How Wholesome Personalizes Your Nutrition Goals

We've had many questions about how Wholesome personalize's your nutrition goals and why the %'s in Wholesome don't always match up to the %'s on nutrition labels. We're going to explain exactly how it works in this post. 

In order to print the daily value for each nutrient on a nutrition label, the food industry has to standardize the recommended amounts. The problem is that we all have different nutrition needs depending on personal factors. For example, women are recommended by the USDA to have 2x more iron than men each day and pregnant women are recommended to have 3x more iron than men each day.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Iron [5]:


The food industry sets 18mg of iron as 100% across all nutrition labels (since they only have space to print one value on the label). But adult men only need 8mg per day, while a pregnant woman needs 27mg per day. So if an adult man was to get 100% of the nutrition label, he would actually be getting more than double what is recommended. While the pregnant woman would only be getting 2/3s of what she is recommended to have.

Wholesome takes all your personal factors into consideration and tailors your daily goals according to the USDA recommended daily allowances recommended for you. All you have to do is enter in your profile information within settings. 

Here is another example. The food industry sets 100% VitaminB6  as 2mg on nutrition labels. 

But in reality only a breastfeeding mother needs that much in a given day. Here are the real recommended amounts by age, gender, and pregnancy status:

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Vitamin B6 [1]:

B6 copy 2.png


Because Wholesome is a digital experience (instead of a static nutrition label), Wholesome can adjust your daily goal for each nutrient based on any of these personal factors. 


Let's assume you are entering a Vitmain B6 supplement into Wholesome as a custom food. The nutrition label says that 100% daily value for Vitamin B6 is 2mg and you enter that into Wholesome. 

Wholesome already knows that 100% is 2mg based on this table provided by NIH:

Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling, Based on a 2,000 Calorie Intake, for Adults and Children 4 or More Years of Age

Wholesome measures 2mg against your personalized goal. Assuming your goal is set to 1.3mg and you have tracked the food, it will show that you have had 154% of your daily Vitamin B6 for that day. 


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How to Track Omega 3s Using Wholesome

How do you use Wholesome to know if you're getting enough Omega 3s?

Wholesome doesn't have a single field for "Omega 3s" because there are many different types and there's really no way to bucket them into one category. Wholesome tracks each type individually and the data is sourced directly from the USDA. The types of Omega 3s are: a-Linoleic acid (ALA), EPA, DHA, DPA. Note that linoleic acid is an Omega 6. 

Foods high in ALA: flax seed oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds.

Foods high in EPA, DPA, & DHA: fish and fish oils (see nutrient pages in Wholesome app for specifics).

Foods high in Omega 6 linoleic acid: walnuts, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, pepitas.

Don't worry, you don't need to memorize these - you can reference these lists any time in Wholesome.

What's the difference between Omega 3s and Omega 6s?

To start off, they are both fatty acids. While both are considered healthy, they do compete for the same enzymes and so it's important not to consume too many Omega 6s that may inhibit the benefits of Omega 3s. 

Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1-16.7/1.
— The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC

It is important to get the right ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s (ideally 1 to 1). Most of us have far too much Omega 6s with the average western diet having 15 to 1. Try to reduce the amount of vegetable oil and eat more chia and hemp seeds. A lower ratio is also thought to help with chronic disease:

The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. A ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse consequences.
— The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC


How it works in the app

To track your intake of Omega 3s, simply add the foods that you eat and go to the My Nutrition page. Look for the section called "Steroids & Omega Fatty Acids".

ALA and linoleic acid both have recommended amounts set by the USDA and so they show as a percent so that you can track toward your daily goal. 

EPA, DPA, & DHA do not have pre-determined goals set by the USDA and so they are shown in exact grams rather than percent form.

Why do Flaxseeds not show Omega 3s DHA and EPA in the app?

Flaxseeds contain the omega 3 fatty acid ALA (listed in the app). When consumed, it can be broken down into DHA and EPA by the body but there is controversy around how much converts. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, has ALA in the ready form, likely due to processing. source:usda has fantastic information on this topic: 

There is considerable scientific debate about our ability to get optimal amounts of EPA and DHA by relying exclusively on ALA-containing foods. That’s because our body’s ability to make EPA and DHA from ALA can become compromised under a variety of common circumstances.

... our body cannot do an effective job of converting ALA into EPA and DHA without a satisfactory supply of certain nutrients. These nutrients include vitamin B3, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and the minerals zinc and magnesium. If we are deficient in one or more of these nutrients, our bodies may not be able to provide us with optimal amounts of EPA and DHA, even when our ALA intake is sufficient.

Currently, Wholesome provides the data for pre-digestion and does not guess on bio-availability amounts. If you want to ensure you are getting EPA and DHA it is suggested that you eat it directly in it's natural form by consuming fish. EPA and DHA are especially considered to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. So if you're a vegetarian, you might consider talking to your doctor about supplementation. This information comes from

Why does Wholesome show that almonds contain ALA and linoleic acid but almond butter does not?

