If you wrote down everything you ate for a week, how would you rate nutritionally? Would a dietitian give you an A for above average, or a D for deficient? Many people wonder if their diet makes the grade but don’t take the time to analyze what they’re really eating day after day. We found two individuals who were willing to put their diets and nutrition know-how to the test. For a week they recorded everything they ate and drank and then submitted these personal diet diaries to a registered dietitian. Our volunteers discovered that by making small changes to their eating habits, they could greatly improve their energy, bulk up their nutritional intake, and feel better throughout the day. Following is a sample day from each diary.
See what they learned and how you can adapt these lessons to your own lifestyle.
The mother of two small children who also works full time, Julie Meseck visits local fast-food joints more than she knows she should. “I would like to eat less processed foods, but preparing healthy meals takes a ton of time,” she says. She also gets frustrated when she does prepare home-cooked meals only to have her family turn up their noses at healthy choices, such as vegetables. Julie also knows that she needs to drink more water, but she prefers the taste of flavored beverages, especially diet sodas, which aren’t natural and don’t hydrate her body as well
Julie's Thursday diet
8 a.m. A bowl (about a cup and a half) of whole oats with about 2 tablespoons brown sugar, eaten at home. Yum, I love oatmeal! And a daily multivitamin.
9 a.m. In my car and getting hungry. I eat a Pria energy bar and drink a 12-ounce Diet Vanilla Coke. (Getting hungry!)
1 p.m. At a restaurant with clients. I have a French dip sandwich—roast beef and Swiss cheese on French bread—and several bites of a fruit salad of strawberries, grapes, and pineapple. I’m not thinking about food at all here … just concentrating on selling my product to these clients.
4 p.m. Feeling thirsty. Drink a 12-ounce caffeine-free Diet Coke and figure that it’s as good as water.
7:15 p.m. Dinner with the family. Chicken breast with Muenster cheese, quinoa with yellow peppers, and two glasses of red wine.
8 p.m. Ate a sugar cookie with frosting at my son’s kindergarten family night. I knew I should skip the cookie—but I ate only one!
How does she rate for the day?
Lisa High, MS, RD, gives her a C+.
Lisa’s critique >>
Julie does many things right already, like eat when she’s hungry. She also gets enough protein and often prepares healthy meals when she does cook at home. However, I am concerned about several aspects of her diet. Her foods are often processed and refined, such as energy bars, American cheese, and fast food. Julie could be missing essential vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, essential omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and other B vitamins, chromium, calcium, and potassium.
Although Julie may compensate with her daily multivitamin, this will not provide adequate daily fiber. Julie needs 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. Adding fresh fruits and healthy grains to her diet will help her achieve this goal. Julie also does not drink enough water. Instead, she is consuming a lot of dehydrating beverages, such as wine and caffeinated soft drinks. And the highly processed foods she eats lack the fluids naturally found in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Finally, Julie is giving up too easily by going to fast-food drive-throughs. She needs some creative ideas to empower and excite her about preparing new, healthy meals at home so she can see just how easy it is to eat well. Even though Julie’s energy is good overall, she will likely experience even more energy and vitality by consuming healthier meals more consistently.
Healthy eating tips for Julie >>
>> Increase your fluid intake. You can brew herbal tea and put it in the refrigerator for a caffeine-free beverage that’s more flavorful than water, and add a little stevia for sweetness. If you don’t like tea, try adding a few tablespoons of fruit-juice concentrate to mineral water for a light, tasty drink. At home, get out the blender and make fruit smoothies to increase fiber and to hydrate simultaneously. The kids will love them, too.
>> Don’t try to change everything at once. Bring one piece of fresh fruit to work each day. Drink one glass of water each day, adding more gradually to replace the soda. Drink one less glass of wine each day (more than one drink per day weakens any associated health benefits and adds calories). If you go slowly, the changes won’t feel so drastic.
>> Ditch the drive-through. Instead of thinking fast food when it’s mealtime, think about local natural foods stores that offer healthier fare, such as hummus wraps, fresh deli sandwiches, fresh-cut fruits, and grilled vegetables. Stopping at a natural foods store or supermarket won’t take much extra time and may even be more convenient because you can multitask by doing your food shopping at the same time.
>> Cook in bulk and freeze meals ahead of time. For an easy lunch or dinner, make meals that freeze well. For example, try healthy burritos made with sprouted-grain tortillas, brown rice, freshly cut corn from the cob, black beans mixed into vegetarian refried beans, and grilled organic chicken, shrimp, or lean beef. Top with low-fat sour cream or plain yogurt, fresh salsa, and a couple slices of avocado. Also, you can buy many things frozen (think shrimp, vegetables, and veggie burgers) that take only a couple of minutes to reheat.
