Updated: May 3, 2021
Know What to Track and Measure!
Nutrition tracking fundamentally alters your eating habits by simply raising awareness. One of the most common issues with nutritional studies, for example, comes with inaccurate reporting. And it’s not always that people don’t want to admit what they’re eating – they often aren’t aware. Salad dressing contains hidden sugars, their proteins aren’t as lean as they think, or their eyes simply misjudge a portion size.
When embarking on a journey to change your diet, it helps to track macros, micronutrients, and more. But how do you know what’s really in your food? Fortunately, technology provides a modern solution. From online spreadsheets to iOS and Android apps, you and a Nutrition Specialist can identify which method fits your specific nutrition tracking needs.
Tracking Your Macros Fundamentals
Before you Google or download nutrition trackers, you need to understand your what, how and why. And that means laying down some groundwork to define your SuPeRSMART goal. Once you’ve got those down, your dietary needs will vary greatly depending on your journey.
Depending on your previous experience, there are several habits to practice prior to a food journal. For example, you could focus on adding healthy habits to your current routine such as; eating slower, stopping when 80% full, or learning how to weigh foods to better understand serving sizes. Incorporating these habits into a daily routine will get you moving in a positive direction. Food journals could be tracked using a Google document, taking photos or using an app.
It is also important to track your emotional state before, during and after eating. A Nutrition Specialist wants to learn about what time you are eating, how long it takes you to eat and with whom are you eating. After evaluating this information, a Nutrition Coach can work with you to focus on what is working.
Using Online Macro Trackers for Nutrition Tracking
There are several user-friendly online macro trackers that you can download. Most offer both free and premium options, but for basic macronutrient counting, you probably won’t need anything further than the free version. Using an online macro tracker, you can identify total caloric intake, individual macros (including water), activity level, changes in weight, and more. All you have to do is enter your basic health info (height, weight, gender, etc) and goal weight – the software will do the rest to recommend your daily calorie intake/macro breakdown. Plus, most have a large database of food options, largely due to the built-in ability to add your own. This feature means that, even if you can’t find your dinner in the database, you can add it piecemeal or as a whole (based on the nutrition facts label).
Water is Nutrition
Are you drinking enough water each day? Water is one of the most essential components of the human body which is why it is included in your nutrition tracking. Water regulates the body’s temperature, cushions and protects vital organs and aids the digestive system. Also, water composes more than half of the human body and it is impossible to sustain life for more than a week without it.
Depending on the exercise intensity and air temperature, our bodies can lose more than 1 quart of water in just one hour of exercise. If there is not enough water for the body to cool itself through perspiration, the body enters a state of dehydration. Dehydration could lead to heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. Preventing dehydration is important as it can lead to muscle fatigue, muscle cramps, and loss of coordination.
Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water 2 hours before the start of exercise.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
Drink 16 to 24 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost after exercise.
Rehydration occurs faster in the presence of sodium, regardless of whether it is provided in a sports drink.
Fiber is Fantastic
If there’s one thing you are not getting enough of in your daily nutrition, it’s fiber! Americans should be eating 25 to 35 grams per day, but most of us are only consuming between 12 – 15 grams. However, before you go from 0 to 30 grams of fiber a day, chances are your gut is going to hurt and you will not feel so fantastic. A Nutrition Specialist can help you develop a plan that will enable you to go slowly when it comes to bumping up your fiber intake.
Why is fiber so important to our health? When you consume fiber-containing foods, they take longer to digest so they contribute to satiety, which allows us to feel full and consume less food. There are certain types of fiber that soak up the bad (LDL) cholesterol and can help to lower your heart-disease risk. Lastly, your gut loves fiber because it helps to reduce the risk of constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticular disease. Therefore, long story short, meeting your daily fiber goal will never be something you regret.
If you’re like most Americans and are underperforming on your fiber intake, here are some simple tips to increase your daily fiber:
Don’t drink your fruit, eat it. The fruit flesh and skin contain fiber and when you juice fruit, you throw out most of the fiber.
