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Posts tagged ‘MyFitnessPal’


I was contemplating the conundrum about vitamins, and as soon as I logged on, this article, telling me not to take vitamins, popped up. If you don’t feel like reading it, it says that there is no correlation between vitamin use and increased health, in fact there is some evidence to the contrary. Of course, I’m suspicious if they don’t include links to the research they are citing. The minute I did a search on research on vitamin benefits I got this article from Harvard School of Public Health, stating it is a good idea to take a multi vitamin. Another article from CNN, shows very inconclusive results as to whether vitamins prevent breast cancer or heart disease. Even Vitamin D, the current darling is starting to lose its shine, see here.

From everything I’ve read, I think there are some things we can say.

  1. You are always better off getting your vitamins from food
  2. More is not always better.
  3. Pills cannot compensate for poor choices
  4. Diseases are complex, and any kind of pill is only part of the answer.
  5. We don’t understand the whole picture of how food affects our body, so pulling one nutrient out and focusing on it may be counter productive.

Vitamins and minerals have been on my mind lately. As I’ve my mentioned before, I use myfitnesspal. I don’t have trouble with my weight, but I do it to help my clients, and to have an objective measure of “healthy” eating. I eat most of my diet with the objective of it being healthy choices. I find it interesting what the results are. First, A and C are easy to get. You almost have to try to be deficient in those two.

Interestingly, those are the two most often listed on labels. Myfitnesspal doesn’t give you the option of tracking the b family, d or others. You can however track sodium, potassium, iron and calcium. I find that I don’t get enough minerals, even though I eat a largely whole food diet. (No one’s perfect-I do eat desert). There is the possibility that Myfitnesspal is inaccurate. Much of what is in the database is user supplied, making its accuracy suspect. However, the other day I had commercial cereal, and for the first time, my iron intake was over 100 percent.

So, if taking a multivitamin is not beneficial, why do we fortify foods? We do have proof that fortifying foods reduced the incidence of pellagra and rickets. Is is possible to get all your nutrients from food? Is the USDA’s RDA inaccurate? Is the only way to get it all from food is to go from the other direction, and pick foods based on their nutrients, then figure out how to make meals of them?

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think science does yet, either. It is beneficial to pay attention, learn, and do your best. Another thing to remember is that “vitamins” and “supplements” are pretty broad categories. there is a world of difference between a daily multivitamin and some “proprietaries blend” of goodness knows what. There are people out there hawking all kinds of “supplements” There is no evidence that mega doses of anything is good for you. The funny thing is, many of the people who are taking tons of crazy  supplements are the same people who are eating right. When you do start to study nutrition, you see how important it is to eat healthy food as much as possible. You don’t have a lot of calories to waste on junk, especially if you are a small person, who doesn’t take a lot of calories to maintain.


The trouble with Tracking, and the Importance of Real Food

One of my clients is trying to lose weight, tells me she is doing all the right things, yet isn’t getting results. Now I’m going to say something that flies in the face of what we’d like to hear. Diets do work, and the math doesn’t lie.


Knowing how many calories you are eating is not easy. Knowing nutritional content is even harder. Staying on top of all this and not getting lazy or discouraged is even harder. I use tracking software, Myfitnesspal, and I play around with Fooducate. Even with that kind of help, it is very hard to get accurate answers. Either you have to spend a lot of time putting in every recipe, or you cheat and use someone else’s, which may or may not be close, and then you have to either measure the amounts you ate or guesstimate. User added information is not always reliable, and it doesn’t show the ingredients or amounts of mixed dishes like tuna salad. My fitness pal has a REALLY cool feature now where you can put the URL of the recipe you used and it puts it all in. However, that only works if you are using an online recipe. My recipes usually consist of

  1. What is in the house this minute.
  2. What might taste good together, or at least not be gross.
  3. Trying to follow a recipe, but seeing changes that might be good.

Still, that feature will make things a lot easier, because I can find a recipe that’s really close to what I made and get a more accurate log.

Outside of trying to help my client, it was really bugging me that my mineral content on Myfitnesspal was really low. While I do know that some of the user entries don’t include anything beyond calories, or possibly macronutrients, I didn’t think it was that far off.  I questioned the Nutrition Diva, and she suggested that it was inaccurate user data. I looked back and saw many things had no mineral content, and I know the items I had listed had some, so I’m assuming she’s right.  This reinforces the knowledge that unless you have access to a really sound database, and are diligent about measuring and logging, your information will always be vague.

