Do You Know What You Are Eating?
by Geo Sique
As a teenager, I was one of those people who could eat whatever they wanted and still be skinny. I remember coming home from school and eating ice cream, chips, and popcorn — sometimes all in one day. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I didn’t think it was hurting me since I remained skinny. As I started reading articles about eating healthy, I tried to avoid eating foods that were bad for my health. First, I stopped eating fast food. Then, I stopped drinking soda. Though I knew that I ate some unhealthy meals, it wasn’t until I graduated college that I learned just how awful my diet still was.
At that point, I got a job as a writer and two things happened. The first was that I started gaining weight, mostly from sitting down all day. My clothes started fitting me tighter and I started noticing a few stretch marks. The second was that as I wrote health articles, I learned more about what healthy eating really meant and discovered hidden dangers in my general diet, and I learned how bad sitting all day was. After that, I tried sticking to better health guidelines for my diet and exercise.
Recommended Daily Servings
The first thing I learned was the truth about recommended daily servings. Though I knew that I should limit my sugar and sodium intake, I never paid attention to what the limit should be or how much I was eating. All health intake guidelines will vary depending on each individual, but the recommended daily servings are still important to know to have a baseline knowledge of what you should be eating. Here is what I learned.
Regarding pre-packaged foods, the FDA recommends looking at the Percent Daily Value. Servings, with 5 percent daily value being low and 20 percent being high. Looking at this percentage is a good way to get an idea of how much of something your food has in it.
Another way to get a grasp on what you should be eating every day is to envision the portions you should be having every day. The daily recommendations are usually given in grams, which can be hard to grasp. Converting those from grams to teaspoons or daily spoons is a great way to process what your body needs everyday as well as help you know how much is too much.
In researching the recommended daily servings, I was shocked to learn that the recommended daily value is not in fact the daily value that doctors recommend, but it is an upper limit. So, it is important to note that the daily value on the nutrition level does not necessarily reflect what you should be eating, but what you should not be surpassing. To say the least, it’s challenging to monitor and maintain your macronutrients.
For a starting baseline, here are the basic recommended daily servings for the average adult in the U.S.:
Carbohydrates: 225-325 grams of carbohydrates
Calories: the average adult man should consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, and the average adult woman should consume 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day
Sodium: less than 2400 milligrams
Fat: 44-77 grams of fat per day
Other factors beyond age and sex should also be considered, including weight and activity level. For example, sedentary people need fewer calories while active people need more.
The biggest shock for me was learning about sugar. The daily value for sugar, as implemented by the American Heart Association, is about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons of sugar. If that sounds like an unreasonably small amount to you, it’s because the average American consumes 82 grams or 19.5 teaspoons per day. That is more than triple this guideline, which is already an upper limit.
If that hasn’t sent you running to search your kitchen cabinets and fridge to check the levels of sugar in the foods you consume daily, you might want to consider doing it now. Many drinks, sweet snacks, and miscellaneous sauces are packed with more than the daily value recommended by the FDA.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that there is a lot of sugar in most food products found at the grocery store, but learning the sheer amount is shocking. One Vitamin Water contains over 100 percent of the daily value, one yogurt can have half the daily value. Add a couple servings of sugary cereal (the serving size, one cup, is not enough) and you are looking at twice the upper limit for your sugar intake, all before lunch.
After I started paying attention to all of these things, I recognized many signs that I needed to change my diet. Trying to lower my intake of sugar was the most important to me, and I realized that unless you cook your own food most of the time, it can feel impossible. I realized that my breakfast alone sometimes had more than enough sugar for the day. At first, this made me panic and I had anxiety about eating sugary foods. After awhile, this subsided and I just tried to limit sugar whenever possible, but still treat myself occasionally. I didn’t want to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and become obsessed with counting everything.
A few things I did to reduce my intake of sugar was trading all your sugary drinks — including juice — for water. It’s difficult to find any drinks that don’t have any sugar in them without making them yourself, and since you’ll definitely be getting enough sugar from your meals and snacks, it’s best not to add on to it with what you drink.
I also limited my intake of condiments, as sauces, dressings, and ketchup, as they all add up to frightening quantities of sugar. A sad reality that I had have to face is that I needed to cut out desserts from my daily diet — though I do indulge occasionally. You can even just cut back to weekends and special occasions; this can massively cut down the harmful sugar entering your body.
Also, you can try staying away from foods that contain a lot of sodium, such as lunch meat, hamburgers, savory snacks, and bread. You can also make a habit of not adding extra salt to your meals, instead finding other ways to flavor your food like adding herbs or pepper instead.
You can also try these tips from Arizona State University’s nutritional program:
Eat mindfully and intentionally
Try superfoods that are good for your health
Consider the long-term effects of your eating habits
Don’t make yourself hangry or starve yourself to be skinny
Don’t drink too much caffeine
Don’t follow trending diets that don’t feel healthy to you
What you eat is a personal responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. You can talk to your nurse practitioner on ways to optimize your diet as part of your preventative health plan. It’s not always easy and your diet doesn’t have to be perfect, and mentality plays a large role. Avoiding diet culture is important to me, and instead, I try to avoid unhealthy foods and eat a wholesome, nutritious diet.
I measure my health by how I look and feel rather than by how much I weigh. Weight can be a scary thing to look at, especially when gaining muscle can make the pounds go up, even though you’re losing fat. However, I feel more confident after working out, and I feel healthier when I keep an eye on what I’m eating. I feel in control of my health. I even had a doctor check up and for the first time I wasn’t underweight, but at a healthy one, and being healthy is what counts.