I’ve been eating breakfast on the balcony and it tastes so much better when you eat it outside. I might have to make this a habit when I get back home, although the weather and view are both infinitely nicer here.
Breakfast at my parent’s house. Toast, butter, blueberry jam, and coffee. The jam was a gift from one of my mom’s friends. It’s from France and is so good!
Greek salad with hummus and parsnip soup. We split an almond bar, locally made coffee gelato, and passionfruit cheesecake for desert. The soup and salad were both fresh and flavorful and the desert was unreal.
This was from Kahumana Farms, an organic farm and cafe on the West Coast of Oahu. The food was incredible and the farm was unbelievably beautiful. It felt great to support an local organization whose cause I believed in, instead of spending $90 a person to go to the “luau” at our resort.
Split this one with my momma. We picked it up from Down to Earth, an awesome natural foods store. I think they put an entire avocado on the sandwich. The avocados here are incredible – they are so big and round and buttery and I think I could eat one every day for the rest of my life and be happy.
Eaten in the airport right after we missed the check-in time for our flight by 3 minutes. That was fun. Thankfully, there was another flight that was close enough to home to work out.
The sandwich was from Down to Earth again. I’ve been craving a Reuben even since trying the Mighty Mofo from Chaco Canyon in Seattle – I would visit Seattle again just to get another one of those sandwiches. This one didn’t quite live up to the Mighty Mofo but was still good nonetheless.
Coming home to an empty fridge is one of the downsides to vacation. These crackers, however, are incredible. I could eat the whole box.
These Taro burgers were interesting. I’m pretty picky about my veggie burgers so I probably wouldn’t buy them again but it was fun to try something new. The salad had greens, carrots, and Annie’s goddess dressing.
We picked up some produce from a local farmers market. The salad had greens, tomatoes, cucumber, and Annie’s goddess dressing. The purple things are sweet potatoes, and they are so good. They’re not as sweet as normal sweet potatoes and taste a little bit like chestnuts. Definitely went back for more after this – I can’t stop snacking on them.
For our last night, we went to a restaurant called Monkey Pod. I got the kale salad and we also split fries and the best chocolate cream pie.
Plane food. Eaten with a piece of baguette and part of my sister’s poppyseed muffin.
Dinner with my roommate. You can tell our kitchen is a mishmash of free things that we managed to scrounge up when we left home – the rose china and floral placemats are an interesting mix.
So there is one week! It was harder than I thought to photograph all my meals, and there were definitely times I felt obnoxious pulling my phone out. It did help keep the snacking in check though. I definitely still snacked between meals but it never got to the point where it replaced the meals, which was the goal.
I’ve always been a snacker. I like mini meals and tiny bites.
Snacking can be great – I strongly believe that it is important to eat when you’re hungry. Food, snacks included, also play an important social role in our lives so I’m all for splitting a bowl of popcorn while watching a movie, even if I’m not really hungry.
Sometimes, my snacking starts to replace my meals, and that is when I start to have an issue with it. Like my mama, I turn to food when I’m stressed. So when I’m stressed out and don’t have enough time to cook, my meals slowly but surely turn into snacking all day long.
It would be one thing if this happened for a day or two each quarter but like most students, I find myself stressed out and busy a lot. Once I start to get into the snacking habit, it’s hard to snap out so it often continues for a few days after whatever was stressing me out is over.
It’s also much easier for this to become a pattern now than it was when I was living at home. I’m doing all my own cooking and eating many of my meals by myself, so I can eat however I want.
I tend toward healthy snacks, like nuts and dried fruit, but even healthy snacks are only healthy in moderation. When snacks have replaced your meals, it is very easy to mindlessly nibble and overdo it. I’ve also noticed that when I snack too much, I end up having far less veggies and protein than I would like.
A snacky meal every once in a while is nice but when it becomes a habit, I start to miss having real meals. In a real meal, all the components are designed to complement each other and I like the balance that brings.
