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Monday, September 9, 2013

Just Eat a Healthy Diet - Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed things that can sabotage us from making dietary changes.  In this post, I wanted to show some tools that can be used to determine what a person's needs are.  The body is remarkable in that it can survive on a wide variety of diets - I have seen people live for years on only fast food and latte's.  However, what we are concerned about here is what is the best diet for a person.  This question is difficult to answer as each person is an individual and there is not one diet that is right for everyone.  In future posts, we will talk some more about this personalizing of diets, but today I wanted to focus on some useful web based tools to see what we need in our diet.

The first website is put out by the US Department of Agriculture and is called an Interactive Dietary Reference Index (DRI) guide.  The website can be found by clicking .  It is designed for health professionals, but there is nothing that would be too hard for a non-professional to do.  You enter your height, weight, gender, and activity level and then click what you would like to calculate.  I recommend clicking everything and then submit.  It will give a guideline of how many proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water a person needs daily for optimal health.  It also gives a safe upper limit on intake to prevent any problems.  It is not a perfect system but it can be a useful guide on things.

For example, I put my data in and saw some interesting findings:

MacronutrientRecommended Intake per day
Carbohydrate314 - 454 grams 1
  Total Fiber38 grams
Protein65 grams
Fat62 - 109 grams 2
   Saturated fatty acidsAs low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
   Trans fatty acidsAs low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
   α-Linolenic Acid1.6 grams 3
   Linoleic Acid17 grams 3
   Dietary CholesterolAs low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.
Total Water*3.7 Liters (about 16 cups)

I find it interesting that is recommended 38 g of fiber per day.  The standard recommendation (RDA) is 25 g per day, but research has shown that getting 35 g of more per day is beneficial for weight management and disease prevention.  The Standard American Diet (S.A.D. - an appropriate acronym) provides an average of about 15 g of fiber per day.  This is one of the reasons that we have an epidemic of digestive diseases in our culture.  Also interesting is that it recommends 16 cups of total water per day.  The asterisk is that this includes water in our food - mostly in fruits and vegetables which is hard to calculate.  However, eating a plant based, non-processed diet is going to provide much more water than an animal protein/processed grain diet that most Americans eat.

Moving on to Vitamins and Minerals:
VitaminRecommended Intake per dayTolerable UL Intake per day
900 mcg3,000 mcg4
90 mg2,000 mg
15 mcg100 mcg
15 mg1,000 mg5
120 mcgND
1.2 mgND
1.3 mgND
16 mg35 mg6
1.3 mg100 mg
400 mcg1,000 mcg7
2.4 mcgND
5 mgND
30 mcgND
Choline550 mg3,500 mg
Click individual vitamin for fact sheet.
Click on numbered footnote for more information.
Each reference value refers to average daily nutrient intake; day-to-day nutrient intakes may vary.
MineralRecommended Intake per dayTolerable UL Intake per day
1,000 mg2,500 mg
2.3 g3.6 g
35 mcgND
900 mcg10,000 mcg
4 mg10 mg
150 mcg1,100 mcg
8 mg45 mg
420 mg350 mg 9
Manganese2.3 mg11 mg
Molybdenum45 mcg2,000 mcg
700 mg4,000 mg
4.7 gND
55 mcg400 mcg
1.5 g2.3 g
11 mg40 mg
ArsenicNAND 10
BoronNA20 mg
NickelNA1 mg
SiliconNAND 11
VanadiumNA1.8 mg 12

It is interesting to see these numbers and then do some calculations about how you are doing.  2 things that stand out to me is Magnesium and Selenium.  The Standard American Diet is notoriously low in both of these key nutrients.  A person would need to work to ensure they are eating food containing these foods or to supplement with an outside source.

So how do you know how much of these you are getting in your diet.  There are other online tools that can tell you how much you are getting.  I like  which allows you to enter a food and see what it contains.  It also lets you search for what food are highest and lowest in certain nutrients.  

For example, I searched the for what foods are the highest in fiber, selenium, and magnesium together and the results showed Brazil nuts, rice bran, wheat bran, seaweeds, and mushrooms.  So I could use this tool to determine what foods I could eat to increase certain nutrients.

If you become a member (this is free) you can also enter in everything you eat in a day and it will track how you did as far as nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.  This can give you an idea if you are getting enough from your diet alone, or if you need to make some changes or supplement with outside nutrients.

There are many more online tools and smartphone Apps nowadays that will do these difficult calculations for you to determine what you need and if your diet is providing it.  I would encourage you to take the time to do a little investigation on how healthy your diet is and what could be changed.  You could also bring a diet recall guide in to an appointment with a nutritionist or your naturopathic physician and discuss it with them.  I prefer to see at least 3-4 days including both work and non-work days to really get a feel for someone's diet and what we can do about it.

In future posts, we will discuss other tips for improving diet.

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