Day: January 2, 2011

Day 2 – Create a Calorie List

This is Day 2 of Live a Healthier Life in 21 Days Challenge. If you would like to participate, please sign up here.

The Day 2 task is a little too complicated and difficult for me to do. Here is why.

Three times a day, I eat home cooked food, made from scratch. I rarely eat from a can or a box, so there is no way I can read the label and count the calorie and fat content of the items I eat. And I have never done that.

To make things more complicated, I don’t measure how much I cook or eat.

Unlike in the Western countries where cookbooks and recipes are popular and widely used, most Chinese people don’t use cookbooks and recipes. We simply cook using what we have and by experience – taste as you go. I never follow any recipes or measure the ingredients I use.

I eat more if there is more or less if there is less. Sometimes I eat a few extra bites if there is leftover that I don’t want to leave it for the next day. I am a flexible person, it also applies to my meals and food intake.

Here is what I had for today:

  1. Breakfast – a bowl of thick rice soup made of rice, dried split green beans, and sweet potatoes, and a little bit of fermented bean curd. I usually have mixed dried beans and rice soup every morning.
  2. Lunch – Fried rice with rice, egg, peas, corn.
  3. Afternoon snack – Pieces of apples, oranges and pears.
  4. Dinner – Bread and baked squash left over from a couple of days ago;  stir fried eggplants and sweet peas; tofu, peanuts, soybeans, bamboo, tiny dried shrimp cooked in a salty black bean paste; chicken soup.

I usually don’t eat meat and deep fried items. So I don’t think I need to worry about the calorie and fat content. But one thing I know I need to be more careful about is that I tend to eat a little bit too salty. I like salty stuff such as salted vegetables and fermented bean curd.

The following is from the 21DHL Forum.

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Day 2 – Create a Calorie List

Today’s task is to create a calorie list. What’s a calorie list, you may ask? It’s a term I use to refer to a list of food items that we commonly eat, along with their respective calorie and nutritional information.

[Image: calorie-list.jpg]

Why is it important to have a calorie list? It’s not intended for us to count calories of every single thing we eat in an obsessed fashion. Not at all. I’ve tried counting calories for an extended period of time before (1 year actually) and it was quite tiring. I felt that I was on some kind of leash when it came to eating.

On the other hand, I gained important knowledge in the process. The process made me more aware of the calorie and nutritional level of the foods that I was eating. I realized some of my favorite foods that I’d eat a lot of, were not only high in calories, but extremely low in nutritional level. I also realized that there are many healthy food sources which are low(er) in calories and power packed with nutritions (vegetables for one, salads, fruits, sprouts).

It’s important to have a calorie list because it helps you to be aware of the calorie and nutrition level of what you consume. It helps you to be conscious of what you’re putting inside your body. Do you prefer to consume high calorie, low nutritional level food or healthy foods with high nutrition? Surprisingly, a lot of the foods we eat actually are much higher/lower in calories and nutrition than we realize. And it is through creating a calorie list that we can get clarity on that.

Hence for today, we’ll be creating our own calorie list!

Step 1: Write down a list of foods you commonly eat (5 min)

First, start an excel spreadsheet or create a table in word document. Think about all the foods that you typically eat and write them down. Be exhaustive. Your list should include:

  1. Foods you’ve been eating in the past week
  2. Foods you want to keep out of your diet but end up eating anyway
  3. Any food that you have an interest in eating

Be specific with your items. If you eat fruits, don’t just list “Fruits” since there are many different kinds of fruits and each have a different nutritional information. A good, specific list will be like the one below:

  1. Oranges
  2. Apples
  3. Walnut
  4. Green peas
  5. Brown rice
  6. Instant noodles
  7. Pasta (Penne)
  8. Dressing (Thousand Island)

Step 2: Record the calorie and fat content of the items (15 min)

Create 2 new columns beside the food items to record the (a) Calorie count (Cal – 1 cal = 4.18 KJ) (b) Fat content (g). We’re recording calories because it’s the overall measurement of energy. On the other hand, we’re recording fat because we’re in a society today where most of us have extremely high fat content in our diets without even knowing it (average American consumes nearly 50% of fat in their diet!!). High fat diets are slow contributors to many heart diseases and illnesses and it’s important to be conscious of the fat levels in our diets. On the other side of the spectrum, we may have people who may be eating little, but their fat intake may be way high! That’s extremely unhealthy as well. Calorie is merely one part of the equation in living a healthy life.

If you buy your food from the supermart, they usually have nutritional labels, so get the information directly from there. If you don’t have the labels – it’s okay! There are extremely useful calorie counters online that you can use!

  1. The Calorie Counter
  2. Calorie Count
  3. New Calorie Counter
  4. Live Strong (for common Singapore food items)
  5. Nutrition @ SG(for common Singaporee food items)
  6. Spark People (You’ve to sign up to get access to their counter – sign-up is free)
  7. Fitness Pal(Thanks participant clarkindee for the recommendation! You’ve to sign up to get access to their counter – sign-up is free)

Remember to record down the unit of the food for the respective calorie/fat (lbs, oz, pieces, slice, etc). Otherwise the numbers wouldn’t mean much by themselves!