I also start to miss really being hungry and full. When you snack all day long, you’re constantly in a middle ground between the two, which gets old.
I want to make an effort to avoid falling into the snacking trap this quarter, so I think I’m going to try loosely tracking and photographing my meals.
Some blogs, like Kath Eats Real Food and Yeah…imma eat that, do beautiful posts where they give a quick recap of all the meals they’ve been eating during the week. I would love to do something similar but as I’ve mentioned before, my meals tend to be pretty repetitive during any given week.
This is something that works well for my current lifestyle and although I would love to eat something new and different every meal, it’s not really a change I’m looking to make at this point in my life. That being said, no one wants to look at five pictures of the same salad so I’ll have to play around with it and find a way to document my meals without being too repetitive.
I’m also hoping that this will allow me to share more of the recipes I make that I haven’t altered enough to post as my own. I love trying new recipes to get some diversity into my diet (even though one of my friends calls this “cheating” at cooking) but I tend to follow recipes pretty closely the first time I make them and I don’t feel comfortable posting them here unless I’ve changed them around enough to call them something different.
I think I may have forgotten how though. My roommate thinks I’ve been in school for too long. My sister thinks I just needed a “cool down” period between finals and vacation. Either way, please tell me somebody else has this problem too.
I made a real To-Do list and I’m slowly starting to work my way though it. For some reason, I’ve always loved doing work when I don’t need to. It just feels so good to get a few things done instead of putting it all off and then freaking out when I get back to school.
Food wise, it is definitely vacation mode over here. There have been a lot of veggie chips and ice cream and chocolate covered macadamia nuts and it is wonderful.
I’ve been balancing it out with long walks on the beach but I’d love to get in some more vegetables during the rest of the week (the veggie chips don’t really count).
My goal for this week is to find a little bit of balance between veggies and ice cream, productivity and relaxation, so that I can prepare myself for the upcoming quarter while still enjoying my vacation.
As the weather is starting to warm up, I’m beginning to eat more salads.
This isn’t a diet thing – I eat salads because they taste good and make me happy, not because I’m trying to look a certain way in a bikini. Salads are easy to make, customizable, and a delicious way to get in my veggies.
I always feel so physically good after eating a salad too. There’s just something about being full of produce that makes me happy. I read a post from Cookie and Kate the other day that described this feeling as “kale belly”, which I think is the perfect name for it.
When I lived in the dorms and ate in the dining commons, I had a salad almost every day. The salad bar was excellent to begin with and by the end of the year, I had become a master at combining dishes from different stations with the produce from the salad bar to make the best possible salads.
My dream kitchen has a giant salad bar in the middle of it. Unfortunately, my kitchen now is definitely lacking one. It’s just so much easier to eat salads when all the produce is chopped up and waiting for me.
One thing I do to make eating salads a little more convenient is to prepare larger batches of produce ahead of time. If I’m roasting or steaming veggies, I’ll make a bunch so I have extras for salads later in the week.
Bonus: if it’s already made, I’m more likely to eat it. Snacking on veggies is good for me and saves my produce from sitting in the fridge, unloved and alone, until it starts to go bad.
Of course, this doesn’t work for everything. Some veggies, like mushrooms or carrots, get a little dried out if you cut them ahead of time. The nice thing is that these vegetables literally take two minutes to prepare – all I have to do is wash and chop them.
If I’m making salad for dinner and want another for lunch, I’ll make both at the same time and keep the second one in the fridge for the next day. As long as I’m careful to add the dressing at the last minute and make sure to eat the salad in a timely manner, it doesn’t get soggy and this can shave down precious minutes when I’m getting ready the next morning.
Make it a meal
There is no way that lettuce and carrots alone will fill me up for more than five minutes.
In order to make my salads stick, I always make sure to include some source of protein. My favorites are beans, tempeh, or chopped up veggie burgers but tofu, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs are also good. If you eat chicken, fish, or meat, those are awesome ways to add some protein to a salad too.
