How do you know you’re getting your daily recommended nutrition from the food you eat?

Admit it! You don’t know what you’re eating! Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair. You probably know roughly what you’re consuming from meal to meal; maybe even looking at the ingredients on the back of the packet (or do you!?); but I’ll bet you don’t know the total breakdown of how much of each of the food groups you’re putting into your body and if that’s meeting the recommended daily amounts.

Perhaps, you’re not even interested in finding out (in which case, it’s time to stop reading!), but I was enough to try to establish what the recommended daily requirements and allowances were as a first step in comparing it to what I actually put into my body.

We’re bombarded by all kinds of facts and figures about what we should eat on a daily basis on food labels, government advice or our peers, but if you’re like me you tend to overlook these numbers and think of more ‘flexible’ guidelines that get subliminaly stuck in the mind such as “don’t eat too much fat”, or “make sure you eat enough fibre”, etc. I’ve been thinking though: I really would like to see some numbers to represent the daily guidelines.

Of course, daily requirements will vary by age group, gender and possibly any underlying health condition, but I wanted to have a go at tracking down, and having in one place as many of the totals for each food stuff as I could.

We often hear that the average adult male should consume 2,500 calories and females around 2,000 calories (kids about 1,800 calories). But it’s not as simple as that as calories are a measure of energy. It’s the carbohydrate (sugars, starch, fats and oils*) food group that serves up that stored energy, but we also need:

  • fibre (soluble and insoluble);
  • protein;
  • *fats and oils (saturated and unsaturated);
  • minerals;
  • water;
  • and vitamins;

to keep us alive and healthy.

Around the world, government advice seems to display recommendations by graphics such as food pyramids or healthy plates.

For example, the Australian government recommends the following breakdown of foodstuffs on a daily basis:

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating - Enjoy a Variety of Foods Every Day

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating - Enjoy a Variety of Foods Every Day

…which is all fine and dandy, but I would prefer to also see some cold, hard numbers of weights and volumes (though they do produce a nice little booklet)!

Back in the late 1990’2 the UK government together with the food industry and consumer bodies got together to start to outline recommended guideline daily amounts (GDAs) of total calorie intake (measured in kcal) and that of 7 essential nutrients (measured in grams). Since then, many European countries have followed suit along with the USA.

In the UK, the GDAs are:

Energy

  • Male 2500kcal
  • Female 2000kcal

Protein

  • Male 55g
  • Female 45g

Carbohydrates

  • Male 300g
  • Female 230g

47% of total energy intake should come from carbohydrates, and the majority in the form of complex carbohydrates (e.g. starch-based) as opposed to simple carbohydrates (or ‘as sugars’ from fruit, yoghurt, honet, etc).

Sugars

  • Male 120g
  • Female 90g

Fibre

  • Men 24g
  • Female 24g

Fat

  • Male 95g
  • Female 70g

Fats are saturated, mono-unsaturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats should form the bulk of fat intake as they comprise the fatty acids your body needs, whilst not as much saturated fat is required.

Saturates

  • Male 30g
  • Female 20g

Sodium

  • Male 6g
  • Female 6g

You can find out more about what GDAs mean in the What’s Inside Guide website and the NHS (National Health Service) has a website called ‘Healthy Eating – Live Well‘ – both of which try to present the info in a consumer friendly way. GDA labelling from the Food and Drink Federation is also a useful website.

So, the question is are you reaching the guideline daily amounts or are you just more confused!?

About Derek Shirlaw

I'm passionate about science communication, social media, and my home country, Scotland. In particular, I have a real interest in astronomy, digital marketing, and the great outdoors.
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