Making Sense of Those Pie Charts

 

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Today on Hello Healthy we’re digging into pies. It is Pi Day after all.

But before you go grabbing your fork, I should probably clarify that the pies we’re digging into aren’t sweet or savory. Disappointing, I know—but, hey, they’re calorie-free!

In honor of this silly mathematical holiday, I’d like to give you a little insight into those pie charts in your MyFitnessPal mobile app, and share a few tips for making use of them.

Our Nutrition 101 series explained the three macronutrients that provide us with energy—carbohydrates, protein and fat. The MyFitnessPal pie charts are simply a visual report of how those nutrients contribute to the balance of your diet.

The Institutes of Medicine (IOM) has established recommendations around how many calories carbohydrates, protein and fats should contribute to our diets:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories
  • Protein:  10-35% of calories
  • Fat: 20-35% of calories
Why do these ranges matter? 
Eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat at each meal (and snacks if you can swing it) helps with satiety. This is because proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates take a bit more work to digest. The combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat also promote a more moderate rise in blood sugar, which helps temper cravings and the urge to overeat. According to the IOM, eating within these ranges has also been shown to be beneficial for weight management, reducing risk of chronic disease, and the adequate intake of important nutrients.

So how can these pie charts be helpful to you?

As you log foods throughout the day, these pie charts will show the relative amounts of fat, carbs, and protein you have eaten compared to your goal.

MyFitnessPal’s current guided nutrition settings are set at 50% of calories from carbohydrates, 20% of calories from protein and 30% of calories from fat, which fall within those recommended ranges. Of course, if you want your diet to slightly higher in carbohydrates (perhaps you’re training for a triathlon) or higher in protein, these percentages can be adjusted by customizing your goals—but no matter what, the pie chart will always add up to 100%.

Before eating: Adding foods to your diary in advance can help you plan a balanced meal. Start with tomorrow’s breakfast. Once that’s fairly balanced, plan out your lunch. If the numbers in your pie chart don’t change all that drastically, you know you’re on track.

During a meal: Say you log half of a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee with cream for breakfast. Your carbohydrates might be around 70% of calories, fat 20-25%, and protein 10% of calories. With extra calories to spare, you may want to choose a food higher in protein, like a low-fat yogurt, to make your meal more balanced.

After-the-fact: Looking back at the pie chart at the end of a typical day, or an average week, can give you a bigger picture of the general composition of your diet. If your ratios fall outside of those recommended ranges, you might want to look at them more frequently at mealtime, or meet with a nutritionist who can give you expert insight and tips for eating a more balanced diet.

Keep in mind, every day is different. Heck, every meal is different. Don’t get caught up in trying to hit your exact goals every meal of every day. Instead, use the pie charts as a tool to guide your upcoming meals, help you fill a gap once in a while, or give you a big picture of your diet in general.

For more info, check out our this article on pie charts.

Have you discovered another use for these pie charts? Share it in the comments below!

7 Ways to Better Manage Diabetes with MyFitnessPal

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Managing diabetes can be complicated and maybe even overwhelming for some. In our last diabetes-related post we mentioned 25 important facts about the disease. This time let’s talk about seven ways that you can better manage diabetes using MyFitnessPal.

1. Set your macronutrient goals. One great feature of MyFitnessPal is being able to customize your individual nutrient goals. The American Diabetes Association recommends diabetics get around 45% of their calories from carbohydrate, which is slightly less than the MyFitnessPal guided goals that are automatically calculated when you sign up. Once you check in with a medical professional and determine what percentage of calories from carbohydrates you should be eating, check out this post to learn how to set your personal macronutrient goals. You can then use our Reports feature to see just how your daily intake aligns with your adjusted goals.

2. Track carbs at each meal. Those with diabetes are encouraged to take in a consistent amount of carbs at each meal throughout the day to avoid spikes and falls in blood sugar. An easy way to track carbohydrate intake throughout the day is by looking at the distribution of carbs from foods logged at each meal. If you’re trying to control your blood sugar, aim for 3 balanced meals and 2 small snacks that fall within the following carbohydrate ranges:

  • Women: 30-45 grams carbs per meal (3 times per day)
  • Men: 45-60 grams of carbohydrate at each meal
  • Snacks: 15-30 grams carbs

Now that you know roughly how many carbs you should be eating at each meal and snack, you need to start tracking them! If you’re under at a particular meal, eat something small that can bump you up to your goal. If you’re over, look at the distribution of carbs in the foods you just ate and eat less of the high carbohydrate foods next time.