I also make sure to add complex carbohydrates or healthy fats to my salads. Roasted sweet potatoes are awesome in salads and as for fats, I love avocado. Nuts can also be a fun addition.
In order to make sure my salad will be filling, I copy my favorite salad bar restaurant. They let you pick a type of greens, seven toppings, and a dressing. I used to just use a couple toppings, which would rarely fill me up. By making sure I add a diverse group of foods in my salads, I stay full longer and get more creative with my salads.
Depending on what’s in season, some of my other favorite salad toppings include: carrots, steamed broccoli, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, fennel, mushrooms, bell peppers, grilled zucchini, corn, roast squash, and asparagus.
Don’t be afraid to make your salad big too. That’s the fun thing about salads – they’re low in calories and high in nutrients so you get to eat good sized portions. As you can see above, my favorite salad bowl is a huge mixing bowl. There’s enough room in it to toss my salad so everything is mixed up nicely.
I always try to keep a jar of homemade dressing in the fridge. It takes literally two minutes to whip up and I’m way more likely to eat a salad if I know I don’t have to make the dressing.
Homemade dressing is beyond easy to make. It’s cheaper and healthier than the stuff you’ll find at the store – take a look sometime and see how many dressings have high fructose corn syrup in them.
It’s also easy to personalize your own dressing. I love all things vinegar so I tend to make my dressings with a 1-1 oil/vinegar ratio while most recipes have more oil than vinegar.
Of course, this isn’t to say that store bought dressings don’t have their time and place. There are some really great options out there and it can be a fun way to add new flavors to your salads but if you haven’t tried making your own dressing, I highly recommend it.
Here are a couple of dressing recipes from around the Internet that I’ve made over and over. I would definitely try the apple cider dressing with kale salad it’s paired with. This is one of my favorite salads. You can make it ahead of time and it just gets better as it sits. The grain bowl that the tahini dressing is used for is also incredible. Both the apple cider dressing and tahini dressing are great to use on any other salad too though.
Wiggs’s salad dressing is awesome. I never would have thought to add soy sauce to my dressing but surprisingly, I love it. It gives the dressing a wonderful salty, umami flavor and I can’t get enough of it.
This apple cider dressing from Budget Bytes literally makes me lick my blender. It’s that good. You can totally make it in a jar too, just make sure to chop the garlic finely first.
I’m in love with this tahini dressing from Oh She Glows – the combination of tahini, nutritional yeast, and lemon juice is phenomenal.
Lastly, here are two more of my staple salad dressings. As always, feel free to tweak them to fit your taste preferences.
Time: 2 minutes
Yield: about 1/2 cup
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
1.5 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Cut a couple of slits partway through the garlic but don’t cut all the way through (like a Hasselback potato).
Toss all the ingredients in a jar and shake it up. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Naomi’s Yogurt Dressing
This is based off a dressing that my roommate’s sister made. I’ve tweaked the herbs a little bit to be more like the Persian yogurt sauces I grew up with. Every time I have it, it reminds me of picnics in San Francisco with my roommate and her sister, so I still think of this as Naomi’s dressing.
Time: 2 minutes
Yield: 3/4 cup
1/2 cup yogurt
1/4 cup vinegar (I like white balsamic or apple cider vinegar)
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried mint
Cut a couple of slits partway through the garlic but don’t cut all the way through (like a Hasselback potato).
Toss all the ingredients in a jar and shake it up. Add salt and pepper to taste.
I turned in three big papers on Monday. One was this blog, another was a group project on vegetarianism, and the third was a doozy of a paper on the maternal microbiota and obesity.
And then I followed that up with four finals. Not the easiest week. There were a couple bright points that stood out though.
One was a simple dinner that my roommate and I had. We picked up some veggie burgers from Trader Joe’s (their tofu burgers are so good!) and ate them with whole wheat bread and sharp cheddar. On the side, we had a big salad and cold beer.
