Too many times I have spoken to people about how healthy and balanced they believe their diet to be but at closer inspection I find it is far from it. In many cases people who claim to have healthy balanced diets are eating a great range of vegetables, some fruit and lean meats but in most cases are missing grains and milk based foods.
Now, there are many reasons why people would avoid these foods but the most common one is the belief they should be avoided for good health. Unfortunately, this advice is misguided and based on opinion rather than science.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been developed to guide all Australians in the types and amounts of food they should consume on most days. The guidelines ensure people will get enough of the nutrients essential for good health and also help reduce the risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity. The guidelines are based on scientific evidence, developed after looking at good quality research.
One of the major problems with the dietary guidelines is less than 6% of Australians have dietary patterns which match the recommended serves of the core foods groups each day. What’s worse is approximately 33% of our daily intake is coming from high fat, sugar and salt foods, which contribute to expanding waistlines and increased development of ill-health.
So what should we be eating each day to eat closer to the recommended guidelines? There are five food groups which we should be eating from each day, these are: grains, fruits, vegetables, meat and milk. Each food group has a recommended serves per day, so for grains it’s six serves a day, fruit is two, vegetables is six, meat is three and milk is two and half.
So if you want to get more of an idea how close to the dietary guidelines you are eating, write your food intake down for one day and then group each food into each food group. Remember, you don’t have to eat exactly to the recommended serves each day, but a consistent dietary pattern is what makes the biggest difference long term.
So how would this look like in a meal plan? Well, if we start with the grains food group, six serves can be distributed throughout your three main meals each day. This would include either muesli, oats and grainy toast for breakfast, a sandwich at lunch and then some pasta or rice at dinner. An additional serve, like a muesli bar can be included at morning or afternoon tea. For the fruit group, having a piece of fruit with breakfast is always a good combination and either another piece at lunch or for a morning or afternoon snack. With vegetables a nice salad with your sandwich at lunch and then a half plate serve at dinner would be great.
For the meat group, just like the grain group, spread these out at each main meal, so that would include eggs on toast for breakfast, some lean meat like chicken breast in your lunchtime sandwich or salad and then a heart healthy beef steak at dinner time. For the milk group this would include milk on your muesli, or a muesli and yoghurt combination for breakfast, a reduced fat fetta cheese in your salad at lunch and then a yoghurt for an afternoon snack.
The Balanced Eating Plan
|Breakfast||¾ cup of muesli with milk or Greek yoghurt.
One slice of multi-grain toast with two scrambled eggs or baked beans.
|Morning Snack||Piece of fruit — apple, pear, nectarine, orange etc.|
|Lunch||Chicken (90g) and salad sandwich made with multi-grain bread, slice of reduced fat cheddar cheese and even some avocado.
Two and half cups of salad — lettuce, tomato, carrot, capsicum, cucumber, feta cheese, etc.
|Afternoon Snack||Muesli bar, tub of Greek yoghurt or another piece of fruit|
|Dinner||Lean beef steak (100g) with half a cup of pasta or rice. A small sprinkle of reduce fat shredded cheddar cheese.
Half of plate of vegetables or large salad.
As you can see, it is not a great amount of food but it is enough to keep you nourished, improve your health and even change your body shape.
The great thing about the dietary guidelines is there are plenty of variations based on personal preference, likes and dislikes. So if you like to eat a varied diet, you can chose from a huge range of foods. There is even an allowance for treat foods as well. If you after an eating plan which is balanced and healthy, don’t rely on finding one on the internet, get help from a qualified dietitian, like me, to get moving in the right direction.