Sunday, March 29, 2015

Monitoring health data - my way - #2

On this article I'll discuss how I track data related to the food.
A very important thing to do if you are dieting or keeping track of your health numbers, is to monitor the carbs and other nutrient intake, i.e. how many carbs you are eating.
In order to do so, it is important to know exactly what and when you are eating.

It seems easy but is not.
Why is not easy ? Well, let see some reasons (just a few) :
  • not all the food you are eating is labeled
  • the food is not  "homogeneous", the same food can be present in different forms
  • often a processed food have different characteristics  than a less processed food
  • often are indicated base chemical compost rather than more "human" description
  • different companies label the food in different way
  • all the companies who sell food, always try to hide or manipulate information in order to make more palatable the food they sell. The rule seems to be, if you can't be vague, obscure with chemistry and strange words
  • hidden basic ingredients in processed food (like salt or sugar) often requires to "split" a food in it's basic elements
  • etc.
So monitoring what you want to eat is not an easy business, it takes time and organization.
Here  is "my way". Repeating myself, this is how  I do that, I'm not stating it is the right way to do it.
It is good for me.

I maintain basically 3 documents :
  1. a "food information" document (word processor)
  2. a "food journal" document (word processor)
  3. the spreadsheet where I track also the sugar level and other measurements (spreadsheet)

Food information

The food information document contains information about the food I eat.
Usually I save a picture of the food or box, for an easy visual reference, and then some nutrient information.
Plus I add some notes to clarify how many carbs are actually present, just to simplify when I have to figure out quickly how much carbs I'm having.

The main problem is due by the fact that manufacturers give the information often in a very complicated way.
For example, many "soups" containers  contains 2 servings, but often the nutrient information are for about 1 serving.
Often you find 2.5 servings per container, other times 1 ... doesn't exists a standard.
Some manufactures express the "serving" in grams, other in oz, other per cup, other per bowl other as a generic "serving", or specific food description.
So in order to figure out what you are eating, to calculate carbs and other measurement, you need to spend time researching information.

Thus I decided to "save" these researches, the results, in a document.
Each entry has a picture of the product, a copy of the nutrition chart, a thumb up or down to indicate that tastes good, and eventually some notes.

Here an example of entry:

Again, the main purpose of this document is to have a quick recap of the food I usually ate, in order to avoid to do the same research over and over.

On this document are also documented some "home made recipes", in order to calculate the nutrition info for that.
What I usually do, is to put down the basic nutrients of each component of the recipe, then calculate the total amount of carbs (and other nutrients) and then divide in cups or bowls.

Food journal

Once you figure out how many carbs (and other nutrients) are in the food, the second step is to write down somewhere what you ate on a specific day.
This is the Food Journal document.
For each day there are 4 entries :
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch
  • Dinner
  • Snacks
Each entry will collect information about what I'm eating. Quantity, food, estimated carbs, often divided by food.
With these info I can sum up the number of carbs for each "period" and transpose that value in the spreadsheet.

Here an example of entry :

February 26, 2015
  • Breakfast
    1 low carb tortilla (3g) with cheese, 4 slices capocollo (0g), eggs beater
  • Lunch
    1 serving Chicken Enchilada bake (15g)
    Pringles chip onion sour – single serve (10g)
    Cornetti single serving (3 g)
  • Dinner
    Panera Bread – Chicken Kale and sweet potato soup – 1 cup (9g)
    1 Morey's grilled salmon (1g) with zucchini (5g)
  • Snacks
    10 am – 1 pouch Skinny zero popcorn (5g)
    3 pm - Chiquita – Bites juicy red apple (6g) with string cheese
    9 pm – low carb cake (4 g)
More details are put in this document, more is easy to calculate the carbs but there is always a trade between efficiency and time spent doing that.
Being too precise requires a lot of time, so know what to write as amount of information is something that is coming with the experience of doing that daily.

Note that the food journal reports mainly the carbs intake and not all the others nutrient,
This because the carbs intake is the main key in my case, however, other articles will explain how to use the nutrient information and create a daily journal.


In the end the goal is to come up with some carbs number to put in the spreadsheet I described in the previous article (Monitoring health data - my way #1).
The day is divided in 6 time areas :
  • breakfast
  • morning snack
  • lunch
  • afternoon snack
  • dinner
  • night snack
For each area the goal is to assign a value (if any).
See the previous document for details.

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