What Should I Eat

It can be tricky figuring out how much and what types of food you “should” be eating. We are in the age of information overload. With so much information, and specifically health information at our finger tips, it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t know where to start or who to listen to

But, let’s pause. Take a deep breath. And go back to the basics of nutrition.


PART 1: what should I be eating from day to day? 

START HERE: 

There are 5 core food groups that our national dietary guidelines recommend eating a variety of food from each day.1 Gone are the days of the “food pyramid”. The most recent research suggests balancing our portions of each food group differently than what the food pyramid portrayed.

SO—this is where the Guide to Healthy Eating diagram below comes in…

What Should I Eat

Some things to note:

You’ll notice grains & vegetables make up the largest proportion of the circle. And fruits, protein foods, and dairy/dairy alternatives make up the remainder of the circle.

Now think about how often you build your plate or meal with this diagram in mind? Do grains & vegetables make up the largest portion of what you eat throughout the day?

Why are these the recommended proportions?

The foods that make up each food group all provide a unique “profile” of nutrients. Scientifically, nutrient profiling refers to the science of classifying or ranking foods according to their nutritional composition for reasons related to preventing disease and promoting health.2 

Often people will say “isn’t fruit bad for you because it’s just sugar?” or “I avoid carbs because they make me fat”… and so on.

But these types of statements put a blanket over entire food groups without looking at the specific foods within each one to figure out if some are better than others.

For example: let’s look at a whole fresh orange vs orange juice

A whole orange is made up of water, vitamins (highest in vitamin C), fructose (the type of sugar that is found in fruit), and pulp which provides fibre. An average orange will provide about 300kJ (70 calories).

While a glass of 100% orange juice also provides water, vitamins (highest in vitamin C), fructose, and sometimes pulp. An average 250mL glass provides 470kJ (110 calories).

Nutritional Differences… Orange juice has the same components as a whole orange (if it’s 100% orange juice with no added stuff), but it’s a higher concentrate. Meaning per glass there is more energy (kJ/calories) vs a whole orange. And this makes sense, because think about it – how many squeezed oranges does it take to produce a bottle of orange juice? Nearly 30! And you’d never just sit down and eat 9 to 10 oranges in a sitting so having a couple glasses of orange juice should be viewed as the same.

What else is different between the two? 

A whole orange requires chewing which signals to your brain & stomach to get ready for food & start producing the hormones & enzymes needed to breakdown food. Research suggests this mechanism also promotes satiety (feeling of fullness). Now compare chewing to drinking. Mechanically, drinking is very different to chewing and doesn’t signal the same response by the body and therefore may not promote satiety.

This is just one example of many. So using the above example as a guide, think about the nutrient profile difference between these foods that come from the same food group but have different profiles: (#samesamebutdifferent)

white bread vs wholemeal bread

beef mince vs steak

banana chips vs whole banana

sweet potato fries vs baked sweet potato

flavoured yoghurt vs natural plain yoghurt

croissant vs sourdough toast

sugary cereal vs porridge

fried chicken vs roast chicken

Eating the recommend amounts from the core food groups will 1) provide you with the right amount of energy (kilojoules/calories) and 2) provide nutrients needed to repair, maintain and support all the things your body needs to do to function properly & stay healthy!

Eating a combo makes sure no nutrients get left behind!

Here are some general highlights of the nutrients that foods from each food group can provide!

Grains: carbohydrates for quick energy, fibre to help us manage our weight and support a healthy heart, vitamins like folate which is essential for child-bearing women and vitamin B1, B2, B3 which support all the cellular functions in our body (PS, we have over 30 trillion cells in our body!) and iron for red blood cell health.

Vegetables: fibre to help us manage our weight and support a healthy gut, a whole array of vitamins and minerals that support every cellular function in our body as well as combat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others

Fruits: water (is it a nutrient?!) to keep us hydrated and support good kidney function, fibre to keep us full and support a healthy gut, a whole array of vitamins and minerals that support every cellular function in our body as well as combat diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others

Protein foods: protein which provide the building blocks for body tissues and many functions in our body, vitamins like B12 for healthy red blood cells and B1, B2, B3 for all the cellular functions in our body, healthy fats from plant-sources are good for your brain and heart. 

Dairy and dairy alternative foods: protein which provide the building blocks for body tissues and many functions in our body, vitamin D and calcium for strong bones and muscle function.

As a rule of thumb pick foods from each food group that are minimally-processed. Which means the food is or close to, it’s natural state. Minimally processed foods have nutrient profiles that tend to be naturally low in unhealthy fats, sugar and salt.1

Remember, each food group provides a unique combination of the essential nutrients our body needs to thrive. So eat the rainbow when picking your meal at the lunch café!

For Part 2: how much should I eat? See the next post!

  1. Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013. Nutrition Australia. https://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/australian-dietary-guidelines-2013. Accessed 18 March 2020.

Nutrient Profiling. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/profiling/en/. Accessed 18 March 2020.

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