SIMONE GIBSON: When you’re looking at how to use foods as medicine, a great place to start are your own counties’ dietary guidelines. Most countries have developed guidelines to help people make decisions about what food to eat and how much of it too to eat. Now, these guidelines are based on huge amounts of evidence. For example, the Australian dietary guidelines are based on tens of thousands of studies. These studies are evaluated and assessed for the strength of the evidence.
Some of the things that they consider are things like how many people were in the study, what kind of people were in the study, what sort of foods did they use, were they using foods, were they using supplements, and who was sponsoring the study? So for example, a vitamin company sponsoring a study might have a bias in what kind of output is going to be published. Dietary guidelines aim to summarize all of that information from those tens of thousands of studies into information that everybody can digest and follow. I’m going to discuss the Australian dietary guidelines here, but keep in mind your own country’s guidelines.
They will be very similar to these ones, but they might call the food groups slightly different things. The Australian dietary guidelines include the Australian guide to healthy eating, which is summarized in the form of a plate. So that’s divided into five different food groups, which includes grain, or cereal foods, mostly whole grain and/or high cereal fiber varieties. There’s vegetables, legumes, and beans, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, and nuts, and seeds, and legumes and beans. There’s the dairy section, which includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or alternatives, which might include soy milk and their derivatives, and mostly reduced fat. And finally, there’s fruit. It’s also recommended that Australians drink plenty of water.
Outside of the plate, you’ll see that there’s a small section about healthy fats, which are to be consumed in small amounts. And there’s the discretionary foods, which are your typical high sugar, high fat, or high salt foods. And the thing about these foods are that we don’t actually need them in our diet, although some people do choose to eat them. These foods don’t provide very much nutrition, but they do provide a lot of that saturated fat, or sugar, or salt. The latest Australian dietary survey shown that many people get a significant amount of their energy from those discretionary foods, which is not healthy, because as I said, they don’t really provide the nutrients that our body needs.
The benefits of these guidelines are that they’re very flexible. I’m going to talk about the grain foods, mainly because they’re really controversial at the moment, and I’d like to unpack that a little bit. A lot of people think that the grains and cereals group consists of bread, pasta, and cereal. And a lot of people try to avoid that, because they think those foods make them fat. However, this group is so much more diverse than those three foods. For example, it includes quinoa, red rice, brown rice, wild rice, freekeh, oats, whole grain cereals, whole grain pita breads, just to name a few. I want to emphasize how important the whole grains part of it is.
When breads and cereals are processed, the milling means that the outer shell of the grain is removed, and that’s where most of the nutritious properties are. And therefore the health benefits are largely discarded during this process. The whole grain varieties of this group have been shown to help prevent cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, and colorectal cancer. This food group provides a really wide range of nutrients. These include protein, fiber, lignans, phytoestrogens, different types of carbohydrates, B group vitamins, iron, zinc. So you can see that we do get a lot of our nutrition from this food group. The next group I’d like to focus on is the vegetable group.
The reason being that this group seems to have the most health benefits when it comes to preventing chronic disease later in life. Another important reason is the latest Australian dietary survey has shown that only 6.8% of Australians actually meet the recommended intakes of vegetables each day, which is five serves a day. Well it’s important to have a wide range of vegetables from this group, to ensure we’re getting the wide range of nutrients, it’s also important to consider how much we’re eating. So what is a serve? A serve is half a cup of cooked vegetables or one cup of salad vegetables.
Trying to get five serves of vegetables into someone’s diet is quite difficult, and I know that I find it challenging also. Some tips that I have include having vegetables as snacks. So thinking about things like carrot sticks, cucumber sticks, or sliced capsicum, and having that with dips. Or a really great way is to add vegetables into something that you’re already cooking. An example of this is making Bolognese sauce for pasta. So usually you just have your meat, maybe some onion, and some tomato sauce, but adding a tin of lentils, some grated carrots, some chopped mushrooms, or whatever else you can find in the fridge or pantry.
And just really bulk up that sauce with a lot of vegetables and you’ll find that you might make an extra two or three serves just in that dish. It’s pretty difficult to have too many vegetables because of the health benefits. And also, the fact that foods from the vegetable group generally don’t contain very many kilojoules, so they’re not that likely to contribute to weight gain, with probably the exception of the high carbohydrate vegetables, such as potato and sweet potato for example. Contrastingly, with the cereals group, we have to be careful not to have too many of these, because they do contribute to weight gain if eaten excessively. We’d love to hear from you and your experiences.
of using your own countries’ guidelines. It would be really interesting to see where they’re similar and where they’re different.