Do you worry about:
- Losing weight?
- Eating the correct serving size?
- How many calories are actually in whatever it is you’re eating?
These are typical worries that I hear from friends, family and clients. It’s also why many people gravitate to weight loss programs, such as Weight Watchers because they have successfully simplified food counting into a points system, which takes away the stress of calorie counting.
How does a “points system” work?
If you are using a points system and have a recipe, all you need to do is check the recipe in their database or find something “close enough” to tell you how many points the recipe translates into. With the Weight Watchers points system, you merely have to keep track of your total number and how many points your meal equates to determine if it fits. Programs like Weight Watchers sell you peace of mind and simplicity in the equation of calories in, calories out and weight loss.
But what if you have specific nutrition concerns and restrictions? What if your recipes need to be modified to meet specific dietary concerns? Are the points or nutritional analysis accurate if you changed an ingredient? And what is a serving size?
If you’re confused – you’re not alone. I get questions and concerns like these daily.
Nutrition facts you can count on
Here is a quick breakdown of how the Nutrition Facts found on packaged foods, recipes and menus are determined and where you can find these reliable facts. Knowing this will better equip you to understand if the recipes you are trying to calculate the points for are accurate.
There are four ways you can find out the amount of Calories, Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats.
- Laboratory Analysis is the gold standard and the most reliable form of knowing the nutritional composition of a food. A food manufacturer sends samples of the prepared food to a lab to break down the food into basic components to measure. In Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) compliance test is based on a laboratory analysis of the nutrient content of four randomly selected samples. These are the numbers you see on a Nutrition Facts label on food products.
- The Canadian Nutrient File(CNF) and United States Department of Agriculture database (USDA) have databases that share the amount of nutrientsin foods commonly consumed in Canada and the United States. You can search these databases by food item, food group, or manufacturer’s name to find the nutrient information for your food items and generate lists of foods sorted by nutrient content. To search the CNF, click here.
- Web-based or nutritional analysis software that links back to the USDA database. My Fitness Pal is an example of a web-based application where consumers can enter ingredients and calculate the nutrition facts. My Fitness Pal has created the links of common foods to the USDA database. This system relies on ensuring that the ingredient is correctly matched.
- Consult a professional. I have been working in the food and nutrition industry for over 20 years. Fifteen years ago, I worked at Health Canada on the Canadian Nutrient File database. Based on my training and experience with food, when I look at recipes, I can intrinsically know if the data is correct or not. I also know how to adjust a recipe to make it more favourable to the nutritional profile I want to achieve.
My clients are often surprised when I explain to them that nutritional information is a guide and not as accurate as it may appear. According to the laws in Canada and the United States, there is an acceptable wide margin of error (80-120%) for declared value for calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium. For example, if the food label says the calorie count is 200 calories, in reality, it may contain anywhere from 160-240 calories.
My goal is to teach you how to feel more confident in your ability to eat well and how to reduce your anxiety around these numbers. I work with busy professionals and families who are looking for ways to integrate healthy and nutritional balanced meals that are supportive of their dietary restriction, in a way that is easy and fun. Think of me as your nutrition matchmaker and guide to provide you with the reassurance of your nutrient intake.
After reading this blog post you may be wondering, why bother counting calories when the numbers are not as reliable as you once thought?
Where do I go from here?
My advice is to:
- Focus on the experience, taste and enjoyment of your meals.
- It all comes down to trust, confidence, and interpretation.
- Use the numbers as your guide and set goals. Being over or under is okay.
- Listen to your body and how it feels in relation to the foods you consume.