Count yourself in the camp that’s nailing nutrition? You might need to rethink that — the majority of Australians aren’t meeting the recommended nutrition requirements1. Making healthy food choices isn’t always an easy task when less than ideal options are readily available, affordable and easily over-consumed. Mix in fad diets and food trends and you’ve got a recipe for conflicting, and often incorrect, information around what we should be eating for better wellbeing.
“The nutrition space has never been more confusing,” Accredited Practising Dietitian Joel Feren says. “The spread of disinformation thanks to celebrities, social media influencers and other ‘gurus’ is rife.”
So, we’re here to remind you about the basics of healthy eating and how to make it work for you.
What do you need?
Food is more than what fuels us each day. It can have a noticeable effect on how we feel physically and mentally, with a long-term impact on our health. Eating poorly is one of the biggest contributors to an early death2 and can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and depression. Nutrition is simply the process of obtaining the necessary food required for optimal health and growth. Your nutrition needs change over your lifetime and depend on factors like how physically active you are and whether you’re managing a health condition.
The bottom line is that you should eat a wide variety of foods from the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, dairy foods, and lean meats), drink plenty of water, and limit foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
More than meat
“Men tend to have tunnel vision when it comes to nutrition and they predominantly think about protein,” Feren says. “It’s not surprising because protein is regarded as the nutrition king of the jungle, yet blokes tend to drop the ball when it comes to meeting their wholegrain and veggie needs.”
In fact, nine out of 10 Australians don’t eat the recommended five to six serves of vegetables each day.
“Including an extra piece of fruit over the day and an extra helping of veggies at dinner will go some way to improve the health of Aussie blokes,” Feren says.
Eating the advised amount of veg doesn’t mean you need to swap red meat for “rabbit food”.
“We need to construct a better balanced plate,” Feren says. “Serving brown rice or potatoes, plus a number of non-starchy vegetables alongside a piece of steak or chicken will achieve that.”
Adding to your plate, rather than restricting, is easier to keep up in the long term. You’ll also find you’re automatically eating less of the not-so-good foods when you fill up on fruit and veg.
Portions are a priority
Speaking of plates, are you keeping a keen eye on how much food you’re putting on yours? Portion control means choosing a healthy amount of food to meet your nutrition needs without over or under-consumption. Understanding the recommended serving sizes of each food group can help you portion out your food groups appropriately when plating up a meal.
Instead of eating on autopilot, mindful eating can help you stay present while consuming food and pay better attention to your satiety cues. Mindful eating strategies include plating up all meals (instead of eating snacks straight out of the box or bag), taking small bites, chewing slowly, focusing on the taste and texture of your food, and putting away screens to cut down on distraction. Focusing on what you’re eating, and enjoying it, will help you cut down on overeating.
What about [insert fad diet]?
You’ve likely heard a friend, colleague, or celebrity wax lyrical about the benefits of a certain diet, product, or meal plan. Whether it’s the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, or Atkins — fad diets are often short-sited and misguided approaches towards whatever goals you may have (which are often weight loss). Restrictive diets can help you lose weight but what’s lost in the initial stages is often gained back down the track.
“Weight should only be seen as one marker of success,” Feren says. “Low-calorie diets that still encourage the consumption of wholegrains, starchy vegetables and fruit will not only result in weight loss, but likely also lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.”
Some eating methods can also put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies.
“Carbs are the primary fuel source for our brains, muscles and vital organs, and carb-rich foods provide a range of other nutrients including B vitamins, potassium, iron, magnesium, plant-based phytonutrients and fibre,” Feren says. “Fibre helps to increase our feelings of fullness, it can reduce transit time in our digestive system and help to add bulk to our meals. This means fibre can play a pivotal role in helping to manage our waistlines. So, yes, you can still eat carbs and lose weight.”
Research also shows that people with a higher intake of cereal fibres (those wholegrains that ketogenic diet supporters shun) have a reduced risk of premature death from heart disease, colon cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes.
Quick fixes and punishing diets won’t cut the mustard for long. Your goal is to get habits like consistent mealtimes and swapping out soft drinks to a point where they’re as instinctive as brushing your teeth and tying your shoelaces. Forming habits require consistency and this can be made easier by attaching an action to a trigger, like you would put your seatbelt on when you get in the car. This could include adding a serve of vegetables to every meal, eating a piece of fruit with breakfast or filling up your water bottle with every trip to the bathroom (in the kitchen sink, please). To eat better for the long haul, “don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Feren advises. “Remember that slow and steady wins the race. The prize is better health and that’s a goal worth chasing.”
1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2019. Poor diet. Retrieved 03 May 2021 from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/ food-nutrition/poor-diet
2 Forouzanfar et al., 2015. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 79 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks in 188 countries, 1990–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The Lancet