athletes, for physical and mental strength," advises Ruth Frechman, RD, CPT, National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of The Food Is My Friend Diet. That means stocking up on lean proteins for energy, fiber to regulate a metabolism thrown off by their grueling schedules, and low sodium/low cholesterol food to keep blood pressure down.
Unfortunately, the four main players in this presidential election don't always get it right. Here's a look at how Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and their running mates chew up the campaign trail.
GOP Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is a vocal advocate for the P90X training program. So should we dock him points for indulging in saturated fats, as he did at the Hot Dog Shoppe in Warren, Ohio this August?
The major offense may not even be the hot dog with sauerkraut (which can be a good source of calcium, fiber, vitamin C, and potassium), but the chili cheese fries lying on the table right in front of him.
"There are a lot of oil calories and the sodium is off the charts," says Frechman.
With so many stops in warm-weather cities during the long summer, it's understandable to seek out ice cream to cool off. Obama dug into a scoop of mint chocolate chip and waffle cone outside Deb's Ice Cream and Deli in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Fechman says a snack like this in moderation is fine, as long as the president knows when he's full: "Always listen to your hunger cues and stop eating when you feel satisfied."
After Romney visited Carl's Jr from the road last September, he tweeted that the new Jalapeno Chicken Sandwich was "delicious." But the Charbroiled Barbecue Chicken Sandwich from the same restaurant has just as much protein with only half the calories and much lower fat content (4.5g vs. 33g). That would have been a better policy choice.
Vice President Joe Biden is known more for putting his foot in his mouth than anything else. But at Pat's Steaks in Philadelphia, PA, he ordered a "Whiz, widout" (a sandwich with Cheese Whiz and without onions). That probably cost him at least 690 calories, not including the Cheese Whiz (the Kraft variety has 45 calories and 3.5g of fat per tbsp).
Biden reportedly skipped the hot peppers on the side, which is a shame: recent research shows that a compound called capsaicinoids found in spicy foods can help protect your heart against disease. (Did you hear about the one guy who lost 100 pounds eating cheesesteaks? Biden could learn a thing or two from him!)
The wealthy Romney has struggled with his "every man" image, so we get why he wouldn't mind a photo op of him munching on a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair—he's just like us regular folk! The downside? Most corn dogs have extremely high sodium and fat content. One way to improve the meal, says Fechman, is to use low-fat, nitrate-free meat and bake it, instead of dumping it in a frying pan. (Want to live a chemical-free life? Start with these 11 Easy Ways to Go Organic.)
Obama is a guy who likes his beer—in fact, he recently confessed to an Iowa man that his campaign bus was stocked with a special brew made on the White House grounds. This created a (literal) buzz among home brewers of the nation, who demanded full disclosure from the POTUS on the secret recipe—and they got it. The honey ale is made with 2 cans of light malt extract, 12 oz crushed crystal malt, gypsum, and 1 lb of White House honey.
Keep in mind, Obama may not be the first president to insource his own alcohol (George Washington reportedly brewed beer and Thomas Jefferson made his own wine). But it certainly is a smart choice—using honey instead of sugar cuts down on some calories, and relying on a homemade recipe allows Obama to know exactly what's in the stuff.
If you love your brew, check out 32 Things You Can Do with Beer.
Here's Obama at Seattle Top Pot Doughnuts doing his best Homer Simpson impression. As Fechman says, unnecessary calories, sugars, and empty carbs like this are just going to make him feel sluggish on the road to what he hopes is a second term.
"Obama and a lot of these other guys are aging, so they need to watch the sodium and fat content," she warns. "You can't get away with anything long term."
Fight your food cravings by learning how to Stick To Your Diet at Every Meal.
Ryan insists that he really doesn't eat a lot of sweets. But, as a gesture to the pool of political reporters on his campaign plane, the Congressman passed out a plate of white-chocolate macadamia nut cookies (at least the nuts provide some immunity-strengthening thiamin). A day after he shared the treats, a reporter rolled an orange down the aisle with a message thanking him and requesting better access. The piece of fruit came back with a message from the VP candidate's press secretary: "Eat your fruits and veggies if you want more cookies."
Earn your dessert: During the day, hit the gym with these 3 New Cardio Workouts!
Romney's not exactly the picture of portion control here. While stopping by a Springfield, Illinois diner in March, the former governor sampled one of the eatery's massive pancakes, loading up on some empty carbs in the process.
"At least put some yogurt on top of it instead of syrup," advises Fechman, noting that the dish could be improved if the recipe called for whole grains and some fruit. "You'll get protein and calcium instead of just pure sugar."
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Just a few months into his term in office, Obama made a personal stop at a DC-area Five Guys and ordered a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, jalapeno peppers, and mustard. That burger alone has over 840 calories and 55g of fat, but the addition of jalapenos gives him a decent source of Vitamin A, lutein, and antioxidants.
Fechman says the key is to balance out one's diet throughout the day—so if Obama has a meal like this one afternoon, he should make sure to cut back on calories and high fat content later on. (Is a calorie really just a calorie? Read The Truth about Calories to find out.)
A pork chop on a stick—doesn't get much more American than that, right? Romney's getting a nice portion of protein here, but there's a lot of fat around that slab of meat. He'd be better off eating a lean pork loin, says Fechman, with maybe a side of broccoli and asparagus (one of his running mate Ryan's favorite side dishes).
"I think the candidates should follow the USDA 'My Plate' guidelines," Fechman suggests. "A little bit of protein, a little bit of carbohydrates, and half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables and some calcium off to the side."
Michelle Obama has long been an advocate of organic and healthy food choices for children—and that passion has influenced her husband. In August, the White House hosted the first ever Kids State Dinner, with a menu consisting of dishes created by America's top junior chefs. On the menu: cabbage Sloppy Joes, baked zucchini fries, fruit skewers, and kale, great sources of vitamins and nutrients. For Barack Obama—who dropped by to sample the fare—that meant a nice respite from the usual fatty food he finds on the road.
Did you know kale helps protect against vision loss? It's simple to pick out the right leaf if you know how to Master the Produce Aisle.
Ah, that's more like it, Mitt! After indulging on corn dogs, pancakes, and other dubious food choices, the GOP presidential hopeful stopped by Subway, named by Men's Health in 2011 as The Best Restaurant In America due to the chain's initiative to cut sodium by 15 percent in its regular sandwiches and 28 percent in its Fresh Fit sandwiches.
It appears as if Romney opted for one of Subways' breakfast options during a morning meal run. The regular bacon, egg and cheese has about 200 calories and 7g of fat—but he could also get that with egg whites if he really wanted to commit to calorie conservatism.
Nectarines are a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C, which is essential for politicians like Obama who often operate on little sleep (at the height of cold season, that could compromise his immune system by as much as 50 percent).
"Most Americans don't eat enough fruit and vegetables, but these guys might want to start setting a good example for the country," says Fechman. Mission accomplished?
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