food diary

Nutrition across the lifespan

As part of the ‘Nutrition Across the Lifespan’ module we have been learning how to analyse an individuals diet using the nutrient analysis software system ‘Microdiet’ and SSPS statistics software.  This has been a real steep learning curve for me, but once I became familiar with the systems and statistical terminology it opened up a whole new world. I’m a pragmatist so the hands on learning in this module has been perfect for me. Firstly we looked at dietary assessment methodology including food frequency questionnaires and diaries.

To start with we kept our own food diary to help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of this method.  It quickly became apparent that once the novelty of making a note of everything we had eaten had worn off, it became a real chore. If we didn’t write it down immediately we forgot what we had eaten and assessing portion sizes meant it was quite a lengthy process.

Food Diary

Day _____ Remember to record portion sizes and brands

Time of food or drink


Amount / portion size






We also practiced interviewing our fellow students to gather information on what they had been eating ensuring nothing was missed, including brands and again portion sizes recorded. This also took quite some time but was a useful exercise and helped illustrate potential pitfalls first hand.

We then entered each separate food item in to the Microdiet software system which required lots of concentration to ensure accurate recording.  The nest step was to transfer this data into the statistics software system SSPS to analyse the information. We were able to compare data and find out if there was statistical significance in the variables we entered. All this practical work was invaluable as it has helped me understand the complexities of the process and what problems I might come across. I’ve got some more work to do to further analyse the information and compare my findings with that published in the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS).

I’m really enjoying the module, its covering lots of new ground and is giving me a great insight in to nutritional challenges faced from pre-conception to older adults.

The following toolkit from the Medical Research Council is great for students and researchers.