If you’d like to record other information in your list (such as protein, carbs), feel free to do so! Just ensure that you record the calorie and fat.

Step 3: Track your food intake today

Now, as you progress through the day, record everything you eat and the unit sizes. Go about it as a usual day without intentionally trying to restrict yourself just because you’re tracking calories. The intent of this exercise is become aware of the amount of calories we take in every day with our typical eating habits. Are we overeating or under-eating every day? We’ll find out soon enough!

Since your calorie list is supposed to be a comprehensive list, it should include the foods you’re eating today. If not, add on to the list!

Step 4: Evaluate your calorie and fat intake (10 min)

At the end of the day (when you’ve finished eating), do a round-up of the calories and fat you’ve taken in for the day.

Your Calorie Count

  1. Calculate the total amount of calories you’ve taken in (Cal)
  2. Compare this with your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). Is it higher, same or lower? If it’s not the same, how much higher or lower is it? (If you don’t know your BMR, use this BMR counter.)

Your Fat Count

  1. Calculate your total fat intake (g) today.
  2. Now, calculate the percentage of your fat intake relative to your total calories. 1g of fat = 9 calories.So if you took in 60g of fats today and consume 1,700 calories,
    – Calories by fat = 60g x 9 = 540 calories
    – Percentage of fat intake = 450 / 1,700 x 100% = 32%
    There are a lot of different takes on what is a healthy level of fat intake (ranging from 10-30%), but basically the general consensus is that anything 30% and above is too high. My personal target is 15%.
  3. How much is your fat intake? Is your diet high fat or low fat?

Step 5: Reflect on Today’s Exercise (10 min)

Looking at your calorie and fat intake today and taking into account the foods you’ve been eating in the past period…

  1. Are there any implications of your current diet on your health? If so, what are they?
  2. What should you do then?

For the next couple of days, continue to track your calories to get the hang of your calorie intake. Keep doing it until you have a strong feel of the right amount of food to meet your daily calorie target. We’ll continue to use your calorie list in a later exercise!

Published in The Dollar Stretcher

I subscribe to the online newsletter “The Dollar Stretcher: Living Better…For Less” and love to read frugal living tips. Occasionally I like to make a contribution by submitting a tip of my own.

My recent tip It Pays to Check Your Bills was published in the Volume 16, Number 1 (January 3, 2011) issue of The Dollar Stretcher.              

If you are interested in subscribing to the newsletter, send mail to: sub-dollar-stretcher@hub.thedollarstretcher.com or visit http://www.stretcher.com/menu/subscrib.cfm

It Pays to Check Your Bills

Checking your bills is important in this era of automatic bill pay

Ten-Second Summary

  • Most of my family’s bills are paid automatically either from our credit card or bank accounts.
  • For credit card statements, I cross check what’s on the statements with the receipts I have.
  • When I contact credit card companies for any of the problems, they are very good at helping me and getting the problems resolved.
  • I also look at my receipts when I do grocery shopping. Over-charging happens.
  • It pays to check bills and receipts, and take the time to ask if you notice any problems.

Most of my family’s bills are paid automatically either from our credit card or bank accounts. Whenever possible, I set up an automatic bill payment plan, using a credit card. For companies that don’t offer automatic bill pay plans, or charge extra fees for paying with credit cards, they can usually be paid automatically from our bank account.

This saves time and money. And I don’t have to worry about late payments and late fees. I only need to make sure that there is enough money in our bank account to cover the credit card bills and a few other bills.

I usually check all the bills I receive. I like to get a clear picture of what I am paying. For credit card statements, I cross check what’s on the statements with the receipts I have.

I found mistakes with double charges. I had charges made from an Arabic country on my statements that I didn’t recognize. I also disputed charges because of bad services or products. When I contact credit card companies for any of the problems, they are very good at helping me and getting the problems resolved.

I also look at my receipts when I do grocery shopping. Over-charging happens. At one oriental food market I frequently shop in St. Paul, the error rate was unusually high. I had to bring it to the manager’s attention.

Recently I received one subscription renewal notice from the local newspaper. When I put it in my file folder and took a look at last year’s notice, I noticed two things. First, this year’s renewal date is one month earlier than last year’s. Second, this year’s price has doubled from last year’s.

I had to call the paper to find out why. It turned out that the renewal date was indeed wrong. It was one month earlier than it should have been. I don’t know how it happened. I got an apology. I wonder how many customers have the same error on their renewal notices and how many people would even notice this.

When I was told that the subscription price has increased for all, I simply said I wanted to cancel the paper when the current subscription expires next month. The customer service representative said that she did not want to lose me as a customer and she wanted to check with her supervisor to see if she could offer me a better deal. Seconds later, she told me that I could keep last year’s rate. OK, then I’ll keep my paper. I felt like I was talking to a car sales person.

It took me a few minutes of time, but I think it definitely is worth it. It pays to check your bills and receipts, and take the time to ask if you notice any problems.


Qin Tang is a librarian and writer. She has a passion for healthy, green, simple, frugal, mindful and soulful living. Visit her blog at www.areavoices.com/onmymind.