This is a guest post by Andrej Kovačević.
Are you getting enough nutrition? That’s a tough question to answer accurately, especially if you don’t have the help of a qualified dietitian.
Nutrition is a multi-faceted thing. Two of the major aspects:
- How many nutrients you consume
- How much of that nutrition your body actually assimilates – because most people’s bodies don’t assimilate all the nutrients they consume.
Aside from having professional help with nutritional screening and assessment, there is no easy way to know how much nutrition your body has assimilated. However, you can at least make an effort to figure out how much nutrition you’re getting from the food you eat. If you aren’t consuming enough nutrients to start with, it’s a no-brainer to conclude that you aren’t assimilating enough, either. So a good starting point is figuring out how much nutrition you typically consume in a typical week or month; then you can average it out to see if you’re usually hitting or missing your recommended daily nutritional allowances. That’s what we’re aiming to help you with by pointing out the following 5 resources:
1. Notebook, Calculator and Spreadsheet Software
Tracking what you eat is the first step in assessing the nutrition you’re consuming. One simple approach is to write down everything you eat in a notebook. Then transfer your notes to a spreadsheet program. From there, you can take each item you’ve eaten and use the spreadsheet for listing the nutrient contents of each ingredient in each dish. Add them all up and then compare your totals against the recommended daily allowances of each nutrient.
2. Food Labels
Use the information found on food labels to populate the appropriate cells in your spreadsheet as you track what you eat. This can help you to estimate the amount of nutrition you typically consume.
It is possible that the labels on the foods you eat could be one of the most helpful resources for determining nutrient contents – but it is also likely that the labels might give you incomplete information. If the label of a food you’re eating has the information you need, that’s probably the best source for determining the food’s nutrient contents. Otherwise, you may need to turn to other sources to find what you need to know.
This database includes extensive information about the nutrient contents of 5,740 different foods that are commonly consumed in Australia and New Zealand. When food labels don’t provide complete information, you can use information from this database to populate the cells in your spreadsheet instead.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also makes extensive nutrition databases available. Their databases contain estimates of the nutritional content of many of the foods available in the United States including foods ranging from raw and uncooked to totally processed. If you can’t find a food you like to eat in Australia’s database, you might be able to find it in the USDA’s.
The USDA’s databases are easily searchable either by food or by specific nutrient. So if you’re interested in finding, for example, a list of foods that are highest in calcium, start by clicking on “nutrient search”. Then select calcium from the dropdown menu, and choose to order the list by nutrient content rather than food name.
Of course, nutritional contents of foods can vary dramatically depending on the soil, climate and other growing conditions – so an apple you consume in Australia may not have exactly the nutrient contents as the “standard” apple listed in the USDA’s database. However, the database is still a good frame of reference for understanding which foods generally contain which nutrients.
Once you’ve invested a bit of time using the other tools mentioned above to figure out whether you’re getting enough nutrition, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that it is a challenging and time-consuming process. If you need help, turning to a qualified dietitian could be a smart approach – especially if you have a disease or condition that requires you to monitor your levels of specific nutrients. A dietitian can advise you about nutrition screening and / or assessment.
In Australia, Medicare may cover part or all of the costs associated with a visit to a dietitian assuming your GP is the one who refers your visit. Some private providers of health insurance also cover dietitians’ services. This is typically included in extras cover insurance plans. If you don’t already have extras cover, you can compare insurance providers to find one that includes cover for dietitian visits as part of the plan.
Using a combination of these 5 resources can be the first step is assessing whether you have any major nutritional deficiencies to correct. If you discover any problems, it’s a good idea to speak with your GP or dietitian to formulate a plan for making the needed dietary corrections.