First the good news, 75 to 91 per cent of Australians already rate their health as excellent, very good or good.
Now the bad, many of us are not eating the right kind of food. For example, only 1 in 10 Australians over 12 years of age eat sufficient vegetables in a day and only half eat sufficient serves of fruit. Eating more fruit and veg is associated with lowering the risk of all major chronic diseases and can also assist with weight management.
Poor dietary choices contribute to the development of many of the major chronic diseases we see in Australia, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.
The 'secret' to maintaining good health is to combine 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 mean you are missing out on 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.
Here we get back to basics to help you put together your own healthy lifestyle plan.
The basicsThe basic principles of healthy eating are quite simple:
- Foods are often categorised into five main groups based on their nutrient content, it's important to eat a variety of foods from each of these major food groups every day. These are:
- vegetables and legumes/beans
- grain (cereal) foods
- dairy and alternatives
- meats and alternatives.
- Eat moderate portions of all foods. The exception is vegetables where you can generally eat plenty, although you should avoid eating too many starchy vegies, such as potato, sweet potato and corn. While these are very nutrient rich vegetables, they are higher in kilojoules than other veggies.
- 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. The amount of treat foods you can include will depend on how active you are, your height, weight, gender and health goals.
By choosing foods from each of the major food groups daily (taking care to choose healthier options within each group), most people will be likely to get enough vitamins and minerals to meet their requirements and to meet the recommendations for optimal health and the reduction of disease risks.
If you eat a good variety and balance of foods daily and obtain sufficient sunlight exposure there is generally no need for vitamin and mineral supplements.
Everyday foodsThe dietary guidelines eatforhealth website 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.
Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties.Foods in this group include bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa, barley, oats and other grains.
These foods contribute to your daily carbohydrate intake, and wholegrain choices in particular such as wholemeal bread or pasta, brown rice and oats are higher in fibre, B vitamins and minerals such as magnesium and iron compared to their more refined counterparts. This makes them better choices for optimal health and wellbeing.
Gender and ageServes of per dayToddlers 1-2 years4Boys 2-8 years4Boys 9-115Boys 12-136Boys 14-187Men 19-706Men 70+4½Girls 2-114Girls 12-135Girls 14-187Women 19-506Women 51-704Women 70+3Pregnant8½Breastfeeding9One serve of grain foods equals:
- 1 slice of bread or 1/2 bread roll
- 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa, porridge
- 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes, 1/4 cup muesli
- 3 crispbreads
Gender and age Serves of per dayToddlers 1-2 years2-3Boys 2-3 years2½Boys 4-84½Boys 9-115Boys 12-185½Men 19-506Men 51-705½Men 70+5Girls 2-32½Girls 4-84½Girls 9-185Women 19-70+5Pregnant5Breastfeeding7½One serve of vegetables and legumes/beans equals:
- 1 cup of green leafy or raw salad vegetables
- 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables or legumes
- 1/2 medium potato
- 1/2 cup sweetcorn
Gender and ageServes of per dayToddlers 1-2 years½Boys 2-3 years1Boys 4-81½Boys 9-182Men 19-70+2Girls 2-31Girls 4-81½Girls 9-182Women 19-70+2Pregnant2Breastfeeding2One 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
- 30g dried fruit, for example, 4 dried apricot halves or 1 1/2 tablespoons of sultanas
- 1/2 cup juice (125ml)
It's important to limit lean red meat to up to 455g per week and to aim to include fish twice per week. Note that legumes are included in this group as well as being in the vegetables group as they provide many of the same nutrients as lean meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
Gender and ageServes of per dayToddlers 1-2 years1Boys 2-3 years1Boys 4-81½Boys 9-182½Men 19-503Men 51-70+2½Girls 2-31Girls 4-81½Girls 9-182½Women 19-502½Women 51-70+2Pregnant3½Breastfeeding2½One serve of lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans equals:
- 65g cooked lean beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo or goat
- 100g cooked fish
- 80g cooked poultry
- Two large eggs
- 1 cup cooked dried beans, lentils or chickpeas
- 30g nuts, seeds or peanut butter or other nut or seed paste
Gender and ageServes of per dayToddlers 1-2 years1-1½Boys 2-3 years1½Boys 4-81½Boys 9-112Boys 12-183½Men 19-702½Men 70+3½Girls 2-31½Girls 4-81½Girls 9-113Girls 12-183½Women 19-502½Women 51-70+4Pregnant3½Breastfeeding4 One serve from this group equals:
- 1 glass of milk (250ml) or calcium fortified soy, rice or other cereal based beverages
- 40g hard cheese
- 200g carton of low fat yoghurt, 1/2 cup evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup (120g) ricotta cheese
Healthy fats come from foods such as vegetable and seed oils, avocado, nuts and seeds and are needed in small amounts daily. There is recommended an allowance of unsaturated spreads and oils or extra quantities of the nuts and seeds from which they are derived.
Two serves a day are recommended for women over 18 years and men over 70 years with four serves recommended for men aged 18-70 years One serve is equal to 10g (2tsp) unsaturated spread, 7g (1 1/2 tsp) oil or 10g (2tsp) tree nuts, peanuts or nut pastes.
WaterWater is essential for many of the processes carried out by the body including digestion, elimination, transport of nutrients and maintaining blood volume.
There is no single recommended intake for water with requirements varying depending on activity levels, weather, the environment in which you live, and individual metabolism however an intake of eight cups a day for women and 10 cups a day for men is a general guide. While plain water is often the best drink, other fluids count toward your daily water intake include tea, coffee, soda water and mineral water.
Occasional treatsA healthy eating plan can include your favourite treat foods such as chocolates, sweets, savoury snacks or alcohol occasionally.
How much you can include will depend on your overall kilojoule needs, which in turn are influenced by gender, height, weight and activity levels. If you lead an active lifestyle and meet all of your basic requirements from the core food groups, by leaving yourself a bit of room to enjoy the occasional treat, it's likely you'll be able to stick more closely to a healthy eating pattern most of the time.
It's hard to fit all the required nutrients into your daily diet:
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