It was easily the happiest I felt all day, and it was a nice reminder to slow down during this crazy week and remember to enjoy the little things.
The second stand out moment was the realization that I am actually very sad to see this quarter go. My classes and teachers have been wonderful, and I finally feel like I really get what I’m learning about.
I’ve also made some very close friends in my major over the last year. When I first started taking upper division nutrition classes last spring, I didn’t know anyone. Now, I’ve met a group of wonderful, kind, intelligent girls who make me happy to go to class every day.
Studying with them this week was both enjoyable and incredibly helpful. My high school was based around learning through relationships, which I think is one of the most meaningful ways to learn. To have found that in such a large university is something that I am deeply grateful for.
Gushy moment over. As much as I loved this quarter, I am definitely ready for a break! I’ll be spending this week laying on the beach with a book and a drink.
Actually, that was a total lie. The beach part is true but I’ll probably make it through one day before I crack and start going through the terrifying backlog of emails sitting in my inbox. Sometimes, complete relaxation just feels like too much after a week of constant studying.
Regardless, I can’t wait to unwind and spend some time with the people I love.
I strongly debated if I was going to do a food blog for my term paper this quarter. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and this made me even more scared that I was going to mess it up (weird logic, I know). Now, I’m so glad I took the chance. I want to take a moment to reflect back on this past quarter and the experience of writing this blog.
Initially, one of the hardest things about writing this was finding my voice. I was scared to put myself out there – what if everything I tried to write just sounded stupid? I knew that I would have to add my own twist to the science I was presenting if I wanted to make my writing engaging but I wasn’t sure how to do this. If anything, four years of writing scientific papers had made me very good at taking my voice completely out of my writing.
My Italian friend gave me some great advice on the topic. He told me to just write like I would explain it to a friend and that’s what I’ve tried to do (with the exception of editing out the occasional curse word that slips out when I’m cooking).
I’ve always been pretty private when using social media and this was another barrier I had to get over in order to do this project. I’ve started to become more confident in my abilities and more comfortable with putting something I’ve written out for everyone to read, which feels really nice.
Another challenge was striking a balance between including the topics covered in class and keeping the blog relevant to the average college student. My goal with this blog was to write something that incorporated food science and nutrition to help other college students eat tasty, nutritious food on a budget and sometimes, it started to feel like I was losing touch with that goal.
I tried to stay true to the initial purpose of the blog but I was also very aware that a large portion of my grade was depending on this. Part of the criteria for this project was comprehensively covering the topics discussed in class. We have discussed so much information in class that it felt impossible to include it all. There were also parts that were extremely scientific in nature and I didn’t think most college students would appreciate reading an extremely detailed post on the wonders of organic chemistry.
I tried to even it out by writing some posts that were more scientific and others that were more practical in nature. I did my best to include all of the major topics we learned about this quarter while still trying to make the blog interesting and relevant to the average student and I really hope I managed to succeed on both counts.
Breaking down some of the scientific concepts was especially difficult. Many of them need a substantial amount of background knowledge that I take for granted but that students who aren’t studying science probably haven’t been exposed to. I wanted to give just enough of this information so readers could understand the more interesting concepts without having to read through five pages of background science. At the same time, I didn’t want to assume that something was common knowledge when it really wasn’t.
One of my professors refers to this as “the curse of knowledge” – she likes to say that once you know something, you can’t unknow it. When you get a concept, it is very hard to understand what it feels like to not get it, which in turn makes it hard to teach to someone else. I had to take a step back and remember what it felt like to have these ideas be completely foreign before I could determine how much information I needed to give to for the concepts to make sense to someone else.
Finally, the last major challenge I had with the blog was that of time. Writing alone is time consuming but preparing recipes and remembering to take pictures of them was the biggest struggle.
