You know the old adage, “Never talk about two things: religion and politics”? Well for me, I would add nutrition right up there. Everybody has an opinion on it. But unlike those other two topics, nutrition is grounded in science (albeit mostly flawed science). But this stuff should be simple! Your body needs energy; give it energy! I get fired up about nutrition because it can be so twisted into something that makes it debilitatingly stressful for some. Food should be fun, communal and, most of all, delicious! I want to make this article as simple as possible and give the tools people need to make better informed decisions about the food they eat.
One of the core aspects of nutrition is to evaluate your food, in terms of the nutrients and energy you derive from it. Choosing the most nutrient dense food will afford you the best possible outcomes. But before you can evaluate your food, you will need to know your own daily needs of nutrients and energy. The first values to discuss are the Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes.
Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes
The RDA and AI are the daily goals of vitamins and minerals for any individual set by a committee of scientists and the latest scientific research. The only difference between a RDA and an AI is that some nutrients do not have as much scientific data to qualify that recommendation as a “RDA”, so an AI is the best educated guess the committee can set. Depending on your age and gender, these values are going to be different for you, so check them out here to determine your own daily needs. Now that we know how much vitamins and minerals we need, let us talk about an often discussed, but rarely understood topic…calories.
To some, this is a dirty word, but in reality, it is one of the most important values you have in assessing your food. To put as simply as possible, calories are the energy you receive from your food (through carbohydrates, fats, and protein) to function on a molecular level. Proper nutrition is a zero-summed game folks! Food in equals energy out. It is that simple! Calories themselves do not give people body fat but rather it is the imbalance of energy that is being taken in versus what is being used up (i.e. exercise) that helps create body fat.
Determining the amount of calories you need for a day is a little trickier than the amount of vitamins and minerals you need. Daily caloric requirements not only considers age and gender, but also the lifestyle you have. If you are an ultramarathoner, the amount of calories you will need will be far greater than if you are just a couch potato. Here is a good place to start when estimating how many calories you need everyday. Most of the time it will be hard to assess the exact amount of nutrients or calories you are taking in, but a good way to estimate is to look at the nutrition labels on the food you buy.
Beginning to look at nutrition labels on your food is one of the best ways to evaluate how you are meeting your daily nutritional goals. Whereas some of the claims on the front of the box (i.e. Great Source of Calcium! or Uses Whole Grains!) may not be totally accurate, companies are required by law to state exactly what is in their food on the nutrition label. Here are a few pointers when looking at the these labels:
One of first things you should look at on the nutrition label is the serving size. Everything below it (total carbohydrates, calories, protein, etc.) is based on the serving size. This will help weed out certain foods that may look healthy at first but then only to discover that the serving size is minuscule.
Moving down on the label are the daily values. These are self-explanatory as they are just the amount of nutrients the food gives you for your daily need. However, these values are based on someone with a 2,000-calorie diet so they are not universal figures.
The last thing that is important on a nutrition label is the ingredient list. One thing to note is that the list itself is by order of weight, so the most prevalent ingredient will be the first item on the list.
Again, food should be simple and fun! I remember times where I tried to limit my meal plan/ monthly food budget and they were some of the more depressing times I have had in the grocery store. Do not let food take control of your life; it is your energy, do what you want with it! However, you should know the truth about nutrition before making decisions and hopefully this article helped with that. Here are two additional articles that give a lot of great information that I frequently check back on.