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One of the assignments in my nutrition MOOC involved keeping a food diary for a day and making nutritional observations. The assignment effectively reinforced the course concepts. A bonus in this international class, is seeing what people in various countries eat, say, for breakfast. Pumpkin - really? (Yep. Bangladesh.)

People with diabetes are often asked to provide our medical teams with detailed logs about our food intake, exercise and blood sugars. It's not uncommon for my endocrinologist to request 1-2 weeks of data in order to see patterns and trends and better understand how my diet and exercise might be affecting my blood sugar. As valuable as I know the results are, the process of calculating and recording the data is monumentally tedious. (Thankfully it's a little less cumbersome since the advent of nutrient-tracking apps like MyPlate Calorie Tracker, MyFitnessPal.)

For the Coursera assignments, my classmates and I use SuperTracker, the USDA’s free, online tracking tool designed to help people meet their exercise and nutrition goals. Unlike many other apps in the food diary space, SuperTracker includes the option to track micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals). I haven’t ever paid attention to micro-nutrients, so I was surprised to discover that on a typical day my calcium intake falls far below the recommended levels for women in my age group.

I researched how to work calcium into my diet. I knew about some of these calcium power-houses, but some (figs?!) were new to me.

2 TBL blackstrap molasses
400 mg
2 cups low-fat yogurt
320 mg
1 cup milk
305 mg
1 cup broccoli
180 mg
½ cup navy beans
178 mg
2 TBL sesame seeds
175 mg
1 cup arugula
125 mg
1 hard boiled egg
25 mg
½ celery
24 mg
¼ cup chick peas
20 mg
1 dried fig
14 mg

Since our garden is teeming with greens, I’ll begin with a calcium-rich salad.
#28 on Bittman’s seasonal salads fits the bill.

I love to cook… sort of.

I love to spend a long, lazy Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, absorbed by cooking's sensuous colors, textures, sounds and smells. To me, it's more than relaxing; it's restorative.

But weeknight meal making (aka the reality of cooking) is another story. I find less pleasure in the rushed, staccato pace of assembling dinner for our family of four with competing schedules and priorities. Productivity experts suggest that the chaos of weeknight cooking can be quelled with weekly meal plans. But despite the well established benefits, I until recently, I had resisted this approach. I was concerned that the task of planning meals might further eclipse the enjoyment of cooking.

Enter MealBoard: a productivity app that combines recipe management, meal planning, and grocery-list making.

MealBoard Screenshot

The advantages to this simple, customizable app far outweigh (for me) the time required upfront to input recipes. Once a meal plan is set, MealBoard auto-magically generates a shopping list. The shopping list is grouped by items' location in the store, and non-recipe items (say, toothpaste) are easily  added. The more I use it, the more useful and efficient the app becomes.

Thanks to MealBoard I wing it less in the kitchen these days, and the making of weeknight meals is more calm. But what of the sensuous pleasures of cooking?

That's when I turn to Pinterest - where luscious photographs nourish the eyes, and culinary inspiration is a mere finger-flick away.

Passion restored, phew.

(Please note: Rather than continuing to post recipes here on I&D, I'm going to pin them on Pinterest. If you're interested, follow me on Pinterest.)

At a recent annual physical, I was discouraged to see that despite a healthy diet and more frequent trips to the gym, I was gaining weight (the unwanted, non-muscular kind). “How could this be?” I asked my doctor.

Dr:   [glancing at medical record] Let’s see… oh, you’re turning 40 next week.
          Happy Birthday! And welcome to your 40-year-old metabolism.
Me:  For real? Doesn’t reaching my target A1c count for anything metabolically?
Dr:   Nope.
Me:  Here’s the thing: I don’t want to gain weight.
Dr:   Great! Do you count calories?
Me:  (Pause) No. I don’t count calories.
Dr:   Have you ever counted calories?”
MeNo. I count carbohydrates.

(She’s my endocrinologist. She knows I count carbohydrates. And fiber. She knows I consider exercise. And stress. And how much sleep I got last night. And what time of the day it is. And what day of the month it is. Every. Single. Time. I. Eat. Calories? Hell, no!)

DrOkay, so from now on you’ll count carbohydrates and calories.
(I’m sorry, did you not hear everything I just thought?)
Dr:  You get 1,500 calories per day. 50% carbs / 30% protein / 20% fat. Got it?

(Damn you, slowing metabolism, how dare you take more fun out of eating?
But… I don’t want to gain a pound a year either.)

Me:  Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll get an app.

That night I downloaded LIVESTRONG’s Calorie Tracker app and played with it for way longer than I should have. It's pretty cool. It incorporates a large database with nutrition info for most of the foods I eat. There’s a place to track exercise. At a glance I can see progress toward my daily calorie threshold. I like this app! It’s going to help me reach my goals. It’s even going to remind me to drink water. Awesome.

         

The following week, my schedule was dreamily predictable. I exercised, ate, worked, and slept at consistent times. I had complete control over the carbohydrates in my meals. There are were no unexpected twists, no curve balls. It was the perfect week to be a carb-and-calorie-counting diabetic.

But, really, who has weeks like that? Life is full of schedule-wreckers. Within three weeks I had fallen off the calorie-tracking wagon. And yet, I like Calorie Tracker and continue to reference it for counting carbs (and the odd calorie).

But as far as a strategy to prevent weight gain, it’s more time in the gym for me.
And maybe I'll consider drinking my coffee black.

Do you know the website Foodily?

You can use it to compare the nutritional content of different versions of a recipe. It's especially helpful if you cook for people with dietary (or gustatory!) constraints. Here's how it works:

Say you want to make tomato soup for a dinner party. And you want it to be low-fat and low carb. And one of the guests is allergic to dairy. You just input "tomato soup" and check the appropriate filters. In seconds, Moodily serves up a bunch of recipes that meet your criteria. The recipes are displayed in a side-by-side format (often with images), so it's ridiculously easy to compare ingredients and nutritional data, and determine which recipe is right for you.

One downside for me is how the nutritional content is calculated. It's calculated per recipe rather than per serving. That makes the site less helpful for calculating insulin dosages. (You can read here why Foodily doesn't generate per-serving data.) Even despite that shortcoming, I like the site a lot.

Thanks to Foodily, I'll be making this tomato soup tomorrow night.

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