4 Tips for Searching & Finding Basic Food Items

  • 5 Minutes Read

MyNetDiary has many basic or generic food items but they might be a little tricky to find until our naming convention is updated this year. In the meantime, read this post for tips on how to find basic foods such as fruit, veggies, meats, fish/seafood, poultry, and raw vs. cooked grains and pasta.

4 Tips for Searching & Finding Basic Food Items

Most basic food items come from the USDA National Nutrient Database, Standard Reference. These basic foods have more complete nutrient data than branded foods. This is especially helpful if you need to track nutrients that are not commonly listed on the food label or Nutrition Facts panel.

When you search any large food database with just a single common word like "orange" or "chicken," a ton of food options will show up - both basic and branded food items. The trick to finding your basic item of interest is to include another key word that helps filter out processed and branded food items as much as possible. MyNetDiary is in the process of updating how foods are named and listed so that basic, generic, or non-branded foods show up high in the search results (making them a lot easier to find). But in the meantime, it helps to know a little bit about the USDA naming convention so you can more easily select for those basic foods.

1. Finding fresh fruit & vegetables

To quickly find a fresh fruit or vegetable, simply add the term "raw" to your fruit or vegetable name. For example, if you search "raw orange" or "orange raw" then the basic orange will be at the top of the search list. Same goes for finding raw vegetables - if I search "broccoli raw," I see it at the top of my search list and I can easily and quickly select it for tracking.

2. Finding cooked vegetables

Try including the word "cooked" to your food name search (e.g. "broccoli cooked"). If that still brings up too many random foods, add a more specific cooking method to narrow down the search. For instance, USDA typically has data for boiled versions of veggies, so you could search "broccoli cooked boiled" to see the basic options. If I steam broccoli, I will still use "boiled" since that is the closest cooked food item I can find (since USDA does not have a unique food item for steamed broccoli). For roasted broccoli, I might use the boiled broccoli item and then just add the amount of oil and salt I used to roast the broccoli.

3. Finding cooked grains & pasta

Brand grain or pasta foods are a pain to log since they are usually sold uncooked or dry, and so, their food labels refer to the dry or uncooked portion. Unless I am using a brand food with unusual nutrition, I try to log grains or pasta using the basic USDA food item instead of the brand name.

Oatmeal: Search "cooked oatmeal" for rolled, instant, or quick cooking oats. Search "cooked oats" for cooked steel-cut oats.

Rice: Search "white rice cooked" and choose which grain length - short, medium, or long. Or search "brown rice cooked" and log either the medium or long grain. If you want to log a specific cooked rice that is not available, you can save time by simply using one of the existing cooked white rice varieties - just try to match the grain length as best you can.

Pasta: Search "cooked pasta" or "cooked spaghetti" - these items work well for most types of pasta. If it is whole wheat, include "whole wheat" in your search as well - e.g. "cooked whole wheat spaghetti." If you eat gluten-free pasta, you can find a number of options by searching "gluten free cooked pasta."

If you do not find the basic cooked food item that fits, here are some tips to log an uncooked version to get a reasonably accurate calories and carb count:

4. Meat, fish, and poultry

Add the word "cooked" to bring up cooked vs. raw items. Because there are hundreds of cooked chicken items, beef items, etc., the more specific you can be in your search, the higher up in the search list you will find the basic food item of interest. Until MyNetDiary updates the naming conventions of specific USDA foods to make finding basic or generic foods easier, you can visit the USDA National Nutrient Database, Standard Reference to check or learn how a basic food is named (and then use that name in your MyNetDiary search). MyNetDiary should have all of those USDA food items. If you find that what you are looking for is missing, please send us a request to have it entered at Support@mynetdiary.com.

Chicken: Include "chi bro fry" in your name search to limit search results to basic USDA food items for chicken. Since MyNetDiary recognizes the first 3 characters of words for searches, this odd string of words very efficiently brings up all "chicken broiler fryer" options, the USDA naming convention for chickens sold for human consumption. To further limit your options, include the chicken part you eat. For example, to quickly find roasted chicken leg with the skin removed, I search "chi bro fry roasted leg meat only."

Crab, lobster, and shrimp: Include "crus" along with the food name in your search so that the basic items are at the top of the search results. "Crus" is short for crustaceans - the USDA naming convention for those types of seafood items. For instance, to find basic cooked shrimp options, try searching with "crus cooked shrimp."

Clams, mussels, octopus, oysters, scallops, snails, squid: Include "moll" along with the food name in your search so that the basic items are at the top of the search results. "moll" is short for mollusks - the USDA naming convention for those types of seafood items. For instance, to find basic cooked clam options, try searching with "moll cooked clams."

Tip: I have noticed that USDA often uses "moist heat" or "dry heat" in their naming convention for non-fried cooked fish or seafood items (instead of the more specific cooking method). Moist heat cooking methods include poaching, simmering, boiling, braising, stewing, pot roasting, steaming, or en papillote. Dry heat cooking methods include broiling, roasting, grilling, baking, sauteing, or pan-frying. If you include "dry heat" or "moist heat" along with the food item name in your search, you are likely to see basic USDA food items at the top of the search list (making it a lot easier to find and log that basic food item).

Beef: if you are trying to find plain cooked hamburger, then try "ground beef cooked" and then select the closest %lean / %fat available from the list of options. Searching "ground beef cooked 80%" will bring up all options for cooked 80% lean / 20% fat ground beef - what most folks use for regular hamburgers. If you are trying to find steak, try searching "beef cooked" in your search (e.g. "beef porterhouse cooked"). There are over 500 cooked beef options to choose from, so try to include a specific cut to limit the number of search results to a manageable level. USDA uses "Beef" in their name in addition to the specific cut or part of the animal - this will help limit the search results to those basic USDA items.

If you cannot find a basic food item, or any food item for that matter, please ask for help! The more accurate you are in choosing the closest food item, the more accurate your calories and nutrient data will be. You can ask for help by posting a question in "Ask a Dietitian" forum or by sending a question to support@mynetdiary.com. We are here to support your tracking ease and comfort!

More Resources

More Tips for Food Logging
Tips for Accurate Recipes
Other Tracking Tips

Weight Loss->Weight Loss Tips & Quips Tracking & MyNetDiary->Tracking Tips
Feb 6, 2018
Katherine Isacks
Katherine Isacks, MPS, RDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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