Dagger + FD Whitewater Scholarship Essay Winner

We received so many amazing submissions for the Dagger + First Descents Whitewater Scholarship. It was so difficult to choose just one. All of our participants exude and embody the true meaning of Out Living It and we’re so proud of each of you for having the courage to face your fears, push through, and continue living life to it’s fullest. The winning essay touches on so many amazing points about strength, the river, and how her experiences and friendships through First Descents have changed her life. Please read below.



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Sitting around a campfire in rural North Carolina, my FD1 group discussed what makes us strong. There were many as many answers as there were participants: family, friends, religion. My answer was a little different, “I don’t really think I am strong, but I’m trying to get there”. Perhaps this answer was unfair; strength to me is not a state of being, strength is a series of choices that we make, whether we acknowledge them or not. My cancer diagnosis showed me that the “strong” choice does not have to be impressive or powerful.

Sometimes strength is choosing to eat when your body is screaming not to.

Sometimes strength is going for a walk, even though you need to rest every two hundred feet.

Sometimes strength is getting on an airplane for a trip to the middle of nowhere to spend a week learning to kayak with a group of people that you’ve never met before.

For me, the concept of Out Living It is the process of making the “strong” choice, even when that is not the easy choice. Out Living It is leaving your comfort zone behind because we, the FD-ers, know better than most that this is our chance at life, and in the face of a vast, unknown future, we need to take every opportunity to go out and live it.

When I first climbed into the Dagger Mamba, I felt nervous and excited. Sliding into the lake, I could barely maneuver in a straight line. By the end of the day, I knew how to roll a kayak. By the end of the week, I had conquered a Class III rapid. I was hooked. I want to continue kayaking because on the river there is no such thing as a cancer patient. You can’t “play the cancer card” and have the river take it easy on you. As Patch told all of us, “The river doesn’t care. The waves will be no smaller, the rocks no softer because you had cancer.” The river is the great equalizer. Each time you get on the river, you are making the strong choice. You are trusting your wits and your body and your fellow paddlers. Kayaking is Out Living It to me; it’s challenging and thrilling and it reminds you all the time that you are living your life to its maximum potential. A cancer diagnosis is an incredibly hard thing to face. Your life changes in many ways, and very few of them are good. However, through my experience with FD, I have not only acquired a new passion, but also new friendships that have highlighted the positive changes in my life, and helped to set me on a path that leads to a fuller, more adventurous, post-cancer journey.


Great Wall  FD Namaste-19RideFest


IMG_2670I still remember the night we tied the string bracelets around our wrists. It was the last night of camp after a week of whitewater kayaking on the wild Rogue River in Oregon. I swear there must’ve been a million stars in the sky that night. I’d never seen so many of them all at once.

After a solemn time of recognition for what we’d been through as cancer survivors and a time of remembrance for those who are no longer physically with us, our camp family paired off and tied the string bracelets around each other’s wrists. The strings represented the unity and sense of family that comes from conquering your fears together, and served as a promise to keep “out living it.”

While there’s no explicit rule that you have to keep your bracelet on for forever, it’s more or less understood that it’s good luck to wear it until it falls off. I kept mine on from that last night of camp until a few months later when I completed my last dose of chemo. My bracelet was tied loosely enough to take off without having to cut it. When I completed my last day of chemo, I slipped the bracelet off and tucked it away. There were too many emotions to process. I needed to forget them for a while.

A while turned into almost a year. From time to time, I’d look back fondly on the friendships and memories I made that week on the river, but I restrained myself from thinking about it too much. The painful reality was that these people I’d come to care for so deeply were suddenly out of my life just as quickly as they came into it. Sure, there was Facebook and email, but it wasn’t the same.

The other part that hurt even more was knowing that some of them were still in the midst of their struggle with this disease. While I rejoiced with my FD family over my completion of treatment, I also felt guilty when one of them received bad results from some scans shortly afterwards. It didn’t make sense. Why him? Why was I doing fine now but he wasn’t? These questions haunted me in every quiet moment.

BraveheartIt’s now been a little over a year since I went to camp, and a little less than a year since I took off that bracelet. Last night, that guy from my camp family died. My heart felt like it broke into as many pieces as there were stars in the sky our last night of camp. His FD name was Braveheart, a name he’d certainly earned on and off the river. He had the spirit of a champion, of someone who looked his fears in the eye and growled back. He wore his string until his very last day. Last night, I put my string back on for the first time.

