One of the things I do from time to time is to audit my diet to see if I’m getting in enough nutrients from the food I eat. It was especially important for me to do this while I was in a Crohn’s flare, but it also came in handy after my ostomy surgery.
In this post, I’ll explain how to do this.
You might have noticed, in several of my “What I Ate” posts, that I include a screenshot of what my nutrient totals looked like for that meal.
One of the tools I use to keep track of what I eat is Cron-o-meter, although there are other websites and apps that do the same thing.
I’ll be showing you how I use this specific website, but you can apply these tips to just about any nutrient tracker that has advanced options like adjustable nutrient targets or custom food entries.
Here are a few that come highly recommended. Some of them have mobile companion apps for your phone or tablet, so find one that suits your lifestyle best.
Also, keep in mind that some offer paid options that give you extra features.
Alternatively, and more preferably, you should look for privacy-focused food trackers and open-source food trackers since most of the major sites will sell or use your personal data.
Why Track Your Nutrients?
Don’t remember when I started using Cron-o-meter, but I’m willing to bet that it was around 2009.
I started using their Windows version (which is still available to download), but it became way more convenient to use after they launched a web version and mobile apps to go with it.
I’ve used both the web and Android version, but I favor the website on a large screen.
I decided to track my nutrient intake to make sure that my diet is balanced, but also because I knew that Crohn’s disease would likely lead to deficiencies that I wanted to keep on top of.
Even after many years, I still track my intake on occasion (usually to see what the values are for certain meals), and this was something I did quite often while recovering from my surgeries.
Setting Nutrient Targets
I strongly suggest speaking with your doctor to see if your lab work looks good. You might also want to see if any of the medication you take interferes with nutrient absorption.
Doing this will make sure that you’ll be able to adjust your RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) to compensate for any deficiencies.
Most food tracking software will give you at least basic targets like calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein, although I highly recommend one that can track vitamins and minerals (a.k.a. micronutrients), too.
Keeping track of calories is usually something you’d need to do if you’re on a diet and are trying to lose weight, however, if you’re underweight because of an illness, it’s crucial to make sure that you are at least getting in adequate calories.
You’d be surprised how many or how few calories you consume until you start tracking them.Eric, VeganOstomy
I’ve read stories of so many people with IBD who have lost weight and can’t seem to put any on (I was one of those people), but most of the time, the solution might simply be to increase the calories consumed.
Your protein intake will be important if you’re recovering from surgery, so make sure that you’re at least hitting the recommended targets for your age, sex, and activity level, to allow your body to heal faster.
As a general rule, if you’re eating enough whole foods to cover your caloric requirements, you’ll be getting more than enough protein – even on plant-based diets. Some patients, however, will be told to increase their protein intake while in recovery.
When I was recovering from my surgeries, I used a protein powder to give my diet a boost.
Nutritional targets will vary greatly from person to person, and factors like post-surgical diets will change the targets you’ll be setting up.
Assuming that I don’t have any special requirements related to my current health status, I adjust my RDA’s (recommended dietary allowance) based on the bioavailability from certain nutrients in plants.
For example, we know that non-heme iron from plants doesn’t absorb as well as heme-iron from meat, so we should try to get more than what the RDA states for iron if we are eating a plant-based diet.
Or, you may be on medication that is known to impair the absorption of certain vitamins or minerals, so you can set a higher RDA for those, too.
This might be something you can discuss with your doctor or dietitian, as you may want to also adjust these RDA’s to make up for deficiencies found through your lab work.
Below you’ll find an example of what I’ve set my RDA’s for, based on my desired calorie goal, age, sex and the fact that I’m vegan:
For more information on nutrient RDA’s for vegans, check out VeganHealth.org
Extras to Consider
Many of these nutrient trackers allow you to create new foods or customize existing foods in their database, so if you’re making meals from scratch, you could enter in the entire recipe and calculate portions as you consume them.
You can also track water consumption if that’s something you like to keep on top of. The nice thing about using something like Cron-o-Meter to track water, is that it includes water you’ve already consumed from food, which is often overlooked when you only track fluids you drink.
If you are taking supplements, be sure to include them as a food entry, so you’re getting a more accurate picture of your intake.
You may be required to create a new “food” or “recipe” with all the details entered off the supplement’s label.
Putting It All Together
So what does all this mean? I find that keeping track of nutrient targets helps me to optimize my diet. I use this type of data together with my regular food diary to paint a more complete picture of my food intake.
By using this information, along with some of the tips I’ve offered about enhancing nutrient absorption, you can work towards taking charge of your diet in a more positive and deliberate way.