If you're planning to start the new year with a health kick for you or your family, clue up on the fine print of health food labels with tips from SH dietitian Liz. 

No added sugar. 50 per cent less fat. Cholesterol-free. Clever terms and wording have turned the humble grocery shop into a minefield. But even regulated labels such as the government-developed health star rating (HSR) can have their traps! Here's how to use it to your advantage.

Is the health star rating a reliable guide to healthier food product choices?

The star rating does reflect a food’s nutritional profile. It is determined by using a calculator based on food components (energy, sat fat, total sugar, sodium, protein, dietary fibre and fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content). The idea is that choosing foods higher in positive nutrients and lower in risk nutrients linked to obesity and diet-related chronic diseases (e.g. saturated fat and sodium) promote better health.

Why isn’t it totally reliable? 

HSR should not be the only guide you use to choose healthier food products. Some highly-processed products are being reformulated to achieve higher star ratings yet are still not ideal choices (Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain gets 4 stars, yet in reality, it is nutritionally inferior to, say, home made porridge with milk and berries). Use the HSR as an at-a-glance guide, but don’t forget to also use nutrition information panels and ingredients lists.  

Remember, broad dietary advice is general in nature. If you are striving for specific health goals, consider consulting an accredited practising dietitian (APD) for personalised advice and recommendations.

Festive indulgence anxiety. It’s not a real condition, but maybe you can relate to being nervous about Christmas season functions catered with platters of deep-fried finger foods? It can be hard to resist a fifth or sixth - especially if you arrive hungry or are drinking alcohol (or both). At catered functions, you may also feel obligated to take food when it's offered and fear that saying "no" will offend the host (even if it does derail your healthy eating).   

While it might seem as though December is an inevitable diet saboteur, SH dietitian Liz has some simple tricks for indulging in moderation (no deprivation required). 

1. Manage hunger. The night before an event, get plenty of sleep as sleep deprivation can lead to overeating. Also try to manage stress levels. On the day, eat a small and nutritious meal before an event to prevent overindulgence. 

2. Indulge in moderation. Don’t feel obligated to overeat just because food is offered. Try eating mindfully, savouring the smell, taste and texture and chewing thoroughly, which will help you to feel satisfied with less food.  

3. Choose wisely. Prioritise high-fibre foods to sustain levels of fullness. Look for items such as vegetable sticks with dip or veggie-based items. 

4. If you’re consuming alcohol, have a glass of water between each drink. Be aware that alcohol may diminish your inhibitions and encourage overeating or high-fat/high-sugar food choices. 

5. If you have a food intolerance, eat something small before an event or bring a snack with you, in case the catering is not suitable for your needs.  

For tips to prevent Christmas Day overeating, weight gain and bloating, take a cue from our dietitians' tips sheet. If you are looking to start the new year with a healthy eating schedule that fits your lifestyle and health goals, consider consulting an accredited practising dietitian (APD) for a personalised, sustainable plan.

In simple terms, it’s false. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help to prevent Type 2 diabetes (Type 1 is another story) by adjusting your diet. While Type 2 diabetes can have many contributing factors, with family history strongly predisposing a person to the condition, a high-fat diet rich in refined or fast-release carbs that spike blood sugar may increase risk. Related risk factors can include being overweight and lack of exercise.

To mark World Diabetes Day, SH dietitian Liz has put together this simple tip sheet. (Even if you’re not eating to beat diabetes, these guidelines can set you up for better health.)

1. Load half of the plate with veggies or salad. For the other remaining quarters, serve up equal portions of protein and slow-releasing carbohydrate foods (e.g. whole wheat bread, whole grain rice or whole wheat pasta)

2. For snacks, choose low-carbohydrate options such as a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit such as a banana or apple, or veggie sticks such as cucumber. Try to avoid snack options high in refined sugars such as sweet biscuits.