It’s time for me to remember those emotions, to accept what has been, and to cherish the memories, no matter how bittersweet it may be. It’s not enough to say “I conquered my fears once.” I want to be able to say I am living brave-heartedly, conquering my fears every day until my last day. I am better for having known Braveheart, as well as all of my FD family members. Braveheart, you are remembered dearly and the inspiration you gave to all of us lives on.


Elise Intern LS pic1Elise Frame (“Lil Sis”) is a 23 year-old student at the University of Texas studying Communications with a focus on Nonprofit Development. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 20, but recently finished chemotherapy and was declared cancer-free in October 2014. Elise participated in an FD1 kayaking trip last summer and discovered a previously unknown love for the great outdoors. She now enjoys stand up paddleboarding and kayaking on Town Lake in Austin, Texas, where she currently lives. As a passionate young adult cancer awareness and prevention advocate, she has served as an intern a

Krimson Klover for First Descents

sleighrideblackback-2000x3000We are thrilled to be partnering with the amazing folks at Krimson Klover, who are very generously donating the proceeds from the Sleigh Ride Sweater to help provide an FDX experience for young adults impacted by cancer. We got a chance to catch up with the owner, Rhonda Swenson, and marketing director Rachel Hadley, to find out more about the company and why giving back is so important for them. 

How did KK first hear of First Descents?
Rhonda: “I have a friend on the First Descents Board of Directors, Debbie Ford. She and I traveled to Africa on a safari run by her brother’s company and we started talking about FD. ”

Why did you choose for proceeds to go to FD? 
The program that First Descents offers is a life-changing experience for the participants. What they do is simply amazing. We are thrilled to have worked with FD, Debbie and Mark Thronton Safaris, to help provide an Africa experience to some very deserving participants. Africa is life-changing in its own right, so the combination is really incredible.

Have you ever donated proceeds from a garment before? 
Yes, in the past we have done a fundraiser every year, benefiting the breast cancer fund and other nonprofits. At the end of the day it is about giving back in the best way we know how- using our products to help amazing charities.

Can you give me a brief history of the company/brand?
Rachel: At Krimson Klover we are crazy about sweaters. Crazy passionate, that is. Our first collection was Fall 2010 and over the past 6 years we have grown and evolved into a lifestyle clothing brand for women who love fashion, the outdoors, and luxury fibers from sources that respect their animals, Mother Nature and their employees. We are a small women-owned/operated business with 900 dealers across country and Canada.


sleighrideblackbackhang-2000x3000For more information on Krimson Klover, go to Krimsonklover.com and to check out the sweater that will be benefiting First Descents.

The Mother I Was Meant To Be

Crush1 (1)She wanted to wait until the timing felt right. She wanted to be settled in her career and give her husband a chance to finish grad school. She wanted two children, one boy and one girl, like she’d grown up with (although she knew she would be happy just as long as they were healthy). She wanted to eat all the right foods, take all the right vitamins, read all the best books. She wanted to wear cute maternity outfits and to be told she was “glowing” even when she felt like an overstuffed whale. She wanted to call her parents and her best friends with the “news” and to hear their excitement. She wanted to commiserate and celebrate with the other moms about all the difficult and exciting milestones. She wanted a natural birth. After years of watching her mother as a midwife she knew that for certain. She wanted to come up with her birth plan knowing full well that it’s nearly impossible to plan something as unpredictable as giving birth. She would definitely breastfeed her baby. She would pick out a name from a list in a notebook she had kept since high school. She would go through the messy miracle of birth and come out the other side a part of an ancient tribe of women who have created life. She had never once questioned wanting all of this, never once doubted her dedication to motherhood. It was a job she knew she was born to do.

And then…she got cancer.

At 30 years old, in the same exact month my husband and I had decided to start trying for a family I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. It was stage 2 but incredibly aggressive. On the day I was diagnosed I told the doctors without a moment’s hesitation that I didn’t care if I kept my breasts I just wanted to save my fertility. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to go through fertility treatments and freeze my embryo before I started chemo, a chance which, tragically, far too many young people are denied. At the time, I reassured myself with the thought that even if chemo destroyed my fertility and the mastectomy took away my chances of breastfeeding I’d still be able to get pregnant someday.

After a year of treatment, including 20 rounds of chemo, a double mastectomy and 5 weeks of radiation I was declared cancer-free and sent on my way. I fully embraced life and adventure during those precious months when I thought I had beaten cancer, including a trip with First Descents rock climbing in Moab (link to post about trip?). But they were short lived. Just four months after treatments ended in January of this year I found a pea sized lump near my clavicle. One biopsy and a PET scan later and my worst fears were confirmed. I was diagnosed with what the doctors assumed was Stage 4 cancer. (The lump near my clavicle made it Stage 3C, but a spot that lit up on the scan in my mediastinum, which they presumed was cancer, made it Stage 4. That spot has not lit up on any subsequent scans.) That’s the stage that comes with labels like “terminal” and “incurable.”

