Exploring Food Trends for Weight Loss and Health

Most of you are probably aware by now, that certain food trends fluctuate throughout the media (which can often make a Dietitians job challenging to say the least). One minute the media tells individuals to eat low fat, the next minute, high fat. One minute saturated fat is said to be bad for you, the next minute it is said to be good for you. One minute dairy is said to be good for you, the next minute it is said to be bad for you. No wonder people are confused by it all!

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General Guidance to Healthy Eating

Often I am asked by friends or acquaintances to give them a simple “ healthy eating diet plan”, which I explain isn’t actually all that simple, given that I only know minimal information about their particular circumstances (i.e. social and medical history), have no idea of what their goals are, what they have or haven’t tried in the past, or what are currently eating (which I then get a verbal recall of everything they had for the previous day, or that morning).

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Ten Hints To Assist You in Obtaining and Maintaining The Body You Want!

One: Learn to love yourself.wooden.toy_.with.heart_.small_

I know that it is somewhat cliche, but it is by far THE most important part of obtaining and maintaining the body that you want, even before diet and exercise. You are unique and so is your body, and whilst it is fine to look to others for inspiration, you have to realise that your body is your own and you should never attempt to measure up to anyone else. Recognise the parts of your body that you love (including your smile) and wear them like a trophy. After all confidence is the most sexy attribute that a person can have!

Two: Work with your body.

Like I mentioned above, your body is unique and therefore you shouldn’t expect it to look like anyone else’s but your own… Work with it and not against it, this will only cause distress and promote negative self image.  Once you’ve learnt to love your body and work with it you might find that you progress much quicker and maintain the  motivation to keep going.

Three: Treat your body with respect.keep-calm-and-respect-yourself-49

Once you’ve learnt to love yourself and work with your body and not against it, you have already started treating it with respect. Why not continue this by “treating it like a temple”?: cut out the junk food and rely more on whole foods: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and lean meat. When you rely on good foods and eat correctly you will feel better, which may lead to changes, just by cutting out the junk! You will have more energy, you will crave less junk food, and you will probably want to keep feeling this way.

Four: Eat regularly.

The trick is to get that metabolism working to its best ability: by eating regularly (including breakfast) it means that your body has to continue to work to break down and process food, this will help to ensure that your metabolism keeps ticking over. However, ensure that you are mindful of portion sizes, five to six large meals will probably equate to too many calories, so keep the meals small- moderate in size, and nutrient dense (not calorie dense).

Five: Eat well.

Ensure that you are eating an inclusive diet providing the body with all of the nutrients that it needs in order to work efficiently and effectively. The nutrients that we consume through food all have varying roles, such as iron for carrying oxygen around the body (including  to working muscles when exercising), B vitamins to assist in converting food to energy, calcium for muscle contraction and so on… Provide it will ALL of the tools it needs through consuming a varied diet.

Six: Don’t yo- yo “diet”!

This is a big no no as it can actually lead to a slowing of the metabolism. It can also lead to binge eating and an overconsumption of calories as our bodies search for energy dense foods. It is quite interesting to know that a lot of overweight and obesity stems from restrictive eating, and I have certainly seen first hand occasions where individuals are simply not eating enough, and it isn’t until they consume adequate calories that they start to lose weight.

Seven: Exercise.

I think exercise is so important, not just because it is difficult to see significant changes within the body just through diet alone, but it also aids in motivation. Through combining diet and exercise you can see amazing results, and this is for any goal from hypertrophy (building muscles) to weight loss. Whilst cardio is great for expending energy whilst exercising, weight training is great for expending energy when at rest.

Eight: Consume dairy.

Dairy is a fantastic source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Not only is it essential for bone health (calcium is quite difficult to obtain through plant sources alone), it can also help with satiety, that is, keep you full for longer. Try having it with breakfast, for snacks and at bed-time to help assist with muscle repair, satiation, bone strength and even aid sleep.

Nine: Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates.

Poor little carbohydrates tend to have a bad wrap these days, especially thanks to the refined type, which are low in fibre, often consumed in large amounts and therefore contribute a substantial amount to energy intake. However, good whole grain carbohydrates can assist in weight loss, maintaining blood sugars and energy levels, controlling cravings, provide energy for a good exercise session (which will in turn assist in meeting your goals) as well as help to protect against bowel cancer (a pretty good selling point if you ask me). The fibre in wholegrain carbohydrates can also aid in satiety and assist in meeting your recommended daily intake (25-30 grams per day). The trick here is to be sensible (i.e. don’t run off and eat a huge bowl of pasta as it probably won’t do much for the waistline).

iStock_000020521316XSmall-DietitianTen: If all else fails, enlist in the help of a professional.