Which brings me to my next point. We all have to be as dedicated as possible to eating whole, nutrient dense, minimally processed foods. This means fruits and veggies, dairy, lean meats and fish, legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Don’t comment, I do realize that grains are seeds. A cracker is usually not a whole grain. A whole grain is one that resembles the seed as it grew. If we eat like that, with most of our plate being veggies, and everything else in smaller amounts, keep the bread to 1-2 servings a day, treat full fat items as condiments, and keep added sugar out as much as possible, we can cover what our tracking is missing.

To illustrate, I have the info for a Ritz Cracker. What does it have, besides calories and fat?

NUTRITION FACTS for a Ritz Cracker

Serving size 5 crackers (16g)
Calories 80 Kcal
Calories from Fat 40 Kcal
Total Fat 4.5 g
Saturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 105 mg
Total Carbohydrate 10 g
Dietary Fiber 0 g
Sugars 1 g
Protein 0.25 g
Vitamin A 0 IU
Vitamin C 0 mg
Calcium 20 mg
Iron 0.36 mg

Even my beloved Triscuits, yes, some fiber and protein, paired with more calories, although if you notice, a serving of Triscuits is almost twice as much food, for only 1/3 more calories.

NUTRITION FACTS for a Triscuit

Serving size 6 crackers (28g)
Calories 120 Kcal
Calories from Fat 35 Kcal
Total Fat 4 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 180 mg
Total Carbohydrate 20 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sugars 0 g
Protein 3 g
Vitamin A 0 IU
Vitamin C 0 mg
Calcium 0 mg
Iron 1.44 mg

Now lets see a carrot:


Serving size 1 carrot, 100g
Calories 41 Kcal
Total Fat 0.3 g
Saturated Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 88 mg
Total Carbohydrate 12 g
Dietary Fiber 4 g
Sugars 6 g
Protein 1 g
Vitamin A 21384 IU
Vitamin C 8 mg
Calcium 42 mg
Iron 0 mg

Grains give us energy (calories) and they taste good, but the above illustrates why they should only take up a quarter of your meal. For half the calories of the Ritz, in a carrot you get twice the calcium, 4 times the amount of fiber, pretty much your whole days worth of vitamin a, less salt and half the carbs. Pair the carrots with homemade humus and you’ll have a snack that will last all afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t ever eat a Triscuit, just realize when you are hungry and trying to lose weight, vegetables and fruit are your best friends. You do need the calories from grains, and as long as they are whole grains, you are getting good stuff from them. Ritz are off my list, first, they have transfats- if it says hydrogenated oil on the label, it has transfats- there is a label loophole that lets them say 0 grams. Second, they are much more processed than Triscuits, no fiber or protein to speak of, plus more sugar.  Still Wasa rye crisps are far better than either of the other cracker choices, but I have to admit, for Americans it’s a bit of a stretch. No fat. How do they make them stick together?

Brilliant facts

Whole grain rye flour, Salt

Nutrition facts

Serving size: 2 Slice (18g)
Servings per container: about 15

Nutritional information
Per Serving (%Daily Value)
Calories  60
Total Fat 0g (0%)
Saturated Fat 0g (0%)
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg (0%)
Sodium 70mg (3%)
Total Carbohydrate 14g (5%)
Dietary Fiber 3g (12%)
Sugars 0g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

Behavior Modification and Feedback

I have been using the Fitbit Flex along with the Myfitnesspal app to track and monitor my fitness. I’m not trying to lose weight, I am already at an appropriate weight. I started doing this in order to have adequate experience to help my clients who are trying to lose weight, and just because I’m curious.

I’ve made several discoveries from this. First, it is addictive. Normally, I try tracking things and lose interest rather quickly. Since the software provides lots of feedback, with it’s  charts, graphs and goals, it creates motivation in me to reach those goals. I have started recommending some kind of tracking software and hardware to all my clients. Doing this tracking has changed my behavior, possibly permanently. I will go for a walk at the end of the day, even if I’m tired, just to up my step total. I won’t eat something if I see I’ve reached my calorie goal, or I will make a lower calorie choice to keep from going over.

The extrinsic reward of seeing the happy face on my phone is powerful. If you wonder how strong of a motivator could that be, ask anyone who plays video games how important hitting a certain score is, or clearing a level. This is the same motivator, only with a real world application. I feel very strongly that we should harness this behavior pathway to change our society. We keep talking about the obesity epidemic, and I think this is a potent tool to counteract the social trends leading to obesity. We talk about the difficulty of getting kids to lose weight, this would be a way to reach them without shaming, embarrassing  or harassing them. They could monitor their own progress, and own the whole process. There could be an app that gives a visual reward when they reach their calorie goal, that would be removed if they go over. Food choices could earn them points, and every day and every week they could improve their score.