3. Factor in 30 minutes of physical activity each day (even if it’s moderate).

As always, nutrition advice is highly individual. Please consult an accredited practising dietitian (APD) before making dietary changes. And of course we invite you to ask us your nutrition questions. We promise to answer in comments! #keepsoaring

What cafe or restaurant meal have you missed most during lockdown? For many of us, it’s a relief to return to table service. However, the flip side is less control over ingredients, quantities and portions. A restaurant serve of creamy pasta often includes more sauce and pasta than recommended portion sizes, packing in unnecessary saturated fat and kilojoules. Then there are dishes that sound healthy but contain hidden ingredients. And let’s not forget the temptation to nibble bread while we wait for the main. 😏

That’s not to say you shouldn’t embrace cafe brekkies (now is the time to support hospitality businesses). In fact, the new chapter is an opportunity to reset your dine-out habits. Try these tips from SH dietitian Liz.

1. Consume a glass of water before your meal. Starting the meal feeling fuller reduces the likelihood of overeating.
2. Choose tomato-based foods (e.g. pasta dishes). Tomato-based sauces usually contain less saturated fat and kilojoules than cream-based ones.
3. Share a main. Often, cafe and restaurant main servings exceed recommended portion sizes. Going halves helps to bring it back in line with home-cooked portions. Alternatively, choose a starter as a main.
4. Choose a salad/veggies as a side. A pile of crispy lettuce and cucumber with vinaigrette or cooked vegetables can be as satisfying as crispy chips, with a fraction of the fat, salt and kilojoules. Salads are good options for main meals, but watch for creamy dressings and fried croutons.
5. Look for fruit. If you order home-made porridge or Granola, be aware that the portions likely exceed recommended serving sizes. Ask for cut-up fresh fruit and stir it in. This will contribute to satiety, provide extra nutrition and reduce the amount you consume.

Remember, nutrition advice needs to be personally tailored. If you are aiming for a particular health outcome, consult an accredited practising dietitian.

If you’ve ever done a low- or no-carb blitz, you’d probably say ‘yes’. Who could blame you? That 1-2kg drop on the scales is not an illusion - but it’s not real either! The science?  

The reason weight appears to go down during the initial stage of a low-carb diet is due to reduced glycogen stores and water weight (for each gram of glycogen stored in muscles, we hold on to 3-4g of water). It’s got nothing to do with body fat! In fact, as a macronutrient, carbohydrate contains fewer kilojoules per gram than fat.  

What’s more, high-quality carbohydrates may actually benefit body composition goals by providing fuel for movement and exercise (low-carbers often complain of physical and mental lethargy, which can make it hard to meet activity targets, work out or summon focus or willpower, resulting in fewer calories burned). Carbs are the body and brain’s preferred and most readily usable energy source.   

Curious about how to stay on carbs’ good side? There’s a trick. Not all carbs are created equal. If you are weight-conscious, here are dietitian Liz’s tips for using carbs to your advantage.

1. Choose the right types of carbs: wholegrains, less refined products and low-GI varieties. That’s a ‘no’ to shite bread and refined, sugary cereals.  

2. Space carbohydrate intake evenly across the day. Not one massive pasta meal, because, blood sugar chaos!  

3. Control portions, not just of carbohydrate, but all food/macronutrients (see our recent blog post on portions). If energy intake exceeds your body’s needs, whether kilojoules come from carbs or not, weight gain may result.  

Have a nutrition question or dilemma? Our dietitians would love to answer! Ask us in comments! #keepsoaring 

We all want our children to eat healthfully, and many parents have asked whether children should follow a vegan diet, excluding eggs, dairy and meat? 

From a nutrition standpoint? No. Children obtain many important nutrients from non-vegan foods, including iron for oxygen transport and iodine for brain development, from foods such as eggs and yoghurt. Children need an exceptionally nutrient-rich diet to develop properly, so restricting their diet can be problematic and vegan diets are frequently linked to nutritional problems in young children.  

Yet the full answer is not so clear-cut. 
 

For parents who avoid animal products for ethical reasons and wish for their children to follow suit, it is possible to provide children with foods within a vegan diet that promote optimal growth and development. However, it is strongly advised that this be implemented only under the guidance of a qualified nutrition professional such as an accredited practising dietitian (APD).  

