Select 20 foods that you will include in the model. Include plant foods you consumed from the one-day list you made.

The Nutrient Density Model – The Assignment

The USDA paper you read in the previous section is one good source for nutritional data for a wide variety of foods. A second good source is found here at the website

At this point download the spreadsheet that contains the nutritional density model. Be sure to save a local copy of the file (as opposed to letting it open in your web browser). This will allow you to edit the spreadsheet and save changes as you need to.

The spreadsheet (the model) is composed of two sections. In the top section there are 20 rows, one for each food you’ll enter. In each row there are columns for the major nutrients we are interested in. The first row is filled in to show you what to enter (you can leave it or replace it with a food of your choice). The second section of the model is below (you may have to scroll down to see it). In this section the nutritional density index number for each food is calculated. This model section of the spreadsheet applies various rules and factors to do these calculations. This approach is common in scientific modeling. If you are familiar with spreadsheet formulas, feel free to examine the cell contents to see how they work.

One important consideration when filling in the model is that you must enter the nutrients in the units that the model expects (seen under the heading for each nutrient). In most cases the nutrient numbers you find will be in the correct units, but there may be exceptions. For example, the model expects the amount of potassium to be specified in milligrams. However, a serving of white beans contains about 1,200 milligrams of potassium. That’s equivalent to 1.2 grams of potassium (1,000 milligrams = 1 gram), so you might find the potassium content of a serving of white beans listed as “1.2”. In short, pay attention to the units and, if necessary, convert the value to the correct units.

Here are the steps:

Select 20 foods that you will include in the model. Include plant foods you consumed from the one-day list you made.
Determine the nutrient content of each food and enter the data into the model.
Analyze the results in the completed model. Based on the foods you selected, how nutrient rich is your diet? Based on what you have learned, are there foods that you might want to remove from your diet?
And the next obvious question is, are there foods that you might want to add? Save a copy of the spreadsheet and put your name in the document name. Open the copy and think about foods that you might remove and others that you might add to achieve a better nutrient balance or a higher average nutrient density score. One benefit of using the model is that you can add and remove foods to do a “what if” analysis. Add the word ‘enhanced’ to your second sheet.

You should also consider how foods grown or produced in your area might fit into your standard food choices. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan (read the Introduction online here) argues that “whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most elemental of activities—figuring out what to eat—has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?” Pollan says that Americans generally lack a well established cuisine – a set of foods commonly eaten—and produced locally—that have been determined over time to provide good nutrition without an excess of calories. Does that idea of a local “cuisine” remind you of anything? It is in fact a topic of interest to ethnobotanists and you can use your model to think about a cuisine local to where you live. The question you would ask to do this is, “What are the foods grown in the region where I live that can be combined to provide a nutritious diet?”
To complete this activity, write a brief (1000-word) report describing how you completed this exercise and providing answers to the questions posed above. Submit the nutrient density worksheet, your “enhanced” worksheet, and your report. Be sure to include your name as part of the name of each file that you submit. Also include the word “enhanced” in the second version of the worksheet so that the two worksheets can easily be told apart.

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