In those first months after my recurrence being a mother was the furthest thing from my mind. All I wanted was to survive the year, to have more time with my husband, to find ways to show the people I loved how much I loved them. In my mind I was planning my own funeral while simultaneously fighting like hell to stick around. After 12 different doctors told me my cancer was chemo-resistant, radiation-resistant, inoperable and didn’t qualify for any available clinical trials I finally found an oncologist with an out-of-the-box approach who began treating me with a very promising, albeit extremely complex, protocol. It was expensive and I’d have to pay for it all out-of-pocket but it was my life and I had basically been given no other option. Nearly nine months later and the treatments appear to be doing their job. My small tumor is shrinking out of existence and growing increasingly dimmer on every scan.

As the cancer faded from my PET scans so it faded from the forefront of my mind. It stopped ruling every waking moment of every day, stopped dictating every decision, every emotion. I finally began to feel safe in my own skin again. I could finally see a future in front of me that stretched out past the next few days, weeks and months. I could breathe again.

It was only then, when I had finally managed to take a few steps back from the fear I’d been holding onto, that I realized an unexpected grief had moved into its place. I hadn’t noticed it until my husband received a call from a friend one day to tell us she was pregnant. The appropriate response would obviously have been joy and excitement for this dear friend of ours. Instead, I fell completely to pieces. I hid away trying to muffle my heaving sobs. It felt as though my heart had been ripped out of my chest. A numbness eventually overtook me followed by depression. My completely disproportionate reaction ultimately had very little to do with my friend and everything to do with the fact that my brain finally had the space to process the unspeakable truth: I would never get to become the mother I was meant to be.

The emotional reality of this truth is incredibly difficult to explain and filled with embarrassment and shame. I have unwieldy and unpredictable reactions to even the most subtle references to pregnancy. When a friend talks about “having kids someday” with an air of nonchalant certainty it can cut like a knife. Being in my early 30’s there is a Facebook pregnancy announcement, what feels like, every day.

My brain seems to have strange rules about whether or not I find a new pregnancy upsetting. If they already had kids before I had cancer I’m not bothered. If they had trouble getting pregnant or had to use some non-traditional route I can handle it. If I rarely see them anymore or we aren’t close it doesn’t faze me (much). But if someone close to me gets knocked up the good old fashioned way it ignites a feeling much deeper than jealousy. It’s an absolutely overwhelming incomprehension of how this is my reality.

That mother that I had planned on being was such a deep part of my identity, deeper even than what I do for a living now and even who I married, because it has always been there for as long as I can remember. It’s like a child who dreams their whole life of being a pilot, envisioning an entire life spent flying through the skies, and arrives for the first day of training to discover their eyesight isn’t good enough. Except every other person in that child’s life and nearly every person they meet and, indeed, most of the people in the world at some point in their lives get to be pilots, whether they wanted to be or not. They all get to fly and become all consumed by it and she has to stay put on the ground. And to make matters worse, in one way or another, nearly everything society values revolves around being able to be a pilot. It’s devastating to be that earth-bound child who wants nothing more than to fly.

On top of my well of grief are lots of other complicated emotions. I feel incredibly guilty for feeling this way. I just want to have joy for my friends’ joy and to celebrate new life unabatedly and be there for them when it gets hard. I feel sad and selfish that I’m not more emotionally available for my pregnant and parenting friends. I also feel guilty for even talking about having kids someday. I am surrounded by young people who don’t know if they will survive the next few months, or years, let alone long enough to have kids. I feel afraid of the day when even closer friends get pregnant and I worry tremendously about my ability to really be there with them and for them in a deep and meaningful way. And I feel deeply excluded from an ever growing community of women in my life who have had an experience I may never get to have. I’m on the outside of the mommy club when all I ever wanted was to be its pack leader.

Emotions aside, the logistics of this truth are also tricky. I know everyone wants to jump to solutions and thanks to technology there are many available to us today. Here are the facts as I understand them. I could adopt but it can be extremely difficult to do so when you have a terminal diagnosis on your medical charts. There are “cancer friendly” adoption agencies and even “cancer friendly” adoption countries but generally it’s even harder than a regular adoption process which is already extremely difficult and most of them require you are cancer free for a certain number of years and I have no idea how long it could take to reach that point. Emotionally I’m also not certain I could bear being viewed as an unfit mother not to mention that fact that, as selfish as it may seem, I would still like the chance to have my own biological children if at all possible.

