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4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself when Planning Your Ideal Diet

4 Questions You Should Ask Yourself when Planning Your Ideal Diet

From food pyramids to MyPlate, there have been no shortages of initiatives and campaigns to raise the public’s awareness on healthy eating i.e. eating the correct proportion of nutrients. These guides teach us what a balanced diet is, but they don’t teach us what a proper diet is. What I mean by ‘proper’ is this – the amount of calories we should consume in a day, and how those calories are distributed in terms of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. We know the percentages, but how much of a nutrient is really enough?

And so we tend to go about our lives eating, plate after plate after plate, often eating too little or too much of what we really need. Eating too little or too much are both detrimental to our health in the long run, leading to unsuccessful weight loss or maintenance, unsuccessful weight gain, malnutrition, and a myriad of disorders that are potentially fatal. It’s about high time we considered not only the arrangement of food on our plate, but the sizes of our plates as well.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when it comes to planning a successful and healthy diet.

 

How many calories do I need in a day?

This number ranges depending on physical activity, age, health conditions and other external influences, but generally it is recommended that women aged between 19 and 30 consume at least 2000 calories per day, while those aged between 31-50 consume at least 1800 calories per day. WebMD provides other recommendations based on individual lifestyles, age and gender. Their caloric calculations are based on the Estimated Energy Requirements (EER) from the Institute of Medicine.

Calories

If you’re feeling under the weather, eating more calories helps your body to repair damaged tissues and provides energy for your cells to fight off the infection. Even if you aren’t in the mood to put food in your mouth, replenish yourself with some nutritious fluids e.g. chicken soup so that you have enough calories for your body’s growth and recovery.

 

How many calories from each nutrient should I consume in a day?

The percentages that we know from food pyramids and other nutrition guides such as MyPlate come in handy here. About half your caloric intake should come from carbohydrates (4 cal/g), while less than 30% should come from fats and oils (9 cal/g; less than 10% of fats in saturated form). Proteins (4 cal/g) should make up roughly 10-15% of your caloric intake. Note that this is a measure of caloric intake, not dietary intake. Fruits and vegetables – which contribute little calories – should take up half of your dietary intake, which is about half of your meal.

A special mention here for proteins – women are recommended to consume 0.8g protein/ kg of body weight, while for males it is 0.9g/ kg of body weight. Also, a completely fat-free diet is highly discouraged, because your body needs fats and oils for normal growth and development, as well as with the transport of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

 

What are daily values?

Daily values (DVs) are more commonly associated with products manufactured in America, and it is shown as a percentage on the food label. DVs represent the percentage of the recommended daily intake of a nutrient contributed by a serving of a food product. For example, a product which has 30% DV in terms of carbohydrate provides 30% of the recommended daily intake of carbohydrate per serving. DVs are based on a 2000-cal diet, so if you require less or more calories, do make some adjustments in terms of portion size.

Daily Value

DVs are also a standard for food manufacturers to make health claims. A product that contains >10% DV of a nutrient can be labelled as “More (nutrient)”. 10-19% DV makes the product a “Good Source of (nutrient)”, while >20% DV makes the product “High in (nutrient)”. DVs are a good way of helping you plan your diet, especially if you are deficient in certain nutrients and are too busy to cook for every meal. Choosing the suitable food products for your wellbeing is no longer a gamble of your money, but a well-made investment.

 

Can I exceed the daily recommended intake?

Eating too little of nutrients may lead to a myriad of illnesses, but so does eating too much. But how much is really too much? Is exceeding the daily recommended intake equivalent to over-consuming a nutrient? The answer is NO. Surprising as it may sound, it’s perfectly fine to consume more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of a nutrient, as long as it doesn’t exceed something known as the Upper Limit (UL). The upper limit is the “true limit” of the amount of nutrients we can consume, a limit above which negative effects are brought upon our body.

Recommended Daily Intakes and Upper Limits for Common Nutrients

Age

Vitamin A

See Report

Folate
(Vitamin B-9)
See Report

Vitamin C

See Report

Vitamin D

See Report

Calcium

See Report

Iron

See Report

RDA1

Upper Limit2

RDA3

Upper Limit4

RDA

Upper Limit

RDA5

Upper Limit

RDA

Upper Limit

RDA

Upper Limit

14 – 18

1,000 IU

9,333 IU

400 mcg

800 mcg

75 mg (m)
65 mg (f)
80 mg (preg)
115 mg (lact)

1,800 mg

600 IU

4,000 IU

1,300 mg

2,500 mg

11 mg (m)
15 mg (f)
27 mg (preg)
10 mg (lact)

45 mg

Adult

3,000 IU (m)
2,300 IU (f)

10,000 IU

400 mcg
600 mcg (preg)/
500 mcg (lact)

1,000 mcg

90 (m)
75 mg (f)
85 mg (preg)
120 (lact)

2,000 mg

600 IU (51- 70 years)
800 IU (71+ years)

4,000 IU

1,000 mg (to 50 years)
1,200 mg (51+ years)

2,500 mg

8 mg (m)
18 mg (f 19 to 50 years)
8 mg (f 51+ years)
27 mg (preg)
9 mg (lact)

45 m

An example of DRIs of nutrients vs their ULs

Daily recommended intakes (DRIs) are an indication of the minimum amount of nutrients one should consume for normal growth and development of the body. Hence, eating more than the DRI of a certain nutrient is actually good for our health. The UL for nutrients are usually quite high, so unless you’re purposely overloading on a certain nutrient, a normal diet should be far from the ULs of nutrients.

 

Eat a variety, eat enough and stay healthy!

 

Photo credits:

Feature photo – www.doctorshealthpress.com

Calories – www.fatfreewithme.com

Daily Value – www.blog.fooducate.com

DRIs vs ULs – adapted from https://www.consumerlab.com/rdas/

1 Comment

  1. aarontang
    / Reply

    Always like well-researched articles like this. Well done Vivien!

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