Tag Archives: diet

That’s All You Ate?

food diaryIf you’ve ever kept a food diary, you know how striking it is to see that list of everything you ate staring at you in black and white. But how many of us are truthful when we record our daily food intake? And if we’re not, how useful is this tool?

I happen to like keeping track of my food intake using an app because it’s convenient and like many folks, my phone is always handy and it sure beats taking a notebook along wherever I go. But, even as a dietitian, I’m often surprised at just how little food it takes to reach my daily caloric allotment!

I recently read a report via Sciencenewsline of a study conducted by researchers at the University of South Carolina. The article discussed how the oft-cited, CDC-funded national nutrition research project called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) may be invalid due to food journaling errors by the participants. NHANES relies on self-reported food and beverage consumption over 24 hours, as well as physical exams, to guage the health of the population. The data is used far and wide by researchers, the government and public policy groups, as well as nutrition and health organizations for comparison and planning purposes.

drive through foodSo what was the problem? It turns out that the data they collected from peoples’ food diaries resulted in “physiologically implausible” caloric intakes. According to the report, the participants under-reported their food intake—quite significantly in some cases—with the most overweight men and women under-reporting by roughly 700-850 calories per day. Gee really? Is anyone surprised that people were altering their food journals (whether or it was intentional or not). Who among us really wants to ‘fess up to those extra calories we’ve consumed?

donutOf course, when it comes to our health behaviors, fudging to make ourselves look better isn’t uncommon. We embellish and conceal lots of things when we think someone will review it and pass judgement on us (think smoking or illegal drug use, number of alcoholic drinks per week, supplements the doc might frown on, how often we exercise). Luckily, keeping track of our food intake doesn’t have to involve doctors, friends or even family. You can certainly track what you eat without anyone even knowing. And when something is private you remove the reason for fibbing. Being honest about your food intake can be helpful in a number of situations. Probably the most common use for food journaling is weight loss, where tracking calories eaten and expended via exercise can shed light on why you might be gaining (or at least not losing) pounds. Beyond that, the nutrient breakdown of your food intake might be interesting for people with certain health conditions like diabetes, or for those trying to alter the balance of their diets—to get more protein and fewer carbs for example. With pie charts and graphs, all this info is easy to understand.


You don’t have to spend money to track your diet and learn to live a healthier lifestyle. Thereare free online sites, such as ChooseMyPlate.gov, where you can track your personal food intake, that of your entire family and even perform a recipe analysis on your favorite casserole. Sparkpeople.com and FitDay.com are two other free options you might also want to check out.

myfitnesspalIf you want to be able to use your hand-held device while you’re eating, there are several popular apps you can use. MyFitnessPal and Sparkpeople are two apps that are free and easy to use. These apps allow you to track your food intake and exercise so you can monitor  daily calories and your fat, carbohydrate and protein intake. The cool charts and graphs that it spits out are fun, too. The best part? There is no one looking over your shoulder and judging you. It’s all just for you—and using these tools might just help you make better food decisions in the long run. And after all isn’t that what you want?

Chewing the Fat

Guest post by Nicole Nadeau


As we head into the depths of winter here in Maine, we find ourselves craving rich hearty dishes in hopes of adding insulation to our bones. It’s only natural that as this season  approaches we crave an extra layer — whether that comes from a warm cozy sweater or a stick-to-the-ribs meal.535723_639239856187_1153228340_n

I think back to a professor I once had who did research with Inuit cultures. After a month of living in the extreme cold temperatures of the northern most region of Quebec, he found himself craving straight lard, a staple of the Inuit diet. He consumed lard by the spoonful. Many of us would shudder at the idea of essentially snacking on sticks of butter, or eating mother’s residual bacon grease with a spoon, but in such a harsh climate, with temperatures so unbearable, he not only desired it but went mad without it.

Recent research has shown that these diets high in fat and protein were less damaging than the recent influx of processed foods.  Only in recent years have they seen type 2 diabetes, and obesity become a true concern of the inhabitants.  There is a direct correlation between the admittance of Taco Bell, McDonalds and Stouffer’s frozen dinners and these recent public health outbreaks.  It’s amazing that these foods were found to be more damaging to the system than hundreds of years dogsledof a high fat, high meat diet with little to no vegetation available.

Food of the traditional Inuit culture certainly did not follow along with “MyPlate” lacking complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. Though the sources of the vitamins that we would assume one would lack living in an extreme climate may be unfamiliar to us, they are in fact omnipresent.  Vitamin A for example, being fat soluble, is as plentiful in fish oils as it is in carrots. Vitamin C can be found in the undercooked livers and other organ meats of the local animals; no citrus required.  An overall lack of fruits and vegetation is a given, but the Inuits make up for this by eating more fish  (high in omega-3’s and the good fats).inuit

For fiber, the hunted wild game’s diet is rich in moss, and lichens.  Though this fauna is difficult for humans to digest in it’s present state, the predigested vegetation found within the hunted game became this needed source of fiber.  I can only assume these are an acquired taste, having never sampled them myself, or perhaps, it would be considered a rare delicacy.  Not only would these greens be an excellent source of fiber, they would also be a great source of natural probiotics.

imagesAs much as we may demonize fats in the American diets, we are in the process of learning that there is a wide differential of quality in fats. Inuits in Northern Quebec are getting 50% of their diet’s calories from fat. Perhaps surprisingly, we don’t see an increased risk of heart disease in that population the way we do in more Westernized cultures. Looking at  the source of their fats, we see that whale blubber (a dietary staple) is incredibly high in omega 3s. The wild animals they hunt feast on the vegetation that they scavenge for, making game organ meats essentially the Inuit “multi-vitamin.”

Of course, gorging on fats and organ meats isn’t really a concern, since foods that need to be hunted and gathered are by nature less abundant in supply. There is little danger of over-consumption of these foods. And in the extreme climate, a few extra pounds that may accumulate from such a caloric intake are likely a blessing. By contrast, the American diet has an overabundance of supply, and it is up to us to self-limit and to make the choices that best suit our needs and diet.

Though winters in Maine are perceived as harsh and unbearable, relative to Nunavut, we’re quite temperate.  Though we may crave heavier dishes, we’re far from spoonfuls of lard. Food is ingrained in our culture, and what we eat (literally and figuratively) becomes a part of us.  We eat for survival, and for pleasure.  The foods we love, and crave are as much by choice as they are by necessity.  The changing diets and culture of fast and processed foods in the northernmost regions are putting us at risk for losing a time honored culture, based not only on survival but of a digestive system finely tuned to adapt to the harsh climate.


It’s part, too, of your development as a person. You share food with your community. You show respect to your elders by offering them the first catch. You give thanks to the animal that gave up its life for your sustenance. So you get all the physical activity of harvesting your own food, all the social activity of sharing and preparing it, and all the spiritual aspects as well. You certainly don’t get all that, do you, when you buy prepackaged food from a store”

Patricia Cochran – Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.