November 2, 2011
Nutrition

Nutrition for Your Health: Put Your Diet on a Budget

If you had to pay 1 cent for each calorie you ate, would you have enough money to visit Chipotle? Let’s do the math:

  • A chicken burrito would cost you $10.30 (hold the guacamole!), or 1,030 calories.
  • Add those salty lime chips with guacamole and a 16-ounce bottled tea, and you’d be at $19.50 or 1,950 calories.

Do you have enough?

What’s a less expensive option?

We’ve all heard that we should eat more greens, but let me put it into perspective with this money analogy.

  • 3 cups of mixed greens would be just 60 cents.
  • Add 2 tablespoons salad dressing and you’d be at $1.40.
  • An apple would be 80 cents, a cup of strawberries 46 cents, a pear $1.
  • A cup of skim milk 90 cents.

So this salad and cup of milk would cost you only $4.56, or 456 calories! It’s better for you and your pocketbook.

What is a calorie?

A calorie is the amount of heat it takes 1 milliliter of water to raise one degree Celsius. We use calories to measure the amount of energy or “heat” in the foods we eat.

How many calories do you need each day?

Most moderately active adults need between 1,800-2,200 calories each day. Food supply trends suggest that the average daily calorie consumption was 12 percent higher in 2000 than in 1985. That represents an increase of about 300 calories per day. If you eat 300 extra calories a day, without becoming more active, that relates to a 31-pound weight gain in one year!

Where did those extra calories come from?

According to FoodReview, published by the USDA:

  • About 46 percent came from refined grains
  • 24 percent from added fats, especially trans fats and saturated fats
  • 23 percent from added sugar
  • 8 percent from fruits and vegetables
  • And about a 1 percent decline in dairy

Are calories from refined grains, trans fats, and added sugars worse for us?

Yes, because we aren’t getting any nutrients from these substances. If we focused our calorie intake on whole grains, plant sources of protein, fruits, vegetables, and some low-fat dairy would we get more nutrition for our dollar.

But if we overate those “healthier” foods we might still gain weight and thus put ourselves at risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. Recent studies validate that dietary factors can cause and prevent disease.

Are there good calories and bad calories?

Gary Taubes, author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” says  that “there is no solid scientific evidence demonstrating saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease, salt causes high blood pressure, or fiber is a necessary part of a healthy diet.”

Instead, he argues, most health problems are due to the refined carbohydrates we eat, and it is the type of calories we eat, not the amount. Hence, there are good calories and there are bad calories.

We eat too much.

As a Registered Dietitian with more than 20 years experience working in health-care settings, schools, and working with individuals, I disagree with Mr. Taubes. I believe we eat too much. We eat too many calories everyday and that is why we are gaining weight.

So, what do we eat?

As Michael Pollan states, “Eat food, mostly plants, and not too much.” Then you will have some money left over for the movies!

 What do you think about our calorie consumption? Do you have any tips on how to make healthy food choices?

About the author:

Chris Heuston , M.P.H., R.D., is a registered dietitian with 20 years experience of eating right and teaching others how to eat better. She is the Allied Health Department chair at the Westminster Campus of Front Range Community College, a community college in Colorado. She teaches several Human Nutrition courses.