Washington Post carries a thought-provoking and slightly depressing article: Even a Dietitian Can Find It Hard to Craft a Diet That Covers All the Bases. Essentially, even a very experienced Registered Dietitian found it difficult to design a diet that met all the dietary guidelines within 1800 calories (day’s menu for a hypothetical 35-year-old, 5-foot-4-inch woman who weighs 130 pounds and exercises three times a week) and that isn’t taking issues such as affordability into account. The dietitian couldn’t succeed because the only way to meet the RDA for iron meant that she had to include a fortified, processed food product that contributed to the too-high level of sodium intake.
Although I’m slightly down-hearted, I’m not daunted because we are expected to be able to do this for ourselves and anyone else we cook for on a regular basis. There is much to be said for looking at a diet over a period of a few days or a week rather than a one-day hypothetical. We store iron, so as long as that balances out over the week, it’s acceptable if the intake varies. Likewise, the Omega 3 intake from a piece of mackerel lasts for 3-4 days. According to Catherine Collins, principal dietitan at St George’s Hospital:
Diets…are all about context: ‘There is no such thing as a good food or a bad food, only a good diet or a bad diet.’ Surely Tunnock’s caramel wafers are a bad food? I love them more than anything in the world, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel guilty about hiding them at the bottom of my bread bin. Collins is unfazed. ‘A woman’s calorie intake should be around 2,000 a day, of which 10 per cent can be naughties like chocolate.’
One of the more pressing immediate problems is which free, online, diet/recipe analyser to use. There are several US/Canadian analysers that use the USDA Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) to calculate nutritional profiles: eg, Recipe Zaar, Nutrition Data (with some idiosyncratic information such as ‘inflammatory index’), Dietitians of Canada Recipe Analyzer and Fitday. There are some small differences between UK (more detail at the Food Standards Agency) and US RDAs, such as vitamin C intake which is 40mg for adults in the UK but 75-90 mg for adults (without any special dietary needs) in the US.
My Google-Fu has not discovered a comparable UK analyser. If anybody knows of a UK tool, please don’t keep it to yourself but leave a comment about it. If there isn’t one then it looks as if the diet will have to comply with USDA RDAs. Because there isn’t an RDA for Omega 3 as yet, I’ll take a look at the various Recommended Daily Intakes (RDIs) and choose one. There are various recommendations that 5 A Day is only a stepping stone to the ideal goal of around 9 A Day so I’m going to aim for 7-9 A Day.
I’m curious to discover whether it is feasible to put together all of the dietary guidelines and recommendations and come up with something that people want to eat, is sustainable/practical and affordable within a budget of £40 per week for 4 people. I’m beginning to think that there should be a moratorium on dietary advice or guidelines unless somebody has assessed whether or not it meets these criteria.