If you have a question about children’s nutrition, our experts would love to help. Just leave your question in comments with #askthedietitian

Clean eating has become a social media sensation (#cleaneating). On the face of it, it is desirable to consume more fresh, whole foods and limit highly-processed foods with added sugars and excess salt. So too saturated fats. But what to do the experts say?

The dietitians:

Often, proponents of ‘clean eating’ advocate harsh restriction of foods and food groups, which may have adverse health consequences (e.g. forbidding carbohydrates may rob the body of whole grains, which may increase the risk of gut issues). Moreover, not all ‘processed’ foods are bad for health. Sure, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugars, but frozen or canned veggies that are ‘processed’ may help you to meet your daily quota. Likewise, dairy foods, which are often excluded from ‘clean’ menus, can be vital contributors to calcium needs. Beware any protocol that excludes entire food categories.

The psychologists:

Categorising foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can create an adversarial relationship with food, which may lead to obsessive restriction and even eating disorders such as orthorexia. Demonising foods or food groups may also lead to erratic restriction/binge patterns. Consider instead neutralising value judgments of foods and instead being guided by a combination of knowledge and desire. #permission

Bottom line: Aim to consume a balanced, diverse diet prioritising fruit and vegetables. Limit consumption of red and processed meats, highly-processed or refined foods and alcohol.

If you’re tempted to embark on a spring healthy eating spree, check in with a dietitian first. Our nutrition pros would love to answer your questions! #keepsoaring

Who hasn’t eaten more and moved less during lockdown? No wonder there’s such a term as ‘lockdown layer’ to describe COVID (or just winter) weight gain. The logical answer is to get rid of it quickly by going on a strict health kick, right? Wrong.

It sounds counterintuitive, but dieting and restrictive eating regimens actually work against long-term weight loss for a number of reasons. One, you don’t just lose fat but valuable muscle, in turn reducing metabolic rate (that is, you need to eat less and less to maintain weight loss, which is not sustainable). Two, as a cruel double whammy, restriction often leads to overeating and/or binge eating, which cancels out kilojoule deficits and may even exceed your body’s kilojoule needs...which have been reduced by dieting!

So how do you eat for weight loss? By eating a balanced diet with regular meals and creating a calorie deficit through a combination of exercise and controlling portions.

Here are SH dietitian Liz’s top tips for sensible, long-term weight loss:

1. Remove value judgments and allow everything. This doesn’t mean you should eat cake or creamy pasta on the daily, but don’t fully restrict or ‘ban’ certain foods or food types as this can lead to binge eating.

2. Eat regularly. Eating regular meals is important for regulating appetite and decreasing the risk of overindulging (or even bingeing) when you do allow yourself to eat. 

3. Police your portions. Rather than cutting out foods or food groups, pay attention to portion sizes. As a rule of thumb, your plate should be ¼ protein, ¼ carbs and ½ salad or cooked veggies.

If you have a question about weight loss-friendly recipes or foods or how to lose weight without dieting, our dietitians would love to help. Just ask us in comments! #keepsoaring

Limits on food shopping trips. Needing to prepare three meals every single day (goodbye cafe, lunch boxes and dining out). All-day access to the fridge. Boredom or craving comfort. If these lockdown-related factors have thrown your healthy eating for a loop, you’re not alone. But COVID-19 restrictions don’t have to result in opting for low-quality convenience meals or comfort eating.

According to Soaring Health dietitian Liz, the key to combating lockdown eating traps and maintaining a diverse, balanced diet for you and your family is planning. And while it may take some time to adjust to working out Thursday’s dinner on Saturday (or buying everything in one weekly shop rather than racing out for missing ingredients), the upside is that the habits you form during forced restrictions will help you to eat healthfully long after lockdown.

How to eat well during lockdown 

1. Plan ahead 

Meal preparation or ‘meal prep’ is a powerful tool. Not only does planning meals ahead make it easier to ensure that you’re consuming all food groups and meeting daily requirements, but the structure also helps to stave off snack cravings and impulsive food choices. Schedule a regular time such as Sunday afternoon or a day/time that works for you and write out a plan of the week’s meals (don’t forget to make a note of where to find the recipes). If a week is overwhelming, aim to plan two to three meals at a time.

