Monday, January 18, 2010

wwyem, pt 5 - no, I'm not crazy: a guide to the Food Guide

If you’re anything like me you’ve ignored the Canada Food Guide for most of your life. I am going to guess that your reasons for ignoring it are similar to mine: it’s a big page filled with pictures of food, telling me I need to eat 7 pieces of bread a day. In short, it’s confusing (visually, at least). So for this next step in the series, I wanted to get a bit more detailed and take a closer look at the Canada Food Guide, and why actually, it does make sense. Also, I’ll offer up an alternative source to help make things a bit easier.

As Nurse Rita says, it’s vitally important to take your information from a reputable source. When it comes to nutrition, the information should come from a medically reputable source (registered dieticians/nutritionists, doctors, etc). This is one reason why the Canada Food Guide and its American Pyramid counterpart are two of the best sources for advice on healthy eating.

Taking a look at the Canada Food Guide can, as mentioned, overwhelm the senses. For example, what the heck does this part mean?

At a glance, the numbers are high. In the adult female section, for example, the number under Grain Products reads 6-7 per day. But what should be noted and clarified is that these numbers represent the numer of servings, and not necessarily the number of items…and for the most part, our perceptions of “one serving” are off the mark. For example, one serving of pasta is ½ a cup of cooked pasta, which is roughly the size of a light bulb (or just over half your fist). That’s a lot smaller than you thought, isn’t it? The amount of pasta I normally eat in one sitting certainly isn’t the size of a light bulb (...maybe a box of light bulbs).

Here’s a better example of how skewed we are in our culture when it comes to serving sizes. Let’s say you go to the Olive Garden for dinner. At the beginning of the meal you start with your complimentary salad and breadsticks. Let’s say you eat two breadsticks. Then when it comes time to order, you order a yummy bowl of pasta. Yum. When your meal arrives you dive in (obviously, because it’s so good) and by the time you’re finished chatting and are ready to pay your bill, you’ve downed the entire bowl.

Math time. You’ve just consumed roughly ten servings of grain products (2 breadsticks @ 1 serving each, 1 bowl of pasta @ roughly 8 servings = 10 servings). Referring back to the food guide, you’ve overshot your servings for the day by at least 2. In one meal. (and ps: I am being quite lenient in my numbers: most restaurants shoot this even further off the chart, even the OG themselves).

I have nothing against the Olive Garden (who could? Delish!), and naming the restaurant wasn’t my point. The point is that it is incredibly easy to blow our required daily food intake right out of the water, all without realizing it. For example, if you had ordered pasta with meat on it, consider this: one serving of meat (fish, poultry, lean meat) is 2.5oz or ½ cup. A half a cup is one serving, and there are at least two in one bowl of restaurant pasta. Two servings of meat & alternatives a day (3 for guys) is all that’s required. Once again, you’ve met (and possibly exceeded) your daily quotient in one meal.

This is why I’ve started to love and refer often to the food guide. Thinking back to what we learned about the six basic principles of healthy eating, and that numbers 1, 2, and 3 were Balance, Variety, and Moderation, we can see how key the Food Guide is in keeping us on track.

That’s great Ashley, but it’s still hard to look at.

I know, I agree with you. This is where I bring in our friends from down South. The American version of the Canada Food Guide is called the American Pyramid, and it looks like this:

Same basic principles…so why do I bring it up? It’s because their website has a fantastic tool available for meal planning. I will say that while the Canada Food Guide website has some excellent tools as well, the American Pyramid’s Menu Planning tool is quite lovely. Easy to use, easy to understand, and visually accessible.

American Pyramid – Menu Planning tool – a review

Actually, I’m quite impressed with this. Head to the main page for the American Pyramid, scroll down and click on the link for the menu planner:

You enter all of your info and click ‘submit’:

You’re then taken to a page that looks like the picture below.

How to use it: enter a food in the search box on the left and specify which meal it's for, and what quantity you are eating. Click “add”, and the menu tracker adds this to your “daily goals” graph on the right, as well as to the meal tracker on the bottom. This is a simple, easy visual to make sure that you are eating appropriate quantities and variety of foods: indications in percentages (graph), calories (below graph), meals (meal chart, bottom).

Obviously, I’m only part way through planning a day (which is why lunch and dinner are empty and my graph isn’t full). But so far I’d have to say I’m a fan of this system; it is user friendly and visually interesting, and pretty easy to understand.

Like anything else, it would take diligence to do this every day (or plan out a week in advance according to the chart). However, even for the sake of curiosity I found it interesting to enter what I have been eating and see how I measure up that way.

As an example, I just learned I don’t eat enough veggies or fruit…at all. I had guessed that already, but getting that clear visual on a colored graph really helps nail it into my head. Time to go grocery shopping…

Thoughts to ponder until next time: how aware am I of proper portion sizes? How close am I to the recommended daily servings? What would be the benefit of paying attention to not only what I’m eating, but how much I am eating? Are there any cons?


Ryan André said...

So, I was having breakfast this morning while reading some blogs and was in the process of eating a 12 grain bagel with a bit of cream cheese on it (yum!) when I came across your new post on food and .. I have a question! I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but it's just an assumption and I'm curious how it works.

So, say I have 1 serving of milk (straight 2% milk) and 1 serving of cream cheese. I'm assuming that straight milk is better for you then cream cheese?? Or is that not so? It says there is more fat, cholesterol and sodium in 15grams of cream cheese (1 tbsp) then in 1 cup of 2% milk. Or is 1 "serving" of cream cheese 1tbsp then according to the label? I guess what I'm asking is: is a serving always a half cup?

Sorry if this is an ignorantly easy question to anyone who knows anything about eating healthy... lol, I'm learning!

And yes, Olive Garden is very good. :) Any place with complimentary bread is a winner in my books!

Mama said...

This is great. I plan on looking up those food guides and printing them off.