Even though my fertility seems to be shot by the tremendous amount of chemo my body sustained I could still theoretically get pregnant with my frozen embryo. However, even if the cancer disappeared tomorrow I’d still need to be on preventative treatments for years to come, possibly for the rest of my life, and I can’t get pregnant while I’m on them. I just don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe enough to go off treatments considering how intensely aggressive this cancer has proven itself to be. And despite the lack of statistics on the link between pregnancy and recurrence I’ve worked so hard to create some balance in my body and nothing throws that off like pregnancy. Would I be willing to risk my life further just as I am bringing a new one into the world? I’ve found it an impossible question to answer.

Then there is surrogacy. While this option would still leave me without the experience of pregnancy like adoption, unlike adoption I may still be able to have my own children with my own embryo. The main obstacle in this case is primarily financial. We already spend about one whole salary on my treatments each year and hiring a surrogate costs at least that much. It’s incredibly difficult for me to imagine a day when we would be able to afford this option but it is definitely the most hopeful one available and the one that I cling to with the most optimism.

When my heart first broke over my new reality I was determined to come to terms with never getting to be a mother. There were too many unknowns, too many miracles that stood between me and motherhood to get my hopes up. But that sunk me into a deep depression and I realized that this life that I have been working so hard to save didn’t really have meaning if I didn’t get to become a mother someday. So I decided to do what I have become really good at doing over the last few years: fight. If I am capable of fighting off death surely I can find a way to fight for a new life. And like everything with cancer, I know I will not have to do it alone.

If there is one thing that cancer has taught me it’s that I am utterly and completely dependent on the people and communities around me. I wouldn’t be here today if my friends and family hadn’t cared for me throughout my first round of treatments and then raised money to help us cover the cost of my current treatments. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for brilliant scientists, courageous doctors and dedicated healers. The thought that someone, whether she is a stranger or a friend, might someday carry my child for me fills me up with such a tremendous gratitude for the generosity of the human spirit that it leaves me speechless. I have no idea how or when it will happen but I will be a mother someday. And I’ll tell my children that not only did their mother fight to save her own life but she fought like hell to create theirs.



First Descents and KIND



We were overwhelmed by the support and KIND acts we saw on social media supporting #OutLivingIt and First Descents! 38,439 pledged, dedicated, and clicked ‘like’ to show how much FD means to you!

Because of your support KIND will be donating $10,000 to First Descents.

THANK YOU to all of you and especially to KIND!

A Look Inside First Descents Partner: Fishpond

First Descents is so lucky to have the opportunity to partner with amazing companies and organizations that are dedicated to making a difference in the world, and Fishpond is no different. FD and fishpond have been partnering for several years, and their commitment to spreading and supporting our mission has helped the growth of our organization. We took the time to interview Ben Kurtz, President of Fishpond, and he shared with us how Fishpond is making a difference, and how their company stands apart from the others.

1. Tell us a bit about your company. How was it started, and by whom?

The company was started 17 years ago by our partner in the business. When he started it he felt that there was a huge lack in innovation within the fly fishing industry. Everything was khaki and green, and used inferior fabrics. With the launch of fishpond he brought practical designs, as well as color to a otherwise stagnant market.

2. How is your company influencing the outdoor industry?
We continue to push innovation of the industry the outdoor industry, as well as set benchmarks for others to try and reach. We recently became the first company within the fly fishing industry to become B-Corp Certified, and we believe that by leading the charge we will push others to evaluate their commitment to the environment and ethics. We also are currently the only company within the fly fishing space that makes nearly our entire line out of recycled fabrics.
3. What is your connection to First Descents? Tell us what First Descents means to fishpond.
I was introduced to FD back in 2008 when I was living in Vail. I instantly admired the organization, energy, and mission. My mother was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer before I was born, however she is living cancer free to this day, so it’s something that resonates with me at my core.
4. First Descents’ motto is Out Living It. Can you give us a description on what that means to you, and fishpond?
For me personally it means to live life to it’s fullest, and to be out enjoying the outdoors. Life is full of challenges, but it’s how you approach and tackle those challenges that dictates the outcome. At fishpond we have always believed that it’s not about the fish, but it’s about the journey that fishing takes you on.
5. Why is it important for your company to give back?
Giving back to organizations and causes has always been at the core of our business. Being a small company we cannot always financially afford to write checks, however we try and be dynamic in our approaches to maximize the impact. We often donate through percentage of sales efforts, time, outreach, and political means. We feel that we have a responsibility to give back by whatever means we can. Through our voice and support we hope to bring exposure to whatever issues are at hand.