2. Declutter 

Knowing which food items you have on hand can help you to plan meals and shopping and remove barriers to preparing fresh, healthy meals. Next time you’re looking for something to do, go through the fridge and pantry and discard anything past its best before or use-by date. Also get rid of anything you don’t think you’ll use.

 3.  Shop smart

The third critical planning component relates to shopping. Once you’ve planned your meals for the week and cleansed the fridge and pantry, make a list of everything you need to ensure you stick to the plan. Aim to buy everything for the week in one or two trips. This will help to guard against ad-hoc grocery runs, which can lead to impulse or convenience purchases. Relatedly, plan to shop when you’re not likely to be hungry (think after breakfast or lunch). Non-hungry shoppers are more likely to follow the list and less likely to grab that packet of corn chips or chocolate bar.

4. Know your hunger

One of the greatest traps during lockdown is boredom or comfort eating when you’re not actually hungry. Make a conscious effort to question your hunger before wandering to the fridge or pantry. If you find that your motivation for eating is boredom or discomfort, try instead calling a friend, going for a walk, reading a book, taking a bath or watching a favourite series. If you are hungry, consider a healthy snack such as a piece of fruit, some Greek yoghurt, a handful of nuts or some roasted chickpeas.

 5. Rest and flex

Evidence shows that self-care and lifestyle practices such as sleep and exercise affect food choices. While adequate sleep quantity and good sleep quality help with appetite regulation and considered decision-making, sleep deficit and fatigue can contribute to cravings for refined sugars and high-fat foods, appetite dysregulation or confusion and diminished willpower. Exercise can also help to promote healthy eating and appetite regulation. As part of your nutrition plan, strive to sleep for around eight hours each night and undertake formal exercise daily.

Okay, so it’s not a real condition, but in the era of sugar-free diets and anti-sugar influencers, fruit has unfairly been shunned by many who are striving to eat healthfully. Here’s why you should put fruit back on the menu, according to SH dietitian Liz. 

The facts:

While it is true that fruit contains sugar, the sugar in whole, unprocessed fruit is natural. What’s more, it occurs in a balanced food source that also contains fibre and valuable vitamins. Fruit is even suitable for diabetics. The exceptions that do warrant restriction or avoidance are dried fruit and many fruit juices, which contain more refined sugar. 

Make it work:

Adults should aim to consume 2 daily serves of fruit, each amounting to 150g or 350kJ approx. These serves should be spaced out to avoid a sugar spike.  

A serve could be one of:

Sweet treats:

Occasionally, it is okay to substitute a serve with ½ a cup of fruit juice with no added sugar or 30g of dried fruit (e.g. 4 dried apricot halves or 1.5 tablespoons of sultanas).  

If you have a question about healthy eating and nutrition, our accredited practising dietitians would love to answer. Link: https://soaringhealth.com.au/community/  #keepsoaring  

Sugar. Fat. Sodium. Kilojoules. With the amount of information on food labels, it can seem impossible to compare products. SH dietitian Liz simplifies the process of choosing healthy options. 

Food labels now contain more information than ever, which should make it easier to compare products and make better choices. After all, knowledge is power. However, for many of us, the wealth of words and terms on food packaging can be both confusing and overwhelming. How do you know whether there’s too much sugar or fat or what’s a healthy serving or portion size? For people with food intolerances or allergies and conditions such as coeliac disease, the stakes of misinterpreting a label are even higher as certain foods may trigger symptoms. Here are some simple tips to decipher food labels so you can be confident that you and your family are consuming the healthiest options. 

