In celebration of National Nutrition Week earlier this month, we thought we’d team up with our friends at Nutrition Force to take a look at how nutrition and what we eat impacts on our overall health and wellbeing.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced and adequate diet is an important part of living a happy and healthy life. According to the World Health Organisation, a healthy diet can contribute to your overall health in a number of ways, by:
- providing vitamins and minerals that are vital to boost immunity and healthy development;
- protecting the human body against certain types of diseases, in particular non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, skeletal conditions and some types of cancer; and
- contributing to an adequate body weight.
What should I be eating?
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a variety of foods from these five food groups every day:
- Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans.
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley.
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans.
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years).
In addition, the Guidelines recommend:
- Drinking plenty of water.
- Limiting your intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
- Keeping physically active every day.
- Encouraging, supporting and promoting breastfeeding.
- Caring for your food by preparing and storing it correctly.
How can I incorporate the five food groups into my daily diet?
Lisa Stagena, Managing Director of Nutrition Force has a simple solution.
“We often use the phrase “Eat a Rainbow” to help people start eating a more nutritionally balanced diet,” advises Lisa.
“What that means, is to simply eat a range of colourful, fresh, wholesome food that will provide a range of benefits for your body. It doesn’t mean eat a packet of Smarties!
“The more colourful wholefood is, the more nutritional benefits it is likely to have, as the nutrients and other healthy compounds contribute to its colour, flavour and aroma.
“We suggest aiming for about 20-30 different types of food per day.”
Lisa, why is it important to eat such a large variety of foods for good health?
“Every food is categorised into one of the five food groups, according to its nutritional profile. For example, the vegetable food group provides us with carbohydrate, water, fibre, and a range of vitamins (especially Vitamin A) and minerals.
“The main nutrients found in food are fat, carbohydrate and protein that we primarily use for energy. Vitamins and minerals, also nutrients, are used for a range of functions including cellular function, utilising the energy from food, a healthy immune system and so much more.
“There is also a range of compounds found in food known as non-nutrients. These are beneficial for our health but not essential for good health like nutrients. They include compounds such as polyphenols found in citrus fruit, green tea, and fresh herbs and act as an anti-inflammatory. Many anti-oxidants are also found in non-nutrients, such as lycopene in tomatoes.
“So, it’s important that if you want to be healthy that you eat a range of food to give your body a range of nutrients and non-nutrients to function at your very best. If you limit your food variety, you are limiting your nutrient variety.”
How can we incorporate better nutrition into our busy lifestyles?
The seemingly endless demands of work, kids, friends, family and social commitments coupled with the ease and convenience of take-away options these days can make it difficult for people to find the time to prepare healthy and nutritious meals.
Luckily, Lisa has a few practical tips to help get you back on track:
1. Plan your weekly meals. This will help to save you money on unplanned take-out food that is often high in sugar, fat and salt.
2. Write a shopping list and stick to it! Remember that those who shop with a shopping list weigh less than those who don’t.
3. Keep healthy snacks on hand to avoid snacking on unhealthy foods. Convenient healthy snack ideas include nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
4. Commit to eating meals. Skipping meals because you’re busy can easily become a bad habit leading to binge and impulsive eating.
5. Freeze your food. When making everyday food such as spaghetti Bolognese, casseroles, soups etc, make a bit extra to freeze. That way you’ll have healthy, pre-prepared meals on hand for those days where time gets the better of you.
What about fussy eaters?
While fussy eating is more common in children, there are many adults who don’t like to try new foods and prefer to stick to a limited set of favourite foods made a certain way.
If you are preparing meals for fussy eaters or you are a fussy eater yourself, here are some tips to help make mealtimes more nutritious and enjoyable:
- Scale back on snacks and drinks, so that you’re hungrier at mealtimes.
- Keep meals stress-free, pleasant and regular. Switch off the digital devices and eat together as a family at the same time every night.
- Make food attractive. Ever hear the saying ‘we eat with our eyes’? The more appealing food looks, the more likely we are to give it a try.
- Don’t overwhelm fussy eaters with a plate full of new foods. When introducing a new food, serve it alongside familiar favourites.
- Try different options. If you don’t like raw vegetables, try steaming, grilling or roasting them instead. If your child won’t eat cheese, try giving them some yoghurt or another alternative from the same food group.
- Don’t give up! Studies have shown that the more times we try a food, the more we may like it. So keep trying a new food in small, regular doses and, in time, it may turn into a favourite.
Need a little extra help?
If you need some extra help in getting your nutrition on track, then you may like to consider making an appointment with an accredited dietitian who can help provide you with the skills, knowledge and confidence to improve your health and wellbeing and reach your health goals.
Illawarra Medical Centre offers appointments with a Nutrition Force Accredited Practicing Dietitian on Tuesdays.
Appointments are available fortnightly to discuss a range of dietary related health conditions, including gut issues, bariatric surgery, children’s dietary issues, weight loss, diabetes and more.
For more information on this topic, visit:
- Department of Health, Western Australia – https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/U_Z/Why-is-nutrition-important
- Dietitians Association of Australia – https://daa.asn.au/smart-eating-for-you/smart-eating-fast-facts/healthy-eating/
- Nutrition Australia – https://www.nutritionaustralia.org
- Nutrition Force – https://nutritionforce.com.au
- Raising Children – https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/nutrition-fitness/common-concerns/fussy-eating
- WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-picky-eating
- World Health Organization – http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/disease-prevention/nutrition/a-healthy-lifestyle/benefits-of-a-balanced-diet