Monday, November 30, 2009

My nutrition paper

It's part three of a class project for which we were asked to 1) keep track of everything we ate, including portion sizes, for 72 hours; 2) plug all the data into a diet analysis program; and 3) write an essay about our diet, including what we're getting too much of and what we're deficient in. I enjoyed the whole experience, and I think doing something like this regularly -- say, three or four times a year -- would be good for me. The Michael Pollan book I refer to in the essay is In Defense of Food, which I highly recommend.
I’m meeting most of my nutritional requirements simply by consuming too many calories each day. That said, I could use more linoleic acid; I’m only getting 78% of my daily requirement (13.28 g). I also need more water than I’m getting; I’m taking in just 68% of my daily requirement. Not surprisingly, considering where we all live, I need more vitamin D, too – I’m consuming only 79% of my requirement. I also need more of vitamins E and K. Among the food groups, I’m coming up short in the milk and fruit areas. I’m vegetarian but do consume dairy products, so I wonder how much more dairy I’d need to take in. Regarding fruits, I’ve been buying oranges and melons and trying to eat more fruit rather than juice.

I’m consuming too many calories compared to how many I’m burning. My average daily caloric intake is 3158, whereas my average expenditure is 2658. It’s no wonder I’m up to around 220 pounds and my BMI is 33. I’m consuming macronutrients in the right percentages, but the amounts are too large. I received recommendations from the diet analysis program based on a desire to lose weight, not just maintain it.

Still, my 447.55 daily grams of carbs far exceeds the 227-327 range the program recommends, and my fat intake (103.38 grams rather than 45 to 78) and protein consumption (122.93 grams instead of 80.56) are similarly high. I’m also consuming too much dietary cholesterol (143% of my daily recommendation), linolenic acid (149%), and fiber (116%). I attribute all of these excesses to a basic excess of calories.

I eat a combination of whole and processed foods, and while I could use more whole foods, I’m off to a pretty good start. Though I ate cold cereal with soy milk at the time of the recall, I now mix oatmeal with cinnamon sugar (and sometimes still soy milk). Pasta is my biggest downfall when it comes to overeating, so I’m trying to cut down.

On the first day of the recall, I shredded cheddar over whole-wheat rotini, which at least isn’t standard white pasta. I made a stir-fry on the first night that included bell peppers, onions, broccoli, mushrooms, tofu, celery, and basil. I don’t make as many stir-fries these days, but I’d like to get back to it, since it’s an easy way to consume a variety of vegetables.

On the second day, I had homemade cholent for lunch, which represents the kind of home-cooked meal I often eat in my community. The stew was packed with legumes (black, kidney, white, and garbanzo beans) and also included wild and brown rice, acorn squash, garlic, and cabbage. Making a lot of stew and eating it over the course of a week might be a good move for me as a vegetarian. I did eat a couple of mini Clif Bars that day, and I still have a weakness for processed, sugary “health bars.”

The third day, I blended bananas, strawberries, and soy milk for breakfast; at lunch, I had baby carrots and hummus. Both are typical of the whole-plus-processed food combos I often choose. I also ate veggie dogs that day – highly processed, lots of sodium – and made egg salad. I had class that night, and when I need a snack and haven’t planned ahead, I’ll often get a juice and a granola bar from the campus cafĂ©. The amount of time I give myself to prepare my food varies, but I do enjoy taking an hour to cook something from fresh ingredients and enjoy it in a leisurely way.

I need to eat less. Snacking is often the problem. But sometimes I’m at a festive meal – and my community has many – and I simply eat too much. My willpower isn’t the strongest, so I need to work out some kind of structure for myself. It would be good to consume less cholesterol – fewer eggs would do it – and more linoleic acid. Also, drinking more water would be a great idea. It might help my digestion, make me feel fuller, and reduce my fatigue. More vitamin D would be good; I don’t drink milk (it grosses me out), but I do eat cheese and ice cream and sometimes yogurt. I could also eat more almonds for vitamin E and more dark leafy greens for vitamin K. I like kale, but I rarely make it myself. I should start.

I think my great-grandmother would recognize a decent portion of what I eat: the cheese, pasta, fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade stews, egg salad, and so forth. Not so much the Clif Bars. Since I’m a label reader (have been since I became vegetarian at 15), I do try to avoid unpronounceable ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup. I shop at a fruit and vegetable stand near my house and get food from the U District food bank, where things are donated from groceries like Trader Joe’s.
I don’t eat mostly plants, but I’m working on it; the produce stand helps. I eat a decent bit of cheese, yet I don’t often know what the cows were eating. Not grass, I imagine.

The farmers market is something I love but feel unable to afford. I want to become the kind of person who takes supplements, in the sense that I want to get more exercise and to balance my diet more carefully. That’s a major project for 2010. Wine with dinner? I’m not a big drinker, but occasionally I do have wine. “Pay more, eat less” – I practiced this philosophy when I had more money. As Pollan notes, snacking isn’t the best habit, but I do it anyway. I’m trying to keep more fruits and vegetables on hand for when I snack.

I eat too many meals standing up or in a rush, but I do believe that eating at a table is best, so I hope to make it a more consistent habit. Eating alone, as Pollan says, often leads to overeating, but I don’t do it too often; there’s nearly always someone around. That said, I overeat significantly at certain group meals, when no single person seems to notice how much I’m eating. Consulting my gut – that’s the trick, isn’t it? Goes along with eating slowly. I’m a notoriously fast eater, but when I take a more meditative approach – focusing on the taste and texture of each bite – I eat more slowly and have more success checking in with my gut.

I do cook frequently now, and I appreciated Pollan’s words about gardening as exercise with a purpose. Maybe once it gets warmer and stops raining as much, I’ll join in my community’s gardening efforts.


Kelly said...

Can't wait to take nutrition spring quarter!

Diana said...

Any way I can get my hands on that program? I'm one of those people that convinces myself that everything is just fine... until confronted with hard evidence. We eat more than half our meals vegetarian now, but we still need less cheese/pasta and more actual vegetables. Email me if you have a copy or something.

There's nothing like gardening to make you eat more veggies; I say GO for it. There's no WAY you're going to let that home-grown stuff go to waste: it becomes precious. We ate tomato-pepper-basil salads almost 3x per week this last summer, and just knowing how much work went into it made it seem delicious every time. I'm very sad that we won't have a garden next year (because of the shade issue) or perhaps even the next (since we can't afford to get the land cleared and I'm afraid of chainsaws).