As you journey to wellness, how do you determine worthwhile eats? What do you use as a measure? Do you scrutinize the nutrition labels of everything you eat or do you treat nutrition labels the same way you treat the “service engine soon” light in your car? (Mine has been on for some months now, but hey, it still drives.) Neither method of tracking your nutritional needs is sustainable, however, scrutinizing nutrition labels can be a start to get you into the habit of being intentional with what you eat.
Knowing your body
Your estimated energy requirement (EER) is based on your gender, age, body mass index, and physical activity level. (To get a rough estimate of your calorie needs, click here. To track you calories, click here. You can also track your calories with the MyFitnessPal app!) Estimates for women range from 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and estimates for men range from 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.
In addition to ensuring you get enough calories each day, you should also strive to ensure you obtain essential nutrients from the foods you eat throughout your day. (Essential nutrients are those that your body can not produce on its own.) These essential nutrients include specific fats, carbs, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Selecting nutrient dense foods
When you select foods, consider your daily calorie requirement as currency. Supposing you have about five meals/snacks each day, I would advise eating foods that provide you with about a fifth of your daily calorie requirement while also providing you with fiber, essential fats, and a variety of vitamins and minerals. As mentioned previously, you can optimize the nutrients you receive from the foods you eat by selecting a variety of whole foods. (Thankfully, whole foods are often nutrient dense!)
When it comes to choosing packaged foods, things get a bit trickier. I personally read the nutrition label and the ingredients list to make a decision. All of the information presented to you on the nutrition label is valuable, but I find myself paying closer attention to the sodium (salt), dietary fiber, and sugars. You will be surprised to find how many packaged foods are high in either sodium or sugar and low in fiber. (Fiber does many great things for you, don't sleep on it!)
When it comes to ingredients lists of packaged food, I look for foods with few ingredients and little to no added sugars. On the other hand, there are also specific ingredients that I try to minimize or avoid completely. These things include sugar (ends in -ose), enriched wheat, monosodium glutamate (MSG), artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavorings. These things have a way of stealthily sneaking into many of the foods we eat.
In summary, read nutrition labels and be vigilant. Some foods (and drinks) are not worth eating (or drinking). I challenge you to stay within your calorie requirements and other daily values for a week. Track the things you are eating to see how you measure up and to find room for improvement. Your body is a temple.