I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet here (or that of other Dietitians), but if you are finding that what you are doing isn’t working then perhaps it might be advisable to get some help. Not only do Dietitians have the training behind them (based on factual science) to work with you as an individual (instead of palming off some generic “one-size fits all” meal plan), they can also be a great source of motivation. Personal trainers are also good for this point, that is motivation, whether it be through attending a boot camp, or obtaining personal training.



Butter vs. Margarine: Does Butter Really Make It Better?

The age old debate rears its ugly head again, particularly thanks to the misinformation of unqualified individuals putting in their two cents. The problem is that individuals who do not have a background in studying nutrition and its effect on the body, or the “ins and outs” of the food industry in Australia give a misinformed opinion about what they “think” they know.
A perfect example of this is that margarine is “bad”, and butter is “good”. Surely, this thought process that butter is more “natural” (and I use inverted commas here for a reason) means that it is better for us is right?!

I hear it again and again, the argument that margarine is man- made and thus less natural, and in turn less healthy than butter. The man-made fat, known as trans-fat, can indeed have pretty worrying consequences as it increases plasma levels of LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) responsible for depositing plaque on the artery walls, and decreases HDL (the “good” cholesterol) responsible for transporting cholesterol out of the body is, in Australia, very strictly regulated!

According to the Australian Heart Foundation [we] “began challenging manufacturers to remove trans-fats to the lowest possible levels many years ago”, and as such, the “trans fats found in foods in Australia are amongst the lowest levels in the world” (some foods do contain small, naturally occurring levels of trans-fats).


The issue here is not trans-fat, particularly as we are in Australia, and not America (where it isn’t well regulated, which you should consider when “googling” information on the topic) but the saturated fat content. Saturated fat is the type of fat responsible for increasing LDL cholesterol, and therefore contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. Butter has over half the amount of saturated fat of margarine. In fact, switching from butter to margarine can decrease your intake of saturated fat by up to 3kg per year according to the Heart Foundation.

While butter is a significant source of saturated fat, margarine is a good source of poly and mono unsaturated fats (the plant based fats responsible for lowering cholesterol), and therefore in place of butter may help to decrease your cholesterol. More recently, there have been margarines produced that contain plant sterols and stanols which can decrease blood cholesterol by up to 10-15%, and Dietitians will often recommend these for individuals with hypercholesterolemia (though they can be expensive).

Of note, there has been some controversy of late surrounding saturated fat and its effect on health, which was largely brought about by a BBC program where a doctor put forth an opinion with a claim that the British Heart foundation agreed with him. They did nothing of the sort, and later the BBC had to retract their statements. Both the British Heart Foundation, and the Australian Heart foundation still maintain that it is recommended to consume a diet low in saturated fat, as this is where the evidence still points.



If you wish to read more about the BBC program, there is a very good piece put together by Bill Shrapnel (an Australian Dietitian) on the topic which can be found here:

In summary:

  1. Unqualified individuals who do not have a thorough knowledge of nutrition science often given unwarranted advice, which is wrought with misinformation (often based on information not applicable to Australia, or studies that provide inconclusive evidence).
  2. Margarine in Australia contains very minimal amounts of trans-fats due to strict regulations.
  3. Butter is a significant source of saturated fat, which is responsible for increasing LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Switching butter to margarine can decrease plasma levels of cholesterol, and those containing plant sterols and stanols can decrease cholesterol by up to 10-15%
  4.  The Australian and British heart foundation still maintain that we should decrease our intake of saturated fats.

Please note, if you do enjoy the taste of butter over margarine and only consume it in small amounts every so often, I can’t see this to be a problem, particularly if you maintain a healthy diet and exercise.

A very last point to make, fat of any kind is a high source of energy (37KJ per gram), and therefore if eaten in excess can contribute to weight gain, which is turn may result in obesity, and obesity is a risk factor for several chronic diseases. Therefore, it is still essential that we consume an energy appropriate diet relevant to our requirements and activity levels.


References and further reading:
British Heart Foundation. Fats Explained. Retrieved from http://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/prevention/healthy-eating/fats-explained.aspx

Dietitians Association of Australia. Plant Sterols and Stanols. Retrieved from http://daa.asn.au/for-the-public/smart-eating-for-you/nutrition-a-z/plant-sterols/

Mozaffarian D., Aro A., Willett, WC. (2009). Health effects of trans-fatty acids: experimental and observational evidence. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2. S5-21. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19424218

Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S (2010) Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS Med 7. 3. Retrieved from http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000252#pmed-1000252-g003

The Heart Foundation. Butter vs. Margarine. Retrieved from http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/healthy-eating/fats/Pages/butter-margarine.aspx