>> Take shortcuts. Buy fresh organic prepared vegetables from the salad bar or produce department and use them in a stir-fry, vegetarian lasagna, pasta primavera, or mixed vegetable curry.
Daniel’s career as an architect keeps him busy with long days at the office. This means many lunches and dinners are at restaurants. He’d like to have more consistent energy throughout the day (at 3 p.m. he finds himself fighting sleep at his desk) and learn how to eat when his body needs fuel. “Sometimes I skip meals and then binge, eating a meal such as a huge burrito,” he says. “I tend not to be consistent with my meals, both in timing and size.” Daniel would like to try eating six small meals a day because he’s read that spreading smaller, balanced meals throughout the day is better for you, but he’s unsure what they should consist of. “I often get moody or weak between meals and think it’s because of too many peaks and valleys in my blood sugar,” he says.
Daniel's Saturday diet
8 a.m. 2 Eggo waffles, syrup, banana, and grape juice.
10 a.m. Getting pretty hungry after working for a couple hours at a community garden cleanup. I’m disappointed to see the doughnuts gone, so I eat a yogurt-glazed granola bar and drink a 12-ounce glass of water.
Noon Starving when I come home from the garden, but there’s nothing to eat in the house except pretzels. Grab one to eat en route to Baja Fresh. I intend to eat a healthy meal, but there is a new chicken flauta (rolled deep-fried flour tortilla stuffed with chicken and served with pinto beans and grilled pineapple) on the menu that I can’t resist. (Just another example of being so hungry that I throw my healthy concerns to the wind!) Have an iced tea mixed with lemonade to drink.
5 p.m. White grape juice diluted with water (just got back from 2.5-mile run and very thirsty after a lot of outdoor work today).
7:45 p.m. White grape juice and vodka; snack on baby carrots and a cracker with paté.
8:45 p.m. Too lazy to go out and get something and not much in the pantry, so spice up Kraft mac and cheese with tuna hoping to make it more nutritious.
9:30 p.m. Two 6-ounce glasses of sparkling wine.
How does he rate for the day?
Lisa High, MS, RD, gives him a D.
Lisa’s critique >>
Daniel maintains a healthy weight and manages to eat breakfast every day, which is great. But he is a bit out of touch with his body, skipping meals and snacks until he is starving and then overeating. This also contributes to his afternoon crash and constant feeling of hunger. Many people of “normal weight” believe that because their weight is well managed they don’t need to be as careful about the food they eat. Daniel falls into this category by eating fried foods, processed desserts, and snack foods that contain sugar and white flour. With the frequency that he dines out, coupled with what he orders at restaurants, such as hamburgers on white-flour buns and onion rings, I am concerned that Daniel’s diet is lacking in fiber and many nutrients crucial for a healthy diet, including potassium, folic acid, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants.
Healthy eating tips for Daniel >>
>> Don’t skip meals. Move mealtime higher up on your priority list. To avoid binge eating, look for the following hunger signals: fatigue, irritability, inability to concentrate, thoughts turning to food or craving sweets (this is common when the body is feeling it needs some fuel), feeling the need to drink more caffeine (to improve energy), and headaches, to name a few.
>> Eat minimeals more frequently. This will improve energy levels and digestion. It will also keep you from overeating in the evening so you will sleep better, which in turn can decrease afternoon fatigue. If you want to aim for six meals, go for it. Just be sure they are six smaller meals and not six regular-size meals.
>> Pick protein in the a.m. You should add protein to breakfast so the meal will stick with you longer and you won’t get hungry so quickly. Try buying whole-wheat waffles and top them with peanut butter in lieu of syrup. Then add raisins for fiber. Also, schedule in protein-rich afternoon snacks, such as a handful of walnuts or bean dip with carrot sticks, because protein intake is associated with a greater ability to concentrate, whereas high carb intake is associated with drowsiness and fatigue.
>> Bulk up on fiber. Mix ground flaxseeds into peanut butter and choose whole grains whenever possible. On labels, look for 3 to 4 grams of fiber per serving and the word whole, such as whole wheat and whole grain. Avoid terms such as bleached or unbleached wheat flour and wheat flour without whole next to it. Other whole grains include barley, quinoa, rice, and spelt. Also, snack on nuts such as fiber-rich almonds.
>> Plan ahead. Buy healthy afternoon snacks while you are out getting lunch so you won’t be tempted to buy a cookie at the local coffee bar. For example, order an extra grilled fish taco in a corn tortilla and store it in the office fridge for later.
Anna Soref is a frequent contributor to Delicious Living.