I don’t see a down side to this use of technology. Too many people tell me, “oh, I eat all right”. Or, “My nutrition’s ok”. Looking at them, I don’t believe it. People need real feedback to know where they are. We all have rose colored glasses on when thinking about our eating.  Once you have a mirror held up to your behavior, it does change.

Another potential use is research. So often research suffers from bias, when the subjects put down what they think the researcher wants, or what vanity dictates. We have millions of people keeping digital logs. If researchers were allowed anonymous access, what could they glean from all of that? I’m not saying all those logs are terribly accurate. If I go to a buffet, I just quick add 600 calories, rather than try and log each food. That’s average for what I normally eat in a meal, and I figure it covers it. Could it be a lot more or less? Sure. I’m certain most people out there are like me,  guesstimating amounts, rounding portions up or down and leaving things off. I’m under my calorie goal most weeks. If that were really true, I would be losing weight, and I’m not, so we know there’s some fudge factor in there somewhere. Still, it is better than a questionnaire sent out once a week, or once a month, asking people to remember how much they ate.


I’d like to know what you think. Do you use tracking software?  What software/hardware do you use? What do you like or dislike about it? How has it changed your behavior? Do you feel good about how it’s changed you? What was your biggest surprise? How accurate do you think it is?

It’s been awhile

I have let my blogging slip, initially out of lack of anything to write about, then because I BECAME A GRANDMA! I’m here helping take care of the baby, and thought I’d catch up.

First- pressure works. Whether it is bloggers or the main stream media, talking about what is wrong with food and how to fix it causes even monolithic entities like Wal-Mart to change. Look what I found on my last visit.Healthy chicken bought at Wal-Mart Imagine, Wal-Mart selling something that wasn’t factory raised. Now, I’m no babe in the woods. I realize that anyone can slap anything they like on a label, it doesn’t make it so. But I figure with all the anti Wal-Mart sentiment out there that if it isn’t true, someone will find out pretty quick. I also realize that the word organic is missing.  I don’t know if I posted about this before, but my feelings about organic when it comes to animals are very mixed. I’ll post about that some other time. As good as this new development is, it’s still Wal-Mart.  I have to say that I shopped at a “Sentry” market here in Wisconsin, and it was so much like a Wegmans, I felt right at home. Both Wegmans and Sentry have a larger commitment to healthy eating. Sentry also has distance signs- if anything is from Wisconsin, they tell you how far it traveled to get there. Eating local is a very big trend here. I can’t say it is as much so in New York.

In other news, I’m trying out a new fitness app, FitnessFast. So far, it seems promising, although I haven’t totally gotten the hang of it. It allows you to select exercises, or add your own, and create your workouts. You can then log them as you perform them. I love it since I’m getting heartily sick of the paper and pen routine. I have a very hard time tracking my workouts,  with adding the bar weight (“Did I use the regular bar for that or the short one?””How much does my son-in-law’s bar weigh?) and remembering to do it promptly, and not mixing up exercises…(“now, what was the difference between the Romanian dead lift and regular?” “Is this the Bulgarian split squat or the rear foot elevated lunge?”) While this exercise  program can’t help too much with the exercises, they do have little animations of many of the exercises. If they ever get a huge data base of exercises, that’ll be great. It also has a space for notes, which I like, as I need to make notes for future revisions. It has a timer, which I’m not sure I like. It is good for making certain the rest periods are long enough, but do I care how long it takes me to bench press a set?

For someone like me, who loves tracking changes, this will become addictive, as you can chart your progression. That has been lacking from my programing right now. I don’t go back through my log and see what’s changed and improved. It also gives you your total volume, which makes it look so impressive. While this does look very promising right now, I do need to become more familiar with it and see what it can and can’t do, and if it truly does make my routine easier. I’ll give you an update.

Last, while I gave up on MyFitnessPal when I stopped playing with my weight, my daughter told me that several of her friends are now using it to lose weight. I may go back to it, after being sick for a month, I’ve put on a few pounds. It is another app I really recommend.

If you have a favorite fitness or nutrition app, please let me know. The only advertising apps get is word of mouth. I almost forgot to mention, I have an iPhone, so all apps I talk about are apple compatible, I don’t know if they are available for the Android.

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