Since food is the very first principle of positive food experiences, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes (pun intended – ha-ha) of how to do food research. We have talked about the need to do food research. But what exactly does it mean? How do you do food research? What are some resources that can help in the process?
Perhaps you have no knowledge of how to do food research. You may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. Perhaps you have some knowledge of food research, but are not sure what direction to take. You may be well versed at food research, but just need to tweak your game plan a little bit. Depending on your actual circumstances, you can adjust accordingly.
Food research includes looking at food choices, nutrients, and benefits.
You start with your basic circumstances depending on your status. For example, if you are a woman between the ages of 30 and 45, what are your basic nutritional requirements? You can then discover the calorie and nutrient daily requirements. In doing so, you have a base or a starting point.
Start Small and Move Forward
At first the food research process may seem daunting. You may be thinking, “Ugh! I don’t have time to look up all this stuff! What a hassle! What’s the use???” You may feel like you can’t put anything in your mouth without having to analyze the ingredients first. Please put those thoughts aside. Start small and move forward.
As you familiarize yourself with different ingredients, quantities, and nutritional information, and have a nutrition baseline, there will be a point where all of this will become second nature. You won’t need to look up everything. You will already have that reservoir of knowledge from which to draw. As you make food choices each day, you can refer to the information you have learned.
No matter how hectic your day is, here are 6 innovative approaches to improve your food choices and create a positive food experience:
1. Take stock in yourself.
It is important to first take a step back and ask yourself some questions:
· How do I make food choices?
· Do I select foods based on convenience or impulse?
· Do I put time and effort into selecting the best foods for my situation?
· How do I want to feel throughout the day?
· How does eating a certain food make me feel?
· Do I have a lot of energy, or do I feel lethargic?
· Do I have side effects such as gas, bloating, or nausea when I eat certain foods?
· What if I have a food allergy that makes eating a challenge?
As you take an honest look at your answers, you can form an appropriate strategy for investigating different foods, their sources, and their benefits.
2. Analyze the health benefits of various foods.
Which is better, white rice or brown rice? Why is quinoa considered a complete protein? Can carrots really improve your eyesight?
Understanding the health benefits of the foods you eat helps you make better food choices, which helps you create positive food experiences.
You can then get more helpful nutrients and less problem substances.
For example, a research study at Tufts University indicates that eating a fresh avocado each day helps to increase brain and eye health. Knowing this information may help you to look up additional information on avocados, and incorporate avocados into your diet. Information pieces such as this often serve as motivators to finding out more information about a food or product.
As another example, my husband and I are taking steps to reduce our cholesterol intake. During our recent annual physical, our cholesterol levels were slightly elevated. Our cholesterol levels were not to the point where we needed medication to control them. Because of our health history, our doctor felt that we could reduce our cholesterol through diet and exercise modifications.
We carefully reviewed high cholesterol foods, and we are now taking steps to reduce our consumption of those high cholesterol foods such as cheese, cream, eggs, and other foods. We try to make alternative recipes that do not call for those items. While we still make a hot egg breakfast from time to time, we more frequently choose healthier breakfast foods such as cereal, oatmeal, and fruit smoothies.
See the section on automating food research for some helpful resources.
3. Become an expert at reading and understanding food labels.
In terms of food research, how do you know what the ingredients are, and how do they stack up against your daily nutritional requirements? A food label is essentially a listing of nutrition information for food. Food labels can help us make better choices about the quantity and quality of a food.
Some great resources for understanding and applying food label information include the following:
· KidsHealth.org has a fun and informative video on food labeling for “kids” of all ages.
· The Food and Drug Administration has an interactive website that provides more in-depth information.
4. Master your portion sizes.
How much you eat in a day is just as important as what you eat. Eating appropriate portion sizes based on your age, gender, and activity level helps keep your body functioning well. Doing so also helps you to enjoy the food without overindulging. Positive food experiences are about focusing on food in a healthy and motivating way. Keeping your portion sizes in moderation allows you to do just that.
Often the serving sizes may seem small or large for a typical daily intake. That is often done so you have a baseline to calculate daily intake. You can adjust accordingly based on your actual food consumption.
The United States Department of Agriculture has an excellent checklist called Choose My Plate that provides portion size suggestions based on age and caloric intake.
5. Recognize food triggers.
Some foods may be considered fun to eat, but the side effects may be something less than desirable. In the cases of food allergies, there may be serious health consequences. You are certainly not having a positive food experience if you become ill after eating a food item.
For example, as a kid, I ate Kentucky Fried Chicken meals for years before I realized that it did not agree with my digestive system. Back then I did not have the knowledge base to correlate the food with the health symptoms. All the while you eat other foods during the course of the day, so singling out a particular problem food is difficult. In the meantime, you may have no idea what causes health discomfort. It took quite awhile to pinpoint that food as the culprit. As soon as I realized that food was a problem for me, I was able to avoid that food going forward. Eating it wasn’t worth getting sick.
Various snack foods and other dishes can be the same way.
Similarly, if you have a food allergy, you need to be especially vigilant about food choices. Those with celiac, for example, need to adopt a gluten free diet. Thankfully there are many gluten free foods on the market today, as well as web resources and recipes for making your own meals.
· The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology has a comprehensive overview on food allergies.
· The Food Allergy Resource and Education organization’s field guide contains detailed information on a variety of different food allergies, including prevention and alternative food choices.
These and other resources help to give you some guidelines about what types of foods to purchase and recipes to make in order to help with a specific food allergy.
6. Automate food research.
In this day of technology, it’s hard not to find an app or other gadget to help in your daily activities. Food research is no exception. Some popular food research apps include the following:
· Nutrients: This helpful resource provides nutrition facts and health information for a variety of different foods
· Food Intolerances provides allergy information for many common foods.
Start a Chain Reaction Toward Positive Food Experiences
Implementing these approaches to food research starts a chain reaction toward positive food experiences:
· Building food knowledge
· Making healthy food choices
· Planning healthy meals with a wow factor
· Interacting with food, people, and the environment during the meal process
· Creating and documenting food memories
· Motivating yourself and others to form realistic food goals
As you focus on the food, you can then create positive food experiences. You can gravitate toward foods that make a positive difference in your health and in your life.
Food for Thought: How do you make food choices? What tools, apps, or techniques help you create a positive food experience?