One of the most powerful things you can do to evaluate whether your nutrition is on point is to track your vitamin and mineral status for a few days that are representative of your diet. Here’s how to do it with Cronometer, with specific recommendations for making it representative and accurate, and avoiding errors in data collection. Plus, you get to see my results for a day!
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This is how to track your vitamins and minerals to make sure you’re getting everything that you need.
Hi. I’m Dr. Chris Masterjohn of chrismasterjohnphd.com, and this is Chris Masterjohn Lite, where the name of the game is “Details? Shmeetails. Just tell me what works!”
And today we’re going to talk about tracking your micronutrients, meaning tracking your vitamins and minerals.
In the last episode, I talked about getting enough potassium, and I said that you can follow a few rules of thumb, but if you really want to make sure that you’re getting enough, you really should track your potassium intake. This video is the answer to how to do that, but it’s not about potassium specifically. It’s about tracking nutrients in general.
Now, in Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet, which is shown on the screen, I offered three approaches to how you can piece together the data that you need to understand whether you’re getting the nutrients that you need.
In the comprehensive approach and in the cost-saving approach, dietary analysis is a key part.The only approach that does not involve dietary analysis is the time-saving approach, and that’s because dietary analysis is fairly time-consuming, but in this video I’m going to go through how to do dietary analysis in the most simple and time-saving way. There’s no way to do it in a way that doesn’t cost you time, but this is an efficient way to do it.
So, if we click on dietary analysis in the Nutritional Cheat Sheet, we get the instructions, and there’s a few principles to go by. So first of all, I recommend using the Cronometer smartphone app, and I’ll show you that in a moment, but second of all, you have to be comprehensive, and you have to be representative.
So as a default, what I would recommend is completely track everything right down to the gram of food, so ideally, you have a food scale so you can be accurate about weight, but even the things you add, like salt, supplements, everything, and do it on three different days.
Now, it’s up to you to judge are those three days fairly representative of what I usually eat? If they are and if you are comprehensive within them, that’s probably enough. On the other hand, you have to judge within the three days, are my nutrient intakes wildly different in those three days? If they are, you probably need to take more samples until you get something fairly consistent across the average.
You also need to judge, was I eating similarly on these three days as on other days? If what you may need to take more samples. So maybe you’re going to do 15 different days if everything is hugely variable, but as long as you’re—whatever the—whatever you judge to be representative of your diet, that’s what you want to take.
I recommend using Cronometer’s smartphone app to do a dietary analysis. Cronometer is an app that’s very similar to MyFitnessPal, but the database in—the database of foods in Cronometer is much more favorable to tracking the breadth of the vitamins and minerals that you would want to look at. So, if I’m only interested in tracking calories and macronutrients, meaning protein, fat, and carbohydrates, I’ll usually use MyFitnessPal, but if what I want is a full dietary analysis that includes vitamins and minerals, then I want to use Cronometer.
Now, when you make a Cronometer account, you can use the smartphone app, and you can use the website, and you can sync them together so you can use both. I like the smartphone app because it has features like scanning the barcodes of the foods you eat. But there’s something that’s very important about that that may limit your ability to use the barcode scanner and to in general put in specific foods that you’re eating, and I’m going to explain this right now.
So,my Cronometer is shown on the screen now. On the screen you can see the foods that I ate yesterday. And one of the things that I’ll explain right now is that some of the foods that are listed on this list are not the exact foods that I ate yesterday. For example, you can see strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries there. I ate Wyman’s Triple Berry Blend, but I did not put it in the list for the following reason: If I add a food, and I start searching for Wymen’s Triple Berry Blend, one of the things that I’ll notice is that under the calorie breakdown it says “20 Listed Nutrients.” That’s a big red flag that the nutrient list is incomplete.
If you want a complete nutrient list, there should be about 80 rather than about 20 listed nutrients. If you click on “More Details,” you’ll see the nutrient breakdown, and you’ll see that it lists zero for all the B vitamins, it does list vitamin C, but it doesn’t list D, E, K.
You see it lists some of the minerals, but no magnesium, no manganese, no phosphorus, no selenium, no sodium, no zinc, and so on and so forth. So all these zeros could sometimes be a real zero and maybe not all of those nutrients are significant, but for the most part, when you see a lot of zeros, that’s because those zeros are false zeros, and the data is incomplete.