Avoid refined grains and stick to whole grains. Refined grains are stripped of their nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber during processing.
Legumes are a great source of protein and fiber. You can throw them into soups, salads and casseroles or use in place of meat.
Meats, cheeses, and oils are the guilty food groups that DON’T contain fiber.
Power up your meals with plants. Keep in mind that plant foods contain fiber and animal foods do not.
Micronutrients & Nutrition Tracking
Once you are comfortable tracking your macronutrients, water, and fiber, you are now ready to delve into micronutrients. Vitamins and minerals play vital roles within the body, often at rate-limiting steps in metabolism. They also regulate immune and endocrine system activity to protect us against disease and inflammation. For example, you’ve probably heard that vitamin D is good for your bones, but did you know it’s a huge part of your immune function? Moreover, it’s primarily synthesized from sun exposure. That means if you don’t get outside often or live in a region where there’s little direct sunlight, you might be vitamin D deficient.
Additionally, pay special attention to the following vitamins when tracking micronutrients:
Vitamin C – essential for structure of bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels
Vitamin A – formation and maintenance of hair and skin, helps people see in dim light, bone and tooth growth
Vitamin E – protects blood cells, body tissue, and essential fatty acids from destruction in the body
B Vitamins – coenzymes in metabolism that sustain energy levels
Vitamin K – a key nutrient for blood clots
Folic acid (Vitamin B9) – contributes to red blood cell production of red blood cells, brain health, DNA repair, and overall brain growth. It’s of extra important for pregnant women to support a healthy, growing child.
How to Track Nutrition for Plant-based Eating
Plant-based eating is an alternative lifestyle that is growing in popularity as more and more people choose to make plants their prime fuel source. So, what exactly is considered plant-based eating?
Vegetarians do not eat meat but consume dairy-based products. This is generally the largest group of plant-based eaters. Vegetarianism is technically broken into 3 categories:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume eggs and dairy products.
Lacto-vegetariansconsume dairy products, but not eggs.
Ovo-vegetarians consume eggs, but not dairy.
Vegans do not eat meat or dairy. Vegan lifestyles are stricter and do not include products produced from living creatures such as honey or gelatin.
Pescatarians do not eat meat but consume fish.
Fruitarians consume raw fruits, seeds and nuts, but no vegetables, grains or animal products.
With a clear understanding of your specific nutrition preferences, a certified Nutrition Specialist can help you track your specific macro and micronutrients.
Addressing Other Common Issues with Nutrition Tracking
What if I’m not seeing results when I start nutrition tracking?
First of all, be patient. Results don’t happen overnight, even if you’re meticulous with nutrition tracking. Working with a certified Nutrition Specialist will not only educate you but will also guide you in exploring other factors that might be interfering with your results.
What if I can’t find the nutrition for what I am eating?
Fortunately, lots of restaurants now include nutritional information on their menus. Choosing those restaurants ahead of time can make all of the difference. However, if you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, give your best estimate or ask the restaurant staff.
What about tracking coffee, water, condiments, etc?
While it’s important to know what goes into your body, something that is essentially void of calories isn’t worth your time and effort. However, if those coffees are filled with milk and sugar – that changes things. Check to make sure your condiments, coffees, supplements, gum/mints, and drink mixes aren’t adding sneaky calories into your diet. If you find they are, then be sure you track them, and you might be surprised how much you can cut by eliminating those extras.
“Nutrition tracking is time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be easier to only eat a few times a day?”
Tracking food is a skill and like any skill, you have to practice it in order to become good at it. The first few weeks are sure to be an adjustment period. And yes, it might be easier to just skip a meal eating and gorge on whatever else you want. However, that is not a healthy habit to develop and it is not sustainable. Once you get a hang of it, though, and start seeing real results, tracking your food becomes second nature.