Healthy eating - does your diet stack up?

CHOICE’s expert dietitian puts our volunteers' diets to test. Find out how they measured up.
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  • Updated:24 Jun 2008


Woman with apple

In brief

  • Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods is the key to healthy eating.
  • Even diets that look good on the surface can have hidden problems.
  • The most common problems in our volunteers’ diets were too much salt and not enough calcium, fibre and water.

If you got a phone call from CHOICE asking, “Would you record everything that you eat — honestly — for a week, and then let us dissect and discuss what we find?”, would you say, “Sure, when do I start?”

Six brave volunteers — Chris, Tiina, Joseph, Lidia, Kari and Joe — did just that. We asked them to lay their diet, exercise and lifestyle habits in front of our experts, and make sure they included both the good and the bad aspects of their lifestyle. How did they go? How would you measure up?

Most of us have a fair idea of what we should do to eat and live in a healthy way. But when it comes to walking the walk, rather than just talking the talk, maybe there are some things in our diets that aren’t so rosy.

In addition to asking our volunteers to visit a dietitian twice and record and discuss their diets, we also asked them to have blood tests. We wanted to analyse their blood sugar levels, their blood cholesterol and the levels of some vitamins and minerals.

Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide today.

Our six CHOICE volunteers

  • Almost all our volunteers were eating too much salt (bad for blood pressure). Sometimes they added it to their meals, or it just came in the foods they chose. If you’re not thinking about and choosing low-salt foods, your salt intake is likely to be more than it ought to be.
  • With the exception of Chris, who consciously drank lots of water as part of his fitness routine, none of the other volunteers came close to drinking enough fluids. Don’t forget to drink — not coffee, not juice, not alcohol, just plain old water. Our bodies need fluids to avoid dehydrating and to function well.
  • We didn’t expect as many as three of our six volunteers to have low or close to low levels of vitamin D in their blood. Vitamin D deficiency is reportedly becoming more common, and low vitamin D levels can eventually lead to bone problems such as osteoporosis. Some vitamin D is found in food, but you also make it in your body when you’re in the sun. Our dietitian’s advice? Increase the amount of time spent outdoors in cooler parts of the day, but be sure to slip, slop, slap when you’re out there in summer, for extended periods, or in the middle of the day (especially in northern Australia).
  • Our six volunteers managed 17 serves of fish between them in the week — and we’re counting a few oysters in a wrap, some anchovies on a pizza and a couple of prawns in an appetizer. Chris, with seven serves, along with Joe and Lidia (four serves each) did all the heavy fish lifting, otherwise things would be looking very ordinary in the eat-more-fish stakes. Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Only Chris and Kari were getting the calcium their bodies need. Make sure you get enough (to keep your bones healthy) — especially if you avoid milk.
  • Eating lots of salad doesn’t always mean you’re getting lots of fibre to keep your bowels healthy. Lettuce and the like may be healthy low-kilojoule foods, but you have to eat a lot to get the fibre you need. It's advisable to go for a variety of vegies, fruits and cereals.

How we analysed our volunteers’ diets

Chris, Tiina, Joseph, Lidia, Kari and Joe kept a detailed record of what they ate for seven days, then we analysed the results using government food composition tables.

  • The pie charts show how much energy (kilojoules or calories), as a percentage, each person gets from protein, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol in their diet. Although it depends heavily on your individual needs, a general guide to the ratios for a healthy diet for people who don’t need to lose any weight is 30% maximum from fats (no more than 10% from saturated fats and the rest unsaturated); about 15% or 20% from protein, 50–55% from carbohydrates and no more than 5% from alcohol.
  • *The bar graphs show the average amount of each nutrient each person ate that week, as a percentage:
    • Vitamins and minerals are measured against the recommended dietary intake — the average amount most people need each day.
      Energy is measured against the estimated energy requirement — the energy a healthy person needs to maintain their weight, based on factors such as their age, gender and activity level.
    • Fibre and water are measured against the adequate intake — a usual intake less than this is likely to be not enough.
      Sodium (salt) is measured against the upper level recommended — above this you may be at risk of health problems.


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