We all know the importance of a healthy lifestyle and choosing a balanced diet, but with so much information available it can be hard to sort fact from fiction.
Most people think they eat fairly well – surveys show 93 per cent of Australian shoppers describe their overall diet as extremely or very healthy. But surprisingly, only 15 per cent are very satisfied with their eating habits and 57 per cent plan to watch what they eat more closely in the future1. Clearly, health is high on people’s agendas.
The ‘secret’ to maintaining good health is combining a healthy eating plan with daily physical activity. While it may seem easy to follow the latest fad diet or trend going around, many of these plans excessively restrict your intake of foods or entire food groups which can lead to inadequacies in key nutrients. ‘Diets’ can also be hard to stick to for longer than a few weeks, and many people simply revert back to their old habits in the end. So here we get back to basics to help you put together your own healthy lifestyle plan.The basics
The basic principles of healthy eating are quite simple:
- Foods are often categorised into five main groups based on their nutrient content. These are vegetables, breads and cereals, fruit, dairy and meats/alternatives. Each different food group provides unique nutrients to your diet, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods from each of the major food groups every day.
- Eat moderate portions of all foods, with the exception of vegetables where you can generally eat plenty! (Just make sure you don’t overdo the starchy vegies such as potato, sweet potato and corn, which are higher in kilojoules than other vegies). Choosing smaller, frequent meals and snacks will help keep the variety in your diet.
- Remember that enjoying foods is the key to being able to sustain healthy eating habits in the long term, so a healthy balanced diet can include the occasional treat!
Recommended dietary intakes
In 2006 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released updated recommended dietary intakes (RDIs) for energy (kilojoules), fluids and over 40 vitamins and minerals needed at all stages of life. For the first time, they’ve also recommended dietary intakes of nutrients that are optimal to prevent chronic disease.
By choosing foods from each of the major food groups daily (taking care to choose healthier options within each group and also include some foods that contribute healthy fats to the diet), most people will be likely to get enough vitamins and minerals to meet their requirements.
Every day foods
While in urgent need of revision to bring it up to speed with the latest scientific research, the federal government’s Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends the following serves of foods daily. Use these as a guide – your individual requirements are likely to vary and there may be other factors that need to be taken into account.
Bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles
These foods contribute to your daily carbohydrate intake, and wholegrain choices in particular such as wholemeal bread or pasta, brown rice and oats are high in fibre, B vitamins and minerals.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends you eat at least 4 serves daily, but you can eat less if you choose wholegrain varieties because they’re higher in nutrients. This in turn can help you manage your kilojoule intake.
One serve of breads and cereals equals:
- 2 slices of bread or 1 bread roll
- 1 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles
- 1 1/3 cups flaky breakfast cereal, 1/2 cup muesli or 1 cup cooked porridge
Vegetables and legumes
Including a variety of different coloured vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables like cabbage, spinach and broccoli, and orange, yellow and red coloured vegetables like carrot, sweet potato, pumpkin and tomato in your daily diet means you get plenty of fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. Aim for at least 5 serves daily.
One serve of vegetables equals:
- 1 cup of salad
- 1/2 cup of vegetables or legumes
- 1 potato
Fresh, canned and frozen fruits are rich in fibre, vitamin C and folate, so enjoy these daily. Fruit juice and dried fruit in small amounts can also contribute to your fruit serves. Aim for at least 2 serves daily.
One serve of fruit equals:
- 1 medium piece such as apple, orange or banana, or 2 small fruits such as apricot or kiwi fruit
- 1 cup of diced or canned fruit
- 4 pieces of dried fruit or 1 1/2 tablespoons of sultanas
- 1/2 a glass of juice (125ml)
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes
The foods in this group include lean red meat, fish, pork, chicken, legumes and eggs. These foods provide protein, vitamin B12, zinc and iron in varying amounts, so it’s important to include a variety of each type in your weekly eating plan. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends at least 1 serve each day, however for optimal nutrition, at least 2 serves from this group daily is ideal. It’s important to include lean red meat 3 or 4 times per week and fish twice per week.
One serve of meat and alternatives equals:
- 85g cooked lean beef, lamb, veal, pork or chicken
- 100g cooked fish
- Two eggs
- 1/2 cup cooked dried beans, lentils or chickpeas, or 1/3 cup peanuts or almonds
Milk, yoghurt and cheese
Dairy products provide protein, calcium, riboflavin and vitamin B12. Include at least 2 serves daily and choose low and reduced-fat versions.
One serve of dairy equals:
- 1 glass of milk (250ml) or calcium fortified soy milk
- 40g cheese
- 200g carton of low fat yoghurt or 1 cup of custard
Healthy fats and oils
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating doesn’t separate healthy fats and oils from foods that are high in unhealthy fats so it’s important to remember to choose these and add them to your daily diet. Healthy fats come from foods such as vegetable oils, unsaturated margarines, avocado, nuts and seeds and are needed in small amounts daily.
What is a serve?
Food & Nutrition Australia classifies a serve of healthy fats as 2 teaspoons of oil or 3 teaspoons of unsaturated margarine, 10 unsalted nuts or 2 tablespoons of avocado.
Include plenty of still, sparkling and lightly flavoured waters and tea daily. If you’re watching your weight, limit your intake of fruit juices, soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages, which can be an unnecessary source of kilojoules.
A healthy eating plan can include your favourite treat foods such as chocolates, sweets or savoury snacks or alcohol occasionally. By leaving yourself a bit of room to enjoy the occasional indulgence, it’s likely you’ll be able to stick more closely to a healthy eating pattern most of the time.
Being active in as many ways as you can every day is not only essential for maintaining a healthy weight and fitness, it can also help boost your energy levels and clear your head. For successful weight loss, the body needs to burn up more energy than it takes in. Quite simply, this can be achieved by consuming fewer kilojoules from foods and drinks than you usually do or increasing the amount of energy you use up from physical activity or both!