FDhealthy: Phytonutrients: Eating The Rainbow

FullSizeRender (5)Hello FD!

In my previous articles I have talked a lot about phytonutrients/phytochemicals and how they are important to our overall health. Since this is a relatively new branch of nutrition based research, I wanted to talk a little about what phytonutrients are and what benefits they actually bring to the table (pun intended).

When you break down the word, ‘phyto’ meaning ‘plant’, and ‘nutrient’ meaning a substance that nourishes a living being, it is pretty self explanatory. Together the word phytonutrient refers to the approximate 100,000 chemicals that occur naturally in plants and help protect them from germs, fungi, bugs and other threats. When we consume these phytonutrients, we are able to reap the benefits of their protective functions. Some of the more popular of phytonutrients we have been able to study include carotenoids, flavonoids, resveratrol, ellagic acid, glucosinolates, and phytoestrogens. Each of these have different properties, colors and benefits and can be found in different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas. Even more interesting is that some phytonutrients are absorbed better if they are consumed with fat, water or paired with certain other phytochemicals. This is why it is important to have a varied and colorful diet, to ensure that you are feeding your body a healthy spectrum of nutrients and allowing them their best chance of absorption.

An easy way to get a boost of phytonutrients into your daily routine is by making a smoothie for breakfast or a quick afternoon snack. Try this delicious peach smoothie recipe to get started! Remember, you can use any fresh fruits and vegetables you have around the house to help keep an exciting and varied diet.
Sunrise Smoothie

Citrus Ginger Peach with Green Tea

Yield: 16 oz. – Recommended 8 oz. serving size

In a high power blender combine:

1 cup green tea, brewed and chilled

1 whole orange, peel removed

1 whole lemon, peel removed

1 whole peach, cut in half and remove the pit (Mango also works nicely)

2 small chunks frozen banana (about 1/3 of a banana)

Blend until smooth and enjoy the sunrise!

Tip: Brew a little extra tea when you have your afternoon cup and put the extra in a jar to chill in the fridge and use in your smoothie the next morning.  You can also pour tea into ice cube trays and use the ‘tea ice’ in your smoothies to make a frosty drink.

Source: Jenna Ortner, aka Lambchop

Below is a quick introduction to which phytonutrients are found in fresh fruits and vegetables and what their benefits are. I encourage you to check out the links at the bottom and do some research on your own to learn more about phytochemicals and how you can incorporate them into your daily life. Cheers!

phytonutrient chart 2

Source: apathtohealth.wordpress.com


References on Phytonutrients:



Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.





Now through August 18th, KIND is raising money for First Descents.
Over the next month, both of our organizations will be sharing stories from the members of KIND and our own staff of who’s keeping us inspired to be ‪#‎OutLivingIt‬, and they want you to do the same. For every story you share with a photo of you and someone who inspires you, use #OutLivingIt and KIND will donate $1 to FD. It’s all part of their ongoing book proceeds program for Do The KIND Thing. Click below to learn more- and check out the campaign on Facebook (@KINDsnacks), Twitter (@KINDsnacks), and Instagram (@kindsnacks)


Wildflower Program Report

OBX 4Surfing with FD and Farmdog Surf School in the Outer Banks, NC is a true treat. The ocean turned on the waves to provide some spectacular conditions for the participants who journeyed from all parts of the country to join the FD family and shred the GNAR! For three days we donned our skin tight wetsuits, lathered ourselves with sunscreen and paddled our way through the crashing waves. There were moments of triumph, when someone would catch a wave, pop up into their surfer stance and ride into the beach over the roar of their FD friends cheering them on. There were also the wipe outs, when the waves would be a rainbow of brightly colored surfboards and their rider tumbling about in the whitewash.

