The Nutrition Dilemma


Vogel’s sliced bread – soya and linseed, as you see.   And very nice it is, too, even though OH is very rude about it and says it looks and feels like a brick. 

Anyway, one day when I opened up a new bag, something was Not Right and I felt quite cheated.  Not simply because my new loaf was a bit short, but because here I am trying to keep track of my food intake, and a slice is no longer a slice, those from the new loaf being half the size of the old one, so I can’t look at the table on the back and say (for instance) ‘Aha! This slice contains .34g of sodium!’

Nutritionists are always saying, are they not, that you need 15mg of this trace element and 350mg of that one, plus at least 320mg magnesium and 30 units of vitamin E, and less than 2,000mg of sodium and so on?  And we all need our ‘five-a-day’ of fruit and veg to stay healthy.

At least the five-a-day should be easy, right?



These two stalks of broccoli came from the same pre-trimmed packet, bought from my favourite supermarket a while back.  Waitrose, along with the rest, label the packets with useful information to help you choose wisely1.

In this case, the useful information is that seven ‘spears’ will provide me with one of my five-a-day.


Oh really?  Which size ‘spears’ would that be – the big ones, or the little ones?  Or should we pick at random and try to find an average?  Not to mention that the NHS suggests that:

Two broccoli spears … count as one portion.”

It all seems very confused, but let’s try to work this out:  say I eat a banana with my cereal for breakfast, an apple mid-morning, and drink a glass of fruit juice with my lunch.   That’s dealt with the fruit.

I might have tomato soup for lunch, but the experts say that our five-a-day should be made up of two fruit portions and three veg, and tomatoes are a fruit2.  Alrighty, then – a salad. How about a green salad?  I’m reading that a ‘cereal bowl’ sized portion of lettuce is one of my five-a-day.  What size bowl would that be, then, being as there is no such standard size as ‘cereal bowl’? And would that be ten shredded lettuce leaves, or the two or three whole leaves which would also fill that same bowl?

Moving along, I guess I’m supposed to nibble on raw veg during the afternoon, because I’ve used up my fruit allowance for the day so dried apricots etc are out.  Dinner is easier, because I love all kinds of cooked vegetables except fennel.  Potatoes don’t count as a vegetable, but green beans, broccoli (Ha!), carrots, asparagus, peas, they’re all good.

Meanwhile, I’m suppose to keep my dairy intake up (to prevent osteoporosis and get enough of certain vitamins inside me), eat enough protein for the old growth & repair thing, and eat nuts and seeds for their trace elements, minerals and vitamins content – oh, and don’t forget the dark chocolate which apparently is incredibly good for us, but can’t count as one of our five a day either, even though it comes from a tree and is a part of a fruit.  Then it’s recommended that for a good night’s sleep we should eat lots of foods containing tryptophan, and eat wholegrain cereals for energy and to help avoid type 2 diabetes, and plenty of good fats which are essential for cell health and also the cardiovascular system.  And so on.

Don’t get me wrong: I firmly believe that eating a good diet will lead to a healthier me, even though I’m only sporadically good at following one.  I just don’t see the numbers adding up, here.

I have tried. I kept track of my food on Spark People3, and found it impossible, while sticking to 2000 calorie a day, to ever reach the targets on their ‘RDAs’ chart, especially while eating my ‘five a day’ at the same time.  So I asked a nutritionist.

I said ‘How do I balance my diet so that I’m eating enough of all the different food groups to get all the vitamins, minerals and trace elements I need, every day, without ballooning to the size of a number 73 bus?’ 

Well, OK, I didn’t put it quite like that, not wanting to come across as belligerent, but that, in essence, was my question.

And she said ‘Um. I’m not here to answer that type of question’, which I’m afraid I took to mean ‘I don’t have a clue’.

I’m beginning to suspect that the only way is to simply cut down on the bad stuff and eat what the hell I like.

1 … Or maybe just to help themselves sell more fruit and veg. It could be either.

2 Although the NHS have made the arbitrary decision that tomatoes are in fact vegetables. And so is cucumber, which is also a fruit. Not to mention aubergines, peppers and mushrooms. And if you want to be picky, so are beans – unless you shell them, in which case they’re seeds.

3 A very useful site for tracking your nutrition.