At first, I tried to make my life fit around the blog, which I was trying to fit to my class. This became incredibly stressful. It was time consuming and I was starting to lose enthusiasm fast. I realized that by fitting the blog to my life, and incorporating concepts from class, I could create something much more engaging and enjoyable, both for me to write and for others to read.
At first, I didn’t really want to share the blog with anyone. I figured my parents would look at it a few times but I wasn’t really expecting anyone else to read it. One of my wonderful roommates pushed me to publicize it a little bit. She told me I was being an idiot and that the whole point of writing a blog was to have people read it. Of course, she was completely right.
Once my friends started reading and commenting on the blog, it made the whole experience mean so much more. Instead of blindly throwing information onto the Internet, it turned into an interaction. It was also so cool to run into people I hadn’t seen in months and have them mention the blog, or have old friends from high school leave comments. Getting so much support and positive feedback on something that I was initially pretty scared to do felt really nice, and I’m grateful that my roommate pushed me to put the blog out there.
On an academic level, the blog was also a great chance to synthesize the information that I was learning in my classes. Now that I’m in my fourth year, a lot of my classes connect to each other or cover different aspects of the same concepts. This blog was based off one class in particular but I found myself pulling in other information that I had learned to expand on the topics I wanted to talk about.
I’ve always found that the best way for me to see if I really understand a concept is to see if I can teach it, and the blog was a really good opportunity to do that. I would start to type up a post and when I realized there were gaps in my own understanding of a concept, I would have to do some research and make sure I really understood it before I could figure out how to explain in it my own words.
It was especially important for me to be sure that what I was saying was accurate since I was giving information and advice on nutrition. There is so much information on nutrition out there that is flawed (especially on the Internet), and the last thing I wanted to do was perpetuate all of the misinformation that consumers are faced with today. After writing this, I feel much more confident that my opinion on the topics I’ve discussed are as scientifically correct as possible.
So what next?
I think I’m going to keep doing it!
Part of me thinks it’s a silly thing to do when I could be spending this time on school work instead but for all the reasons I listed above, I’ve really enjoyed this project.
There will be some changes – I wanted to talk about quite a few topics that didn’t really fit in with my class, so I’m excited to bring those up. Maybe I’ll try to include a little bit more of my personal life and eating habits too.
I’m definitely going to keep the science in there though. One thing I’ve realized this quarter is how much I love what I’m learning. For the first time in a while, I’m genuinely having fun in school and I can’t even begin to explain how good that feels. I think the things I’m learning are both useful and fascinating, and I definitely want to keep on sharing them.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who read this over the quarter – all of your support, feedback, and kindness meant so much.
As my class is coming to an end, I’m racing to fit in the last little pieces of this project. There is just so much I want to talk about and I’m realizing more and more how passionate I am about food and health.
On our last day of lecture, we went over many of the major themes of the course that I’ve touched on here, such as individual differences, the personalization of diets, and the importance of nutrition.
One slide in particular really stuck with me. My professor brought up the example of exercise, and how over time, intense exercise can actually change athletes’ muscles so that their muscles burn fat directly as fuel instead of using stored carbohydrate, which is what most people do. These metabolic changes allow them to perform better.
My lovely sunset walks through the fields shown above are far from the intense endurance exercise my professor was referring to, but the message here went beyond exercise. We have the power to make extraordinary changes, despite our genetics, if we are willing to work steadily towards our goals.
To me, that’s a really beautiful thought and I’ve been keeping it in mind.
Protein is one of those things that a lot of people tend to worry about. Honestly, I think it’s a slightly misguided worry – most of us tend to do fine in terms of protein as long as we eat a balanced diet (unless you have extraordinarily high needs, like my baseball friend). However, it is important to make sure the protein we get is of adequate quality.
Many sources of protein are unexpected. Yes, there is protein in meat and other animal products but there are also many plant-based products that have protein, such as grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Full disclosure: I am a vegetarian. This is not me trying to push everyone else to be vegetarians too. I don’t think it’s my place to tell other people how they should eat, unless they’ve specifically asked for my opinion, and I have no interest in forcing vegetarianism upon anybody.