OBX 3Every time, either after a great ride or a great wipe out the surfer would bust through the surface of the ocean with a smile as wide as the horizon. Farmdog and his team of instructors swam endlessly in the surf help us catch waves as well as helping us get back on our boards after a gnarly wipeout. They were also the varsity team at making delicious smoothie drinks back at the Farmdog Surf Shop after each day on the ocean. I was so stoked to be back in the field leading and being part of such an amazing week in OBX. Thank you to Farmdog Surf School and the FD staff and volunteers who made this program such a great success. The biggest thank you goes out to the participants who faced their fears with grace and determination and showed us all what it means to truly be “Out Living It”, you all made this Wildflower very proud! – Wildflower




FD Healthy: Reading Nutrition Labels

Reading Nutrition Facts on Packaged Food | By Clara Darling

When trying to make informed decisions about what we are eating, we must always look at the nutrition facts on the packaging to see what is contained in a product and what our body will get out of it. When you want to know if a product contains soy, or when you want to know the sugar content in a beverage, all this information will be offered under the nutrition facts panel. Since this is the go to spot for most of your product inquiries, it is important to know how to decipher the nutrition facts and understand what they are really saying.

nutrition labelNutrition Facts labels are be broken down into 5 basic sections, not including the ingredient lists.

1. The first section tells you the serving size as well as servings per container. Sections 2-5 are then all based on amounts per that serving size. This is very important because more often than not the listed serving size will vary from what you actually consume. For example, a can of soda will have a serving size of half a can, but are you going to only drink half a can of soda? Probably not, in which case you will need to double all the listed nutrient amounts in order to get an accurate count of what you are consuming.

2. This section tells you how many calories are in a product and how many of those calories come from fat. Again keep in mind the serving size. If a serving size is ⅔ a cup, and you consume 1 full cup, the amount of calories consumed will be higher.

3. Section three describes the nutrients that should be limited in your diet: saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Notice that only saturated and trans fats are listed here, not monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. This is because unsaturated fats are good healthy fats that our body needs to function properly. You will also notice that percentages are now shown to the right of each nutrient. These percentages are based off the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) published by the Institute of Medicine, which establish what amount of nutrients are appropriate for our daily consumption. These are discussed more in section 5.

4. Listed here are the nutrients that we typically need more of: dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. The exception here is sugar, which is listed in this section because along with dietary fiber it makes up the total carbohydrates in a product. Unlike dietary fiber however, you want to limit your sugar intake. There are natural sugars in most foods remember, so here we are talking mainly about added sugars from cane sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, even honey or agave.

5. The last section is a footnote that focuses specifically on the Percent Daily Values mentioned earlier. The information shown here is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. This is very important, as very few of us consume only 2,000 calories a day. Depending on your age, height, gender, activity level you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories a day. And if you are trying to lose or gain weight, your calories will vary even more. To find out a basic estimate for your personal calorie needs, click here. Also in this section you will see a comparison of DRI recommendations based on both a 2,000 calorie and a 2,500 calorie diet. This is a good quick reference for figuring out how much of a nutrient you should be consuming. As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV- 5 percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient, such as fiber, seek foods with a higher % DV- 20 % or more.

Separate from the nutrition facts, but equally important, is the ingredient list. Here is where you can find what foods are actually in a product. The tricky part can be deciphering what some of these foods are and how much of them are in that package. The two main things to keep in mind when reading ingredient lists are (1) the order and (2) multiple names being used for the same product.

ingredient labelOrder: Ingredients are always listed from greatest quantity to least. Hint, if sugar is listed first, you probably don’t want it. Keep in mind that this list can be skewed; if you look at the label on salsa, tomatoes will obviously be listed first, but it could still contain a lot of sugar, salt, preservatives and additives. Hydrogenated fat could be listed last, but could still be in a higher quantity than desired.

Ingredient Names: Certain ingredients go by more than one name, which can make it difficult if you are trying to limit certain ones in your diet. Three big ones are sodium, sugar and trans fat. Sodium can be listed as salt, sodium benzoate, disodium, sodium nitrite or monosodium glutamate (MSG). Sugar can be in the form of cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, fructose, agave or honey. Trans fats are usually listed as hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil. It can take time to really understand all of these, so if you are not sure what a word is on a food label, look it up!

Nutrition labels and ingredient lists may not reveal everything about a product from an ethical standpoint: how the farm workers are being treated, if they are using proper crop rotation, if they are giving back to their community, etc. However, for an instant decision in that grocery aisle when trying to buy the best product, what these labels can give you a is good base of understanding and a comparison between that product and its competitors.

For more detailed information on food labeling and nutrition facts, here is a link to the FDA Labeling & Nutrition Page: http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm#see1

Bio PicMy FD name is Kitchen Ninja (Kinja). I am from Auburn, AL. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelors in Culinary Nutrition. I am currently Sous Chef at Linger in Denver. My passion is creating nutritious food for others and spreading knowledge of health through food and cooking.