For a country that enjoys such a bountiful supply of fresh produce, how did we get to be a group of junk-food guzzling couch potatoes that would rather watch sport than play it? There's a simple fix for our health woes and expanding waistlines. Here we discover the surprisingly simple solution.
The statistics are enough to make anyone lose their appetite. Obesity rates have soared 80 per cent in 33 years. A quarter of children and 60 per cent of adults are overweight. We are seeing an increase in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancers of the lung, stomach, bowel and colon, and poor diet is considered to be a factor in 56 per cent of deaths.
While there’s never been more information – and misinformation – about what to eat and what’s good for us, it’s this information overload that may be partly to blame. We talk to The Nude Nutritionist Lyndi Polivnick, to find out what we can do.
What's the confusion?
“I have so many clients that come to me that are confused and conflicted when it comes to food,” says Lyndi. “Food has become a minefield. We’ve never known more about food, but we’ve never been more confused.”
It’s this confusion that has prompted The National Health and Medicals Research Council to overhaul the Australian Dietary Guidelines, moving away from percentages and recommended daily intakes, and instead focusing on servings. It advises us to cut down on sugar, eat lots of good fats, and recommends six serves of wholegrain cereal foods, 2.5 serves of reduced-fat dairy and six serves of veggies and fruit for adults. That’s more than double what we’re currently eating.
Credit: Nutrition Australia
Lyndi says while it’s great we have a tool – and the new pyramid – a one size fits all approach to diet and nutrition is unrealistic. “Can you actually create a one-size recommendation that applies to an entire population? No. In the end it comes down to knowing your own body, its signals and what works for you.”
No matter what it is you choose to eat, reducing your risk of preventable disease and obesity is glaringly simple: eat more vegetables, and less junk food. “At least 50 percent of foods that we eat should come from a plant," says Lyndi.
The importance of fibre
For Lyndi, the most common nutrient missing from her clients diet is fibre – essential for maintaining bowel health and a healthy weight. “Fruit and veg have heaps of fibre. So whatever the calories are in them, you don’t really absorb most of that, but you do get all the nutrients. Fibre is like a broom. It pushes out the toxins by sweeping the gut and dragging along what we don’t want in our body.”
“You’re meant to be getting around 25 grams to 30 grams of fibre a day [for women and men respectively]. To give you perspective, you have one piece of wholegrain bread, that’s 1.5 grams of fibre."
In cities you can get plenty of fruit and veg, but if you’re living in rural or isolated areas, it becomes a different story. Eating healthily can be expensive. “If we addressed the culture, pricing and accessibility of highly processed, high fat and sugary foods, we could witness a huge shift in our health," says Lyndi.
Listen to your body
So how do you know if your diet is lacking? The answer is to get in touch with your body. “Your body is pretty good at giving you messages when you’re low in certain nutrients,” says Lyndi. “Do you have energy? Is your skin as good as it could be? Are you constipated? How is your stomach feeling? All these things are reminders as to whether you are on the right track.”
If you’re not feeling in optimal health, Lyndi says your GP or nutritionist is your first port of call. But try eating more vegetables. “It’s so simple, but it has a huge impact on how you are going to be feeling. If you can add two more serves of vegetables to your day, you’re going to be feeling better in a week or two.”
The latest recommendations
• Fruit: still 2 serves a day
• Vegetables: 5-6 serves a day, up from 5
• Protein and nuts: 2½-3 serves a day, up from 1
• Dairy: 2½ serves a day, up from 2
• Wholegrains: 6 serves a day, up from 4
Australian Dietary Guidelines
Guideline 1: Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from the following five groups every day: vegetables; fruit; whole grains; lean meat, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds; milk, yoghurt, cheese. The guidelines also recommend drinking plenty of water.
Guideline 2: Limit intake of foods containing saturated and trans fats, added salt, sugars and alcohol.
Guideline 3: For healthy weight, you should be physically active and choose nutritious foods and drinks to meet your energy needs.
Guideline 4: Encourage and support breastfeeding.
Guideline 5: Prepare and store food safely.