If I ask you what you had for lunch yesterday, how long does it take you to remember'if you remember at all? Unless it was a special day or unless you eat the same lunch almost every day, you are likely to have to search your memory for a while before you can respond. Is what we feed ourselves so forgettable?
Try filling in the questionnaire below to see if you consumed an adequate diet, say, yesterday.
How many half-cup fruit or vegetable servings?
How many three-ounce servings of meat, poultry, fish, or soy (a three-ounce serving is about the size of a deck of cards)?
How many one-cup servings of cooked dried beans, peas, or lentils?
How many one-cup servings of milk, yogurt, or soy milk?
How many half-cup servings of grains or starchy vegetables or slices of bread?
How many cups of fluid did you consume yesterday (don't count any alcohol-containing drinks or coffee)?
What did you eat that you can't easily fit into these food groups (usually condiments, snacks, mixed foods, and desserts)?
Let's see how you did by comparing your numbers to some standard recommendations: fruits/vegetables, five to seven servings; protein foods, two to three; milk, yogurt, soy, two (men) or three (women); grains/starches, seven to 12; fluids, eight to 12 cups.
Take a look at your completed analysis and decide where you do well, where you could use a little more, and where you might overconsume. Pay special attention to the fluids category.
If you want to learn more about what you eat and if it is likely to meet your body's needs, there are things you can do: (1) keep a record of what you eat for a few days and (2) take your record to your dietitian to have it analyzed and compared to recommendations that are tailored to your special needs.
A food record will contain all the foods and beverages you consume along with descriptions of how they are prepared and how much you consumed. The more detail you provide, the more accurate your results can be.
Your dietitian can also estimate total calories, grams of protein, adequacy of micronutrients, and other benefits of the foods you eat. Because we tend to eat different foods from day to day, it is a good idea to provide at least three days of food records for a more complete evaluation.
Once you know what you eat you are better equipped to make the choices that are likely to be best for you while you enjoy your food as one of life's great pleasures.
Fields-Gardner is the director of services for HIV nutrition company Cutting Edge and is a member of the International AIDS Society and the American Dietetic Association's Dietetic Practice Group on HIV and AIDS. E-mail her at email@example.com.