3. Track blood sugar. Another great feature within MyFitnessPal is the ability to track just about anything you want, including your daily blood sugar levels. Check out this blog post to learn how to do this. The app will even generate a graph of your blood sugar over time, which can be useful for you and your doctor or dietitian to look at if maintaing fairly consistent blood sugar is a challenge.

4. Track water intake. Staying hydrated and drinking plenty of water actually helps dilute the blood, which lowers blood glucose. Along with carbs and blood sugar, you can track the amount of water you drink each day directly within the app or on the web. To do this, simply hit Add to Diary and then select Water to log the amount.

5. Get moving and log physical activity.  Exercising helps move glucose into the cells to be used for energy, and any exercise helps lower blood glucose for 24-48 hours afterward. MyFitnessPal makes tracking exercise easy. Use it by itself or connect one of our partner’s physical activity trackers to have your exercises synced directly into the app. Again, by looking at those reports, individuals who increase physical activity – even by only a few minutes per day – can still see the benefits it has to their blood glucose and overall health.

6. Note the timing of your meals. With diabetes, timing of meals is very important. After the first meal of the day, we want individuals to eat at least every 4-5 hours. It’s important not to go longer than 10 hours without eating from the last meal or snack of the day to the first meal the next morning. This can actually help lower fasting blood glucose by preventing the liver from releasing extra blood sugar.  Make sure to write the timing of meals in the “today’s food notes” section.

7. Look at the log and make adjustments. If blood sugar is consistently high or carbohydrate intake is either too low or too great, look back into your log. If you log diligently, a Registered Dietitian can even help you pinpoint problem foods and find patterns in your eating behaviors that can be addressed to help you better meet your goals.

As always, double check food packages when possible to ensure the nutrition information you’re logging is accurate, and check in with your doctor or Registered Dietitian before making changes to your diet.

I just want to thank my colleague Lori Zanini, a fellow Registered Dietitian who is also a Certified Diabetes Educator for providing a couple of the tips! If you found this post helpful, feel free to share it with friends and/or family members who may benefit from reading it too.

Do you have any experience with managing diabetes? Tell us about it in the comments section below or on Facebook.

5 Tricks for Keeping Tabs on Halloween Treats

5 Tricks for Logging Halloween Treats MyFitnessPal

 TheCulinaryGeek | Flickr

Halloween can be a scary holiday, not because of monsters walking the street–because of all the free candy floating around! One way to get through it is to allow yourself some candy, and for that you need to track it properly.

Here are 5 tricks that will make tracking treats a little easier:

1. Log treats ahead of time to budget calories better. If you set aside time to enter your candy ahead of time you’ll have a better idea of how much you can eat. Planning ahead in this way gives you a little mental support in saying no to extra candy.

2. Note the size. There’s a big difference between mini and regular sized candy bars. Even within the mini category there are several tiny sizes. So make sure you keep track of whether you’re eating ‘fun size’ or ‘miniature.’ Really though, every size of candy is fun.

3. Eat strategic. Some candies contain fewer calories than others, so you can eat more of them. Lollipops and hard candies are typically lower in calories and last longer than say, candy corn which you can easily eat by the handful. If you’re a chocolate lover, go for the miniature sizes. One miniature Reese’s can take the edge off and is just 44 calories and less than 3 grams of fat, compared to 105 calories and 6.5 grams of fat in a full Reese’s cup. 

4. Don’t be tricked by your treats. Look up a candy’s nutrition info before tearing into the wrapper and then decide if it’s a worthwhile treat. With a food database of over 4 million foods, we have pretty much every Halloween treat covered!

