An estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. If you are reading this article, chances are that you are interested in learning about Nutrition and you favor certain diet over others, even if you may not religiously follow it. You may have wondered: Is there a way to quantitatively measure our diet against the most authoritative nutrition reference?
To answer that, we first have to answer: what is the most authoritative nutrition reference? In the United States, it is the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). DRIs are a set of specific reference values for each nutrient published by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In laymen’s terms, some reference values are lower thresholds to be met, some are upper thresholds to not be exceeded (such as sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat), and some are a safety range that has both lower and upper limits.
Not surprisingly, an infant has very different needs than, say, a teenager. Indeed, DRIs are further divided into different life stage groups. Comprising recommendations of 10 macronutrients, 14 vitamins, 18 elements for each of the 20 life stage groups, the DRIs is a bewildering range of thousands of data entries. For example, for a female 38 years-old, her DRIs can be summarized by a gigantic table:
If the array of data makes you dizzy, you understand now why these most authoritative dietary advices are less well-known than your South Beach diet. This was the motivation of us to create the Shinometer: a visualization tool to show how well a diet, a meal plan, or a recipe meet a comprehensive set of numerical dietary references such as the DRIs.
In the following Shinometer of an example recipe, each bar is representing a nutrient in this recipe. Macronutrients are represented by red bars, elements by orange bars, and vitamins by yellow bars. The length, direction, and color saturation of the bar is calculated by applying a scaling function of the amount of nutrient with regard to its corresponding lower and upper limits. If the nutrient meets its DRIs, the bar would point outward; otherwise, not meeting DRIs results a bar pointing inward and losing its color saturation. If a recipe is healthy, you will see the chart resembles a shining Sun, hence the name “Shinometer.”
To further demonstrate, we pit our healthy recipe against the famous (or infamous) McDonald’s Big Mac. You can see in the following Figure how they stack up. Our healthy recipe has most nutrition goals met while for big mac, most are not. Instead of comparing tedious numerical values, Shinometer makes it a lot easier for you to make smart food choices.
The Shinometer should be different for different life stage groups, because the reference values are different. It can also be further customized for other sets or subsets of reference values. For the standard display on our recipe or meal plan page, we use a carefully chosen subset of Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs) and Daily Reference Values (DRVs) that a nutrition fact label is based upon for a standard 2000-calorie diet.