However, I do think it is important to point out that plant-based foods can be a cheap, delicious option for protein. As college students, good quality meat can be hard to afford and vegetarian meals can be a great alternative.
One problem with plant proteins is that they are often low in certain amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of proteins) that your body needs. The best way to combat this is to mix and match them so you get a complete protein.
The classic example of this is the college staple of rice and beans. If you check out the handy chart above, you can see that grains like rice are naturally low in the amino acid lysine and high in the S-amino acids cystine and methionine. But wait! Beans are high in lysine and low in the S-amino acids, meaning that you get a complete source of protein when you combine the two into one cheap, nutritious, and tasty meal.
Of course, you don’t want to carry a chart of amino acids with you when you go out to eat. You want to make sure you’re getting all your essential amino acids but it’s also fine if not every single meal you eat is completely balanced as long as they generally even out. Eating a diverse array of whole foods and combining different sources of plant protein is a great way to ensure your body is getting all the high-quality protein it needs.
A big bowl of warm creamy soup is the perfect winter meal. This year, winter seemed to fly by far too quickly for me to get my fill of soup. Even though it’s been hitting 80 lately (whaaaat?!), I’m planning on making this Broccoli Potato Leek Soup at least once before it gets even warmer.
The following recipe is one that my mother has been making for years. The original recipe used 1/2 cup of cream and a stick of butter – not exactly great for you. By using olive oil and extra potatoes, my mom made it vegan, and much healthier, while keeping the creamy texture.
Texture, or mouthfeel, is a property of food that plays a large role in our interpretation of the food. We often don’t pay attention to it until it goes wrong. Have any of you ever had ice cream that feels gritty or sandy in your mouth? That’s from the lactose in the milk crystalizing. It’s a pretty unappealing feeling and ice cream producers try to avoid it in their ice cream.
We sense this grittiness using cells called Pacinian corpuscles on our tongues. Pacinian corpuscles measure pressure, and our tongues are covered in them. We use them to determine the size of particles, to a remarkable degree. Your tongue can tell the difference between particles that are micrometers apart! We use particle size to determine the texture of a gritty or creamy food.
In order to do this, we need to be able to move our tongues. When scientists paralyzed subjects’ tongues, they could no longer differentiate between particles of different sizes.
Our ability to “measure” particles with our tongues differs from person to person, so some people may be more sensitive to sandy ice cream or creamy soup than others. Regardless of how well you can sense texture, give this soup a try before summer hits. It’s full of veggies and tastes phenomenal.
At home, my mom serves it with a warm loaf of bread and butter, which I highly recommend.
Broccoli Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
Try to keep the vegetables about the same size so they cook evenly but don’t worry too much about chopping them perfectly since they’re going to be blended up anyway.
Leeks are usually pretty dirty; this is the easiest method I’ve found to clean them. Trim and discard the bottom 1/2 inch or so and most of the green leafy part. Slice the remaining leek in half lengthwise and cut into slices. Toss the slices into a bowl of water, swish them around a little, and rinse them in a sieve. Repeat until leeks are clean.
Time: 1 hour
2 leeks, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
8 cups vegetable stock
5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
6 cups chopped broccoli
Heat oil in a large pot over low heat. Add the leeks, onion, salt, and pepper. Cook until they soften, about 15 minutes.
Add stock and potatoes. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
Add broccoli and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove pot from heat. Puree the soup in a food processor or blender, working in small batches.
Figuring out what exactly is in your food can be pretty tricky. Food labels are there to help us, but if you’re not used to reading them, they can be more confusing than anything else.
One really important thing to realize before reading a food label is that food companies are not always on your side. Their goal is to make a profit, not necessarily to make sure you get the healthiest food possible.
