How many calories do I need?
Should I be eating more protein?
The answer: It depends. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding about nutrition.
For many people, the nutrition facts found on the back of food packages are confusing. Because they are meant for the general population, they often fail to produce helpful information for individuals who each have unique dietary needs. For example, nutrition facts are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but not everyone needs a 2,000 calorie diet. What you need to eat to stay healthy might be different than someone else. Your individual needs are based on your gender, age, size, physical activity level, and many other factors.
You may be thinking that structuring your diet based on all of these factors sounds complicated. Luckily, there’s good news! According to Antonia “Toni” Hartley, a registered dietitian at UNC Campus Health Services, most students only need to follow one simple rule to eat healthy: MyPlate.
What is MyPlate exactly? It’s an easy nutrition guide. It shows what your plate should look like with the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. You may notice that it’s similar to the Food Pyramid that was once previously used.
Focus on filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, with the other half equally with grains and protein. “If you follow the MyPlate recommendations, you’re likely to a balanced meal that meets your nutrition requirements,” explains Toni Hartley.
Also, using the nutrition facts to count your calories is rather difficult for most people, and not all foods have easily assessable nutrition information. Unless you have a special dietary and medical needs, many experts will advise people to not use it.
And surprisingly, some of the information presented in nutrition facts may be incorrect! The labels are allowed to be 20% off. This means the 100-calorie snack pack you’re eating may be closer to 120 calories.
Using MyPlate is much easier than counting calories, and leads you to more likely to lead to a balanced diet.
If you are interested in receiving more information about nutrition, make an appointment with Nutrition Services at Campus Health Services.
Justin Chu is the Information and Communication Program Assistant at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He previously worked as a nutritionist in the clinical, community, and commercial settings after earning his bachelor’s in Clinical Nutrition at the University of California at Davis.