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Keeping a daily food journal can reveal diet highs and lows.

Associate professor and OSU Extension faculty member Sharon Johnson offers another of her helpful health tips..with a bit of  humor and fun.

Let’s do ourselves a favor. Tomorrow, let’s write down everything we eat or drink. All day long. OK? Can we make a deal to do that?

If I’m going to tackle this with complete honesty, I’ll need to include the chunk of cheese I sometimes nibble while preparing dinner (usually preceded with the phrase — “I really need some protein “…”). And, oh yes, that afternoon crispy rice bar I sometimes get in the vending machine at work — the machine full of supposedly healthful snack items that’s way too close to my office. To make this exercise maximally useful, I’ll need to write down precisely how much of each food item I eat. So I’m going to measure the soy milk I pour on my morning cereal and maybe even count those dried cranberries I’ve taken a liking to — is it a tablespoon I’m sprinkling on that mixture of flax cereal and grape nuts or is it quarter of a cup? (Just measured to be sure — I would have sworn it was just a tablespoon). By the way — there are four tablespoons in a 1/4 cup of dried cranberries — and about 20 grams of sugar. I mention that just in case you’ve taken a hankering to dried cranberries, too. Cranberries are a nutritious, antioxidant food with lots of vitamin C and fiber, but I cannot help noting the amount I am eating on my morning cereal contains much more sugar than that crispy rice bar.

If you do this little exercise, I can almost guarantee you’ll be surprised. Perhaps it will be at the unsuspected amounts of high-fat or high-sugar food you eat in a given day. Perhaps it will be a new awareness about portion size. You may be also be struck by the fact that a lot of your eating was not done while sitting down at a table with a place setting and a great dinner conversation. If you take it a step further and calculate the calories and nutritional value of the items on your list, well, it can be really sobering. Or, possibly, quite enlightening. Let’s go with enlightening. By the way, nutritiondata.self.com or www.mypyramid.gov can help with those calculations.

One woman willing to join me in this exercise tells me she thinks she will eat a lot less in a day if she knows she will be writing everything down, which makes sense, because keeping a food diary is one of the most effective weight-loss techniques. But the other thing that happens when you take written note of what you eat in a thorough and complete fashion — even for just one day — you get in touch with yourself in a new way. As illustration, you will get a better picture of how much color you get in your diet — how much variety. As we age, some dietary experts say more colorful, nutrient-dense eating is “life-critical.” It assists us in managing the chronic diseases that are so often our companions in the aging process — conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Even cognitive problems can be affected by what we eat. For example, if there are a lot of deep blue, purple and red foods on your list (yes, those cranberries — but maybe not so many of them), those foods are considered “memory-enhancing.”

Ever learning, I think I’ll go with two, rather than four, tablespoons of cranberries on my morning cereal and stay away from vending machines completely. Maybe I’d better write that down.

Sharon is our healthy aging “guru” in Southern Oregon and author of the Mastery of Aging Well, an online course (credit or non-credit) open to all.  See more about Sharon’s good work with seniors.