Confused About Eating Advice? Simple Answers Here.

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on December 5, 2011 · 1 comment

The government, food industry, public health groups, and various health-related organizations are all trying to provide consumers with sound information on living a healthy lifestyle. Good news – most have heard the messages. Bad news – fewer are adapting the message into everyday living. Why? The average consumer finds putting dietary advice into practice confusing and challenging. What are the motivators or barriers to healthy eating?

Nearly 9 out of 10 people are unable to accurately estimate the calories they need each day.

Many people believe carbohydrate calories were more fattening than calories from protein and fat. Sixty-seven percent look at calorie information on labels. But, only 2% said are trying to eat fewer calories, and only 12% were trying to eat less at meals. How do we correct this disconnect?

If you multiply your desired body weight by 10, you will get a rough estimate of the number of calories you need each day. Want to weigh 150 pounds? (150  X 10 = 1,500 calories a day) This isn’t an exact formula, and the more active a person is the more calories they can eat, but since most Americans are both overweight and sedentary, it’s a good place to start.

And, a calorie is a calorie. It is a unit of energy. It does not matter whether is comes from chocolate cake or broccoli, all calories count, and eating too many will cause you to gain weight. Once you get a handle on how many calories you need daily, you can then begin to make judgments about where the calories come from. Obviously, we’d hope you’d eat more healthy fruits and vegetables and less chocolate cake, but just knowing the 540 calorie slice of chocolate cake takes up more than one-third of your daily calorie need, should give you pause.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are somewhat or very concerned about the amount and type of fat found in their diet.

What should we be doing about fats?

Saturated fats or animal fats – butter, meat, cheese, and whole milk dairy foods – should make up 10% or less of our total calories intake. If you eat 1,500 calories a day, that equals 150 calories or less from saturated fat. Bottom line; go easy on fats from animal sources.

Monounsaturated – olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts – and polyunsaturated fats – corn, soybean, sesame, safflower, and sunflower oils, seeds, margarine – are fats from vegetable sources. They should make up 20 and 25% of our daily fat intake. If you eat 1,500 calories a day, that equals between 300 to 375 calories a day. If you add the 10% or less from saturated fat, you will be eating 30 to 35% of your daily calories as fat, in line with all the current public health messages.

As for trans fat – found almost exclusively in stick margarine, solid shortening, baked goods, and deep-fried foods – less is best. Aim for none whenever possible.

Most consumers are confused about the role of carbs in their diet.

Almost three-quarters of us are trying to eat more fiber and whole grains. With all the whole grain, high fiber foods in the marketplace, this isn’t hard to accomplish. Whenever possible choose whole grain breads, cereals and pasta and increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Sixty-nine percent of people are trying to eat less sugar but only 1 in 6 had actually reduced the amount of sugar they ate. This is a tough public health message to accomplish. We know too much sugar is not the best choice but we love sweets. Our advice – try. Use the nutrition facts panel which clearly lists the total sugar in a food. If it is high, see if you can find an alternative that is lower or resolve to eat a smaller portion.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Tiffany Youngren December 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Great article – there is so much information! Overload! I love fat – but good fats. It makes me sad when people close to me are so anti-fats.

I’m still a little confused about carbs (except the value for athletes).


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