When we make the decision to start eating healthy – whether it be to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle – it can be overwhelming trying to get your head around questions such as
“What are good fats?”
“How many calories should I be eating a day?” or
“What is best when eating healthy… 5 small meals or 3 large meals?”
This week I have had the opportunity to ask well known nutritional Advisor for Freedom Foods Dr. Joanna McMillan some key questions people often ask when starting out on their journey towards eating healthy.
If you like this post then check out: No Bake Dark Choc Cherry Cheesecake – Recipe by Dr Jo. McMillan
What pushed you towards becoming a nutritionist?
I was always interested in science and health, then trained as a fitness instructor while at university, initially studying psychology, sociology and languages. I switched my courses to a bachelor of science in nutrition and dietetics as it became clear to me where my interests lay. What I love about nutrition and lifestyle medicine is that it is less about cure, rather it has a very positive focus on prevention of disease and ill health, while affecting how you feel today.
What (general) advice would you give to the average person who is trying to get healthier and slimmer and what simple change could someone make today, to their daily habits, which could help them improve theirs and their family’s health?
Simply think about eating more real food, with plenty of plant foods including veggies, wholegrains, legumes, fruit, nuts and seeds. These foods should make up the bulk of our diets – and if you choose to be vegetarian or vegan you need nothing else. Otherwise we can then add animal foods including seafood, dairy and eggs to help us meet all of our nutrient requirements. Then think about cutting down on junk foods – that is most fast foods, biscuits, cakes, soft drinks, lollies and so on. Those are the basic changes and were we all to make them we would make an enormous collective difference to our health and wellbeing.
What single thing, do you think, is the biggest cause of weight gain e.g. sugar, processed foods, fast food, too many calories?
That’s the point – there is no one biggest cause. Everyone loves to think there is, hence we have the anti-sugar people, the anti-grain people, the anti-carb people, the anti-fat people and so on. But the bottom line is that the cause can be different for different people, and often is. For example, not everyone is eating fast food – but for those who are eating too much of it, then is clearly a major cause for them. But if I’m pushed to give an answer collectively then the bottom line is that when we look at the average Australian diet, more than a third of our kilojoules comes from junk food and alcohol. So it’s not one thing like sugar, it’s too many foods and drinks that give us kilojoules without any or with minimal nutrition.
How important are ‘calories’ when trying to lose weight.
In Australia we now talk about kilojoules – it’s just like when we had to switch from inches to centimetres so it’s important everyone learns to understand what a kilojoule is. Yes kilojoules matter for weight control, but it also matters where they come from. I am not a fan of kilojoule counting and this ignores the nutritional content of a food and leads to an unhealthy obsession with a negative side of food.
Rather I encourage kilojoule awareness. That means understanding roughly how many kilojoules you need in a day and that means you can make sense of a menu board or food packet where kilojoules are displayed. If I understand that the average adult uses 8700 kilojoules a day and there is a pizza on the menu with 6000 kilojoules, I know that I really don’t need all of that pizza in one meal!
What I teach people on my Get Lean program is to learn to eat the right balance of foods to deliver protein, smart carbs and healthy fats with each meal. Then they learn to understand and listen to their own hunger and satiety levels. When you eat the right foods, practise mindfulness when eating and remain active then portion control and weight control become much easier. This is far more effective than kilojoule counting and ensures good nutrition at the same time, not to mention pleasure in eating!
Would you recommend people weigh and track their food intake?
I abhor the idea of weighing all your food. That is a fast track to a poor relationship with food and with your own body image. It can be helpful to weigh a portion of a food once to visualise what it should be, if your portion control is seriously out of whack from years of overeating. But in general I much prefer to use household measures and guides such as the size of your fist or open palm. Tracking your food intake can be a useful exercise for a week or so to make you aware of how and what you are eating. But be aware that most people change what they do as soon as they have to record it! What I do encourage if you have weight to lose is to plan your basic menu rather than track it. I have a Get Lean App that helps people to do that using my Dr Joanna Plate as the template to creating your meals.
Why are certain fats so important in a healthy diet?
For a start we have a need for certain fats that we can’t make in the body. The true essential fatty acids we only need tiny amounts from, but we also need long chain omega-3 fats for example that we have a limited capacity to make. These fats are essential in the brain. But fat also slows stomach emptying and digestion, therefore also slowing the absorption of any carbohydrates in the meal. This can help you to feel more satisfied after eating for longer and help to control blood glucose levels. Fats also carry fat soluble vitamins and it is necessary to absorb many of the antioxidants present in plant foods. You can’t absorb beta-carotene from carrot for example without any fat present.
What sources of healthy fats would you recommend?
A diet high in monounsaturated fats has been shown in research to have many benefits. Extra virgin olive oil, avocado, peanuts and most tree nuts are all high in these fats and are key components of the Mediterranean Diet, considered to be one of the healthiest in the world.