The USDA provides data that almonds contain both linoleic acid (18:2 n-6, c, c) and ALA (18:3 n-3, c, c, c). source

However, almond butter shows only as the "undifferentiated" form which I don't believe qualify as LA and ALA. It doesn't mean that it doesn't contain them though its just not explicitly mentioned (super frustrating!). It is possible that the LA/ALA content is altered during commercial processing but I don't know for sure. I tried searching on google but can't seem to find a good answer. 

Sometimes the data is not straight forward, unfortunately. I've spent many hours researching fatty acids and how to get the most accurate nutrition information into Wholesome and it's quite complicated. 

Always note...

I'm not a nutritionist, but I am a cancer survivor who seeks out the best and most reliable health research available. Please feel free to reach out to me if you feel any information is inaccurate. I would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you! - Jessica

Why it's Better to Get Folate from Whole Foods

Folic acid is a big deal when you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. As a woman of childbearing age, I have yet to have a doctor that did not suggest that I take folic acid supplements.

Doctors do this for a reason: most Americans are not getting enough folate (the natural form of folic acid) from whole foods. Without enough folateyou run the risk of having children with severe birth defects like Spina Bifida.

I understand the seriousness of the situation. However, I wish my doctors would ask me about my diet before pushing the pills. Why am I so against them?

Well, as it turns out, folic acid is not the same as folate and at high doses it has been proven to be dangerous. The difference between folate and folic acid is that the synthetic form needs to be metabolized into folate and a large subset of the population with a certain gene type are unable to do that. When you can't metabolize it, it stays around in the body and may do damage. Specifically, it has been correlated in many studies with several types of cancer. 

In 2013, a study assessing breat cancer risk and folic acid found that:

"caution needs to be used when introducing folic acid supplementation since it may lead to cancer progression" (view the study here)

Here is another concrete example – Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer found in children under the age of 5.  A study determined that mothers who took folic acid supplements while pregnant and had the genetic variation that could not turn folic acid into folate, were 4 times more likely to have a child with Retinoblastoma than the control (read the full study here).

It turns out that while too little folate can cause terrible birth defects, it is also really bad for you if you have too much of the synthetic form.

“Both insufficient folate intake and increased folic acid intake have been associated with the development of carcinomas in adults and with the promotion of neoplastic lesions and genetic damage in rodent models."
"Vitamin supplementation with folic acid has been associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Prospective studies have demonstrated that the ingestion of folic acid at the tolerated upper limit of 1000ug may contribute to tumor progression in colonic adenomas and to increased incidence of breast, prostate, and lung cancers.”

What’s disturbing is that doctors don’t seem to know any of this! From my own encounters, most of them don’t even know the difference between folate and folic acid! After explaining to one doctor the reasons why I would not take the pills, he responded that he needs to learn more about nutrition.

It's not just a matter of saying no to supplements and eating the right foods. If you eat any enriched breads, pastas, rice, cereals, or flours, they all are fortified with folic acid. The FDA has been fortifying with folic acid since 1998 with the goal of reducing birth defects. I've recently seen tv commercials using "folic acid" as a health promoting marketing tactic. 

In summary, many of us are likely getting too much folic acid and some of us could get seriously ill from it. 

So what’s a person to do?

– Get as much Folate from foods as you can (the Wholesome app shows you the top sources of Folate and will even tell you if you’ve had enough) this is especially important if you are planning to get pregnant as you will need to get much more. Warning: it is incredibly important to get enough folate while you are pregnant so that the baby does not develop birth defects. In the app settings, you can update your profile to 'pregnant' and the app will set your goal to the USDA's daily recommended amount.

– Have a blood test performed by your doctor to measure your actual levels of folate. I had this done recently and found out mine were way above the recommended amount (finally some validation that I don’t need those pills!).

– If your levels for folate are low and you must resort to a supplement look for ones that say “folate” and are from whole food sources – not folic acid. I don’t know of any specifically – but I know they exist. Ask your doctor or do your own research.

– Assuming you are getting enough folate, avoid packaged goods with folic acid listed on the label – that probably means less cereal and energy bars. Sometimes the labels are confusing, for example, cliff energy bars list “folate” under vitamins but then in the ingredients it says “folic acid”.

At a minimum, be aware and try to get natural folate from whole foods rather than folic acid supplementation.

Wholesome can help. It has a list of high in folate foods and allows you to track toward the your recommended goal.

Happy eating!


Healthy Recipes Coming to Wholesome

What’s been happening with Wholesome? This summer we released user-added foods and we’ve now had over 8,000 user contributed foods added to the Wholesome app! 

What’s next? You asked for it: Recipes! We’re putting the finishing touches on what’s been a few months of intensive designing and coding. We're also going live with a brand new website.

Want to help us try out the app before launch? Email us at wholesomeapp[at] for access to the private beta.

Happy eating!