woman holding hamburger.

I thought I would take a closer look at exactly what my family were eating and see how it aligned to a healthy, balanced diet. I had the feeling that we were eating too many fats and my kids were taking in too much sugar. With this in mind,  I did my own seven day food diary and took a look at the results. On the way I discovered some nutrition black spots and found some interesting information on Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) that you might be interested in.

Now my diary is done, the food diary for my daughter is next…. The horrors from this will be in another post shortly.

Few of us have the time for overly complex nutritional analysis, so I tried to keep this quick and simple. The food diary took around 20 minutes a day to log everything. The analysis is reasonably high level focusing on the main macro-nutrients. The analysis was straight forward with the aim of getting to the all important questions… do I need more fruit in my diet? Am I eating too many desserts and do I need more fibre?

For the food diary, I used an iPad app. There are loads of free apps out there, but the one I chose was a paid app. I chose this one because it had it’s own food database which meant I was not entering individual nutritional values for each food. It would also scan a majority of bar codes to pull in the information. This post is all about nutrition though, if you want more details on the apps, I have added some all the way at the bottom of the page.

Here’s how I did it.

I used the food diary app to record every calorie I consumed for 7 days and it’s nutritional value at a macro-nutrient level (carbohydrates, protein, saturated & un-saturated fat, fibre, salt, sugar)

I then compared my intake against published Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs). These tend to vary a little depending on where you are in the world and which organisation publishes them. I researched a few sources and came up with what I felt were my sensible benchmark RDAs.

Mike’s disclaimer – Please note, these are my benchmark figures. Check with your physician / doctor  before you decide what your benchmark RDAs should be.

* My benchmark RDAs are based on 4 publications from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Health Service UK (NHS UK), the American Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

My Benchmark RDAs (Male 19 to 70+ years, average fitness / weight in good health)

% values are the percentage of total calories consumed.

  • Carbohydrates* 50%-60%
  • Protein* 10%-35%
  • Unsaturated Fat* 20%-35%
  • Saturated Fat* <11%
  • Added Sugar* <10% of total calories or <70mg / day
  • Fruit & Vegetables 25% – 33%
  • Fibre* 31g / day
  • Sodium* <2300mg / day (for healthy men below 51 years of age)

My results

The table below shows my actual % of total calories consumed for the week and my benchmark RDA in brackets .

  • Carbohydrates  53%    [50%-60%]
  • Protein  16%   [10%-35%]
  • Unsaturated Fat   20%   [20%-35%]
  • Saturated Fat  10%    [<11%]

So far so good, my general macro-nutrient levels are below my benchmark RDAs.

Taking a closer look reveals some issues

My diet did not feel quite right though. I new I could do with more calories sourced from fruit and vegetables, I wanted to know more about my sodium (salt) intake and I wanted to pay particular attention to my added sugar intake. I had to go back to the basic data in the food diary app and look at the figures in a little more detail.

First, I totalled up the my added sugar intake for the week. I simply went through each day of the diary noting the sugar content of anything that was not fruit or vegetable. What is left is pretty much the refined (added) sugars.

Next I totalled up all the carbohydrates that came from fruit and vegetables to see what percentage of my calories came from these.

Finally, I took a look at my sodium (salt) and fibre intake values.

More of my results

The table below shows my actual % of total calories consumed for the week and my benchmark RDA in brackets .

  • Added Sugar  15%    [<10% of total calories or <70mg / day]
  • Fruit & Vegetables  20%   [25% – 33%]
  • Fibre   10%  [31g / day]
  • Sodium   2290mg / day   [<2300mg / day]

What have I learned from this?

Turns out my diet was not too bad. It was closer to the “good” mark than I thought it would be. Here is what I will take away from it.

  • The biggest culprit for my added sugar overload is rice pudding and flavoured yoghurt desserts. My daily added sugar intake ranges between 44g – 120g / day, some days almost double my daily RDA. The average for the week is also above RDA.
  • I’ll be eating more fresh fruit during the day and increasing vegetables intake with more salads at lunchtime. Carbohydrates make up around 50% of my calories but less than 20% of these come from fruit and vegetables.
  • Given my fruit and vegetable intake is below RDA, I am consuming too many refined carbohydrates. I need more good quality fibre (fruit, veg,  whole grains, beans etc.).
  • I need more fibre in my meals, particularly my breakfast. My benchmark RDA for fibre is around 31g / day. My actual fibre intake for the week did not reach 31g for any of the days.
  • I’m going to reduce the amount of saturated fats I eat. From the diary I can see the culprits. No surprise really, it’s down to the desserts and junk food.
  • I need to keep an eye out for added salt. My sodium intake right up against the RDA. The biggest culprits for this are my take-a-ways and convenience food. More fresh foods for me.

If you made it all the way down here, thanks for taking the time read this. I struggled for a few days trying to not over-complicate any analysis from the diary and to keep it readable. The aim was to give you something that you could take away and try. If I managed this (or if I missed the mark by a mile), please let me know by commenting.

If you liked the post, please don’t forget to share it on Facebook and +1 it on Google+ . Links are on the right sidebar to my social networks. That way I can get the information out to more people who need it. 

As promised, supplementary information you might find useful

During my research for the food diary experiment I found the following RDAs for all age groups.

From the CDC

General RDA for Protein

  • ages 1-3 years; 13g / day
  • ages 4-8 years; 19g / day
  • ages 9-13 years; 34g / day
  • girls aged 14-18; 46g / day
  • boys aged 14-18 years; 52 g / day
  • women aged 19+; 46 g / day
  • men 19+;  56g / day

Total fat limits

  • ages 2-3 yrs; 30-40% of total calories
  • ages 4-18 yrs; 25-35% of total calories
  • ages 19+yrs; 20-35% of total calories.

Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010 –  (Institute of Medicine)

  • ages 1-3 yrs : carbs 45-65%; protein 5-20%; fat 30-40%  (% of total calories)
  • ages 4-18 yrs : carbs 45-65%; protein 10-30%; fat 25-35%
  • ages 19+ yrs : carbs 45-65%; protein 10-30%; fat 20-35%

World Health Organisation

Added sugar for children less than 16 years should be <10% of their daily calorific intake.

More info on the app I used for the food diary

The paid-for app is MyNetDiary for iPad. The primary reason I chose this one was for the online database of food nutrition, including a large amount of UK supermarket foods. This means you can begin typing a food type, say Actimel and it will list a host of flavours and types. When you select one it auto-populates all the key nutritional data for you. It also allows users to contribute their own entries.

Sometimes the database is missing a bit of information or doesn’t quite match what it says on the packet, but generally it’s pretty good at saving time and being mostly correct.

There are a couple of nutrient graphs showing calorie percentages and totals (grams) which were really useful for doing this experiment. The rest of the data I got from the daily totals on the food entry table. The totals for the common nutrients are all calculated for you.

The app does other things like help you track weight loss and water consumption. To be honest though, I only bought it to check out my nutrition intake.

There are a couple of other free apps that you can play with to see which suits you best. Just search for “food diary” in the app store or Google Play store.