And so what you need to do is you need to search for something that approximates what you ate but has that data. And in this case, I took the actual berries that are in it, and I used the frozen, unsweetened entry for the database that appeared to be complete. So in this case, you can see that there’s 81 listed nutrients, and if you were to click on “More Details,” you would see, you’d see that virtually everything or everything is complete. And so I chose that because it might not be exactly what I ate, but it’s similar enough, and it has the data.
Now, when you’re looking for the things that are—that you expect to be complete, what you want to do is you want to add the food, you want to search for what you think is similar. So if we start typing in “strawberries” and “frozen,” there’s two databases that are usually complete. One you see at the top listing here, NCCDB. That database is usually complete. The USDA database is also usually complete. If you want to know whether it’s complete, you can get a guesstimate by clicking on it and looking to see whether it says “81 Listed Nutrients” instead of 20-ish. If it does, that’s usually good enough to use.
Now, once you have everything entered in into the database for the day, it’ll give you a summary at the top. You can ignore what it thinks you burned for calories because remember, we’re trying to track
the vitamins and minerals here. You can ignore the calories eaten when our purpose is tracking the vitamins and minerals. You can see that I ate about 3800 calories today.
This is a typical rest day for me in the context of doing a lot of weightlifting and Brazilian—and a little bit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That’s a lot, it’s more than the average burn, but that’s okay. What we’re interested in is targets, and that’s at the top middle. You can see it says I made 98% of my targets.
If we click on “Targets,” we can see the breakdown of what we did and didn’t make, and you can see that, you know, I didn’t log all my water intake, so my water intake is in yellow, and you can see the grey bar is not full, so I didn’t meet my water intake, but I’m ignoring that because I’m not tracking water. And the only other thing that I didn’t meet is my needs for omega-6’s, and I am not worried about that.
If you go through here, you’ll see there’s a lot of green and red. It looks pretty Christmasy. These red things are where Cronometer thinks I’m consuming too much of those things. This is in the complete absence of supplements. You can see my B vitamins are 300% of the Daily Value, 800%, 300%, et cetera, et cetera. And there are some cases where it’s so high that they put it in red. This is generally an underestimate.
For example, if you go to folate—for example, if you go to folate, you see folate is in the red. It’s in the middle of the screen here, and I’m consuming 1752.5 micrograms of folate from food alone. That’s definitely an underestimate because I’m consuming sprouted legumes, which I know have three to four times—which based on the data available to me, I believe has three or four times as much folate as unsprouted legumes, but that was another example where the sprouted legumes only listed 20 or so nutrients. I wanted something comprehensive, so I picked the closest thing, which was the complete database for the unsprouted versions of the legumes that I was eating.
So you will have to take into account when you do this that some of your nutrient intakes may be higher, and that’s where you just need to look at the end, what am I not meeting, and then think about it a little bit. Is there any reason to doubt the data there.
Now, the way the data comes out to you is as a percent of the Daily Value, which is very often derived from the RDA. Sometimes it’s a little bit different. The Daily Value or the RDA is not the be-all, end-all of your nutrient needs. There could be flaws in the RDA or in the Daily Value. There could be science that we need to update since it was made, and those values, the RDA is always made on the assumption that you’re trying to target 95% of the population.
There’s going to be some people who have higher needs; there’s going be some people who have lower needs. But as a piece of data, this is really important because if you see that you’re meeting most of your needs, but your vitamin A is not up to par, maybe it’s 20% of the Daily Value, and you have vitamin A-related symptoms, then you put two and two together, and you know that vitamin A is something you need to target. If you’re not meeting your nutrients across the board, you want to double-check and make make sure that you are actually getting nutrients with complete data listings, but if that’s the case, then you may have a major problem with nutrient density.
If you’re hitting everything, but you’re not hitting your potassium, then you may need to consult the previous episode of rules of thumbs, rules of thumb to increase your potassium needs and so on. So this is a way of honing in on some of the most probable areas that you need to look at, but there—we do not use dietary analysis at the expense of looking at blood work and looking at signs and symptoms. So in future videos, I’ll talk a lot more about individual nutrients that, where we’ll look at the blood work, and we’ll look at signs and symptoms, but for now, this has been the dietary analysis.