There has been a push toward healthy food and healthy consumer choices, which means that a lot of companies are trying to market their products to seem as healthy as possible. Some of these products are actually healthy while others, not so much. Looking at a food label with a critical eye can give you a better idea of what is actually in your food.
When I’m doing my grocery shopping, the first thing I check is the ingredients.
Ingredients are listed in order of proportion, so if the first ingredient is flour, that means that they put more flour in the food than any other one ingredient (which doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is mostly flour). Little confusing, I know.
Sometimes, companies will use different names for the same product. Sucrose, corn sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup and brown rice syrup are all different ways to say the same thing – sugar.
On the flip side, sometimes things that sound scary aren’t really that bad. Alpha-tocopherol is just the scientific name for Vitamin E but manages to sound much more frightening. If there is something on the ingredient list that I don’t recognize, I try to look it up so I know what I’m actually eating.
Next, I quickly scan the box that tells you how much of each nutrient is in the food. I use this as a quick reference to get an idea of what is in my food but I don’t spend too much time on it.
The first thing I do here is look at is the serving size and make sure it is representative of how much I will actually eat. This part is super important – the amount of nutrients you get from the food changes depending on how much you consume.
Some companies are sneaky with this one. They’ll label a single serving bag of chips as having two servings, or a bottle of soda as having two and a half. No one eats half a single serving bag of chips. When you eat the whole bag, you’re getting double the nutrients listed on the label which you probably won’t realize if you don’t notice the serving size.
After I look at the serving size, I skim through the rest of the label. I pay attention to different things depending on what I want in my diet. Last summer, I had some blood work done and my doctor told me I was mildly anemic. After that, I made sure to check my nutrition labels for iron, in addition to finding ways to increase the bioavailability of the iron.
One part of the label that can be a little deceiving is the percent given on the right side. This is called the Daily Value and while it can be useful, it is important to realize that these numbers are based on a 2000 calorie/day diet.
There is a large amount of variation in the amount of calories each of us needs to eat depending on our size, age, activity level, and if we are trying to gain or lose weight. For this reason, I use the Daily Value percentages as a very rough indicator to determine if a food is high or low in a certain nutrient. For instance, I would pay attention if I see that something has 80% of the Daily Value for saturated fat.
Front of the box
I’m pretty skeptical of foods that make a big deal out of how healthy they are. We know pretty instinctively when food is healthy; broccoli doesn’t have to say that it is “All natural!” for me to know that it’s good for me.
Again, it’s important to remember that the company wants to make a profit off of you. Sometimes, companies take advantage of consumer fears and miseducation about nutrition in order to sell their products. Cholesterol is only found in animal products, but you can find plenty of foods made from plants that are advertising how they are “100% Cholesterol Free!”. Well yes, of course they are. However, this is far from obvious to most people and the cholesterol free option sounds much more convincing.
It’s incredibly frustrating that companies try to pass their foods off as being healthier than they are and this is something consumers really have to be aware of. If you want to eat your favorite cereal because it tastes awesome, then thats great! But if you’re eating it because the company is portraying it as being healthier than it really is, then I think that’s a problem. I’m not saying that consumers should always pick the healthiest option available, but they should be able make informed decisions about their food.
Personally, I think that one of the most useful ways to use nutrition labels is to compare two products. If I’m debating between two types of yogurt, I’ll pull them both off the shelf and take a look at the back to see which one has a nutrient profile that better fits what I’m looking for.
Nutrition labels are a useful tool but I’m careful not to become too fixated on the numbers – it is very easy to fall into the trap of always looking for a healthier option and personally, that’s not how I want to live my life.
So moral of the story: nutrition labels can be useful tools but they are also flawed. Try to see through some of the tricks that manufacturers use. Use nutrition labels to be more aware of what is in your food, but remember that they have their limitations and don’t let them dictate how you eat.
Note: Right after I posted this, I found an awesome article from The Kitchn on proposed changes to the nutrition label. I’m a fan, especially of the push to make serving sizes more accurate and the inclusion of added sugars to the label.