5. Make a mental list. It helps to memorize the nutrition facts for a few of your favorites so you can calculate calories on the fly. Here is a list of a few of the most popular Halloween candies:

  • Twizzlers (3 twists – 29 g) – 100 calories
  • Butterfinger (Fun-size Bar – 18 g) - 85 calories
  • Baby Ruth (Fun-size Bar – 18 g) – 83 calories
  • Almond Joy (Snack-size Bar – 17 g) - 80 calories
  • Mounds (Snack-size Bar – 17 g) - 80 calories
  • Milky Way (Fun-size Bar – 17 g) - 80 calories
  • Twix (Fun-size Bar – 16g) – 80 calories
  • Snickers (Fun-size bar 15 g) - 71 calories
  • Peanut M&M’s (Fun-size Packet 13 g) - 70 calories
  • 3 Musketeers (Fun-size Bar – 15g) - 63 calories
  • Skittles (Fun-size Packet – 15 g) - 60 calories
  • Milk Chocolate M&M’s (Fun-size Packet – 13 g) - 60 calories
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (Miniature – 7 g) - 44 calories
  • Kit Kat (Miniature Bar – 10 g) - 42 calories

What tricks do you have for keeping tabs on your Halloween candy consumption? Tell us about them on Facebook or in the comments below!

Healthfully,

The MyFitnessPal Team

Tracking Steps, Blood Sugar and More with MyFitnessPal

In addition to helping you track your nutrition and exercise, MyFitnessPal can also be customized to help you track additional measurements you’re interested in following. You can keep tabs on body fat percentage, pedometer steps, blood sugar, blood pressure, hip, waist and thigh circumference–pretty much whatever you want!

Trac blood sugar blood pressure myfitnesspal

To add or remove measurements you’re tracking, just log into your MyFitnessPal account on the web.

Once you’ve logged in, click on “My Home“, then “Check in“, then “Track Additional Measurements“. You’ll be taken to a page where you can add or remove measurements in your account.

It’s important to note that each measurement can contain only one value per day. For instance, if you wish to track your blood sugar twice per day, once in the morning and once in the evening, you would need to add two measurements. As an example, you could create an “AM Blood Sugar” and a “PM Blood Sugar” measurement. Similarly, if you wish to track your blood pressure, you would need to add two measurements, one for systolic and one for diastolic.

Any changes you make here will be synced to the app the next time the app is connected to the internet. Your tracked measurements will be viewable in the “Check-In” area on the website and on the “Progress” page within the app.

Tracking blood sugar blood pressure weight with myfitnesspal

We hope this small customization feature improves your MyFitnessPal experience. Be a track star!

Muscle Matters

Tips for logging and calculating non-cardio calorie burn.

Some of you have been wondering why we don’t calculate calories burned for strength training, in addition to calculating calories burned by doing cardiovascular exercises. You’re gettin’ ripped, you’re pumped up, and dangit you want some credit. All that sweat and strain must count for something!

The body does burn calories during strength training, but calculating that calorie burn is much trickier than calculating those burned by cardio exercises because so much of the data is subjective and harder to accurately track.

Estimating those calories depends on a variety of factors, including how much weight you lift per repetition, how many reps, how much rest you took between sets, and how vigorously you performed an exercise. And therein lies the rub: assessing one’s own ‘vigorousness’ is difficult, since everyone has a different threshold. With running or biking, for instance, speed and distance are monitored and a hard number is calculated, but with a weight exercise like bench press it just ‘feels hard.’ One person might consider it vigorous if they push themselves to the limit, while another person might think it’s vigorous to push the vending machine button for the sports drink.

The Strength Training exercise add field.

Adding strength training.

One easy way of getting an approximate calorie count is to search our Cardio database for similar exercises, or you can enter the “Strength Training” exercise and receive a rough estimate. Another way is to use a heart-rate monitor to help figure out how many calories you’ve burned, you can then easily create and add custom exercises into your personal profile.

It can be frustrating not to have numbers to add and subtract if you’ve become accustomed to precisely tracking every calorie and step you take. Maybe this is a good time to go old school: If your clothes are feeling tight, or loose in the right places then it must be working! Just make sure to log every day – the more consistently you log your activities, the greater your chances of being successful.

Healthfully,

The MyFitnessPal Team