  1. Know your nutrition panel 

The nutrition information panel (NIP) may be your most reliable guide to healthy food options, especially when it comes to comparing different food types. Regulated by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), this panel specifies the amount of both desirable nutrients such as fibre and protein and ones to limit, such as saturated fat and sugar. Where this panel gets tricky is that it specifies amounts ‘per serve’ and ‘per 100g’. It’s important to pay attention to the per 100g, which makes it possible to compare different food product types and also aligns with official dietary recommendations. In terms of specified serving size on this label (e.g. 33g or two biscuits), be careful not to assume that this is a healthy portion. If you’re unsure of what constitutes an appropriate portion of a food or food type, consult an accredited practising dietitian.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR 

Fat 

Total fat content is broken into saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. The total should be less than 10g per 100g. Saturated fats should be 2-3g or less per 100g. Polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats may be consumed plentifully. For trans fats, avoid them or choose options with less than 1g per 100g.  

Sugar  

Limit to 15g per 100g or less, assuming there are no added fruits in the product. 

Salt 

The recommendation is to consume less than 2,000mg per day. In packaging terms, look for 20mg or less per 100g.  

Fibre 

Fibre is good for bowel health and has other health benefits. More is better. Aim for 3-5g or more per 100g.  

  1. Beware beguiling claims 

Food marketing is fiercely competitive, so it’s not surprising that manufacturers are tapping into our desires and fears by using appealing claims such as ‘lite’ and ‘no added sugar’. While these claims tend to contain some truth, it is often what they don’t say that’s most telling. For instance, ‘no added sugar’ may truthfully convey that no sugar has been added, yet the food product may still be very high in sugar due to the way it’s been processed (e.g. dried fruit). Similarly, the terms ‘lite’ and ‘light’ may appear to suggest that products are low in fat or kilojoules, but it may in refer to a ‘lighter’ colour, taste or texture. On the flip side, certain symbols on food packaging can in fact be helpful, but it pays to know which ones are regulated by health bodies.  

WHAT TO LOOK FOR 

‘Lite’ or ‘light’ 

This may refer to colour, taste or texture rather than lower fat or kilojoule content. Check the nutrition information panel to assess these factors.  

‘No added sugar’ 

Products without sugar added may already be high in sugar. It’s important to compare sugar content per 100g to discern which is really better.  

‘Cholesterol-free’ 

This is a good thing, but sometimes this claim is made for products that naturally contain no cholesterol. In such cases, it may not mean it’s healthier than the same product from a brand that doesn’t make this claim.  

‘Natural’ or ‘organic’ 

This may say nothing about a food’s health merits but instead refer to the manufacturing process. 

Health symbols 

Symbols such as the Heart Foundation tick and Health Star Rating (HSR) may give some indication of a product’s health merits. However, such symbols should not be interpreted in isolation. It is still important to review the nutrition information panel to assess factors such as saturated fat and sugar content. The Low-GI certified symbol does indicate that a food is high in fibre and has been shown in testing to have a low glycaemic index.  

  1. Be a packet detective  

All those tiny words on food packaging can tell you more than you think. The ingredients list is particularly revealing. Not only does it disclose what is in a product, which is critical information for those with food allergies or intolerances or conditions such as coeliac disease and IBS, but it can help you to gauge the quality of a food (may lower quality products are bulked out with ‘filler’ ingredients). What’s more, if you know you or a family member is sensitive to certain chemicals or additives, you can look for these in the fine print. Another useful piece of information relates to food safety. It is important to strictly follow the ‘use by’ dates and instructions for safe storage such as ‘refrigerate after opening’.   

WHAT TO LOOK FOR 

Ingredients order 

The order in which ingredients are listed indicates which are most prominent in a product. This can indicate the quality of a product. 

Allergy and intolerance triggers 

From obvious ingredients such as nuts and seeds and their oils to chemicals or additives to which you or a family member have a sensitivity, the ingredients list is key to making safe food decisions.  

‘Use by’ and storage advice 

While the ‘best before’ date can tell you when a product is at its best quality, the ‘use by’ date is critical to ensure safe consumption. It is also important to follow storage advice such as refrigeration after opening and how long the product will last after opening.  

If you’d like to learn to choose healthier products and meal options for you or your family, an accredited practising dietitian can equip you with the knowledge you need to eat well for life. 

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