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
 

02.Volunteer profiles

Lidia

Volunteer - Lidia“I’ve realised I don’t drink nearly enough water and my fibre intake is way too low. I’ve now got some strategies to increase my fibre intake while still sticking to my wheat-free diet. “

Lidia is a busy mother who ran her own fashion business until about 12 months ago. Since selling it she’s found time for herself and has been able to exercise more — about three times a week at the gym — and improve her diet. She’s been steadily losing weight, and now doesn’t have far to go to achieve her ideal.

Lidia starts her day with a cup of coffee followed by cereal with raw oats and goat’s milk. Later she’ll have a coffee and small scone or sometimes fruit, and a typical lunch would be a wrap with cold ham or turkey and lettuce or salad. Dinner might be chicken or tuna and salad, pasta or perhaps meat with vegetables.

The changes Lidia has made in the last six months mean she has a pretty good diet, but she’s short on some key nutrients such as iron, folate and magnesium. However, she suffers from irritable bowel syndrome, so our dietitian was able to recommend more changes that should help. She’s on a wheat-free diet to help control symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but skipping wheat has meant her fibre intake is low — she’s getting less than half the fibre she needs. Lidia’s blood test showed that she was low on vitamin D and her cholesterol levels were high.

Volunteer Lidia energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict

Some changes that should help Lidia are:

  • Increase her fibre intake with fresh fruit rather than juice; try adding a soluble-fibre supplement such as Metamucil or Benefibre each day.
  • Eating a non-wheat, high-fibre, wholegrain breakfast cereal daily will boost fibre and nutrients like magnesium and folate.
    Have fish in a main meal two or three times a week, and legumes just as often, to help reduce her saturated fat intake.
    Get outside in the sun a bit more — during the cooler times of the day — to boost her body’s ability to make vitamin D.

Joseph

Volunteer - Joseph“Going through my diet was interesting. I now eat more often but less. I felt like I hadn’t digested my food before I went to bed. I’m now eating less at dinner and more often during the day”

Joseph is, in theory, retired, but his schedule of volunteer work and other activities means he’s very busy — and he finds time to take a 1.5 hour walk each day. His health is generally good except for slightly high blood pressure and cholesterol.

A typical day for Joseph would start with cereal with soy milk and fruit for breakfast; a sandwich with cheese and mortadella, plus fruit for lunch; and for dinner, quiche or chicken with salad and bread. His calcium intake is less than recommended. He has calcium-fortified soy milk, but only one serve with cereal plus a piece of cheese most days. Joseph’s blood test results indicated that his blood cholesterol was slightly high.

Volunteer Joseph energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict

Joseph needs to watch his salt intake because of his elevated blood pressure. On average, he’s getting around the upper limit for sodium each day.To help Joseph with his cholesterol levels, he could:

  • Choose reduced-fat cheese mostly, full-fat only occasionally.
    Eat very lean meats.
  • Eat legumes at least two or three times each week.
  • Include fish in his diet at least twice each week.
  • He should also reduce his carbohydrate intake at night and add between-meal snacks of nuts or fruit throughout the day to help with weight management.

Tiina

Volunteer - Tiina“Being part of this project is a golden opportunity to make some overdue changes and improve my health — by losing some weight. It’s given me the impetus I needed to get on with it.”

Tiina’s diet isn’t that different from many others, whose work keeps them at their desk most days and whose weekends are busy, but not active. She has no breakfast most days, a coffee (or two) during the morning; a piece of fruit and a diet bar or shake for a quick lunch; and dinner of meat and some vegies. She eats about two pieces of fruit most days, some vegies with dinner, and almost no wholegrain bread or cereals all week. This means her intake of fibre and some vitamins and minerals falls short of what her body needs.

On the other hand, Tiina’s diet includes too much saturated fat (mainly from pan-fried meat at dinner) and more than the ideal amount of salt — especially since she has high cholesterol and blood pressure. And she’s significantly overweight. Tiina’s blood test showed her cholesterol levels were high.

Volunteer Tiina energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict

Tiina could make several changes that will help with her weight and blood pressure:

  • Starting the day with a healthy breakfast will really help prevent hunger later in the day, as well as boosting her fibre and nutrient intake.
  • Take a healthy sandwich or salad to work for her lunch, along with fruit.
  • Changing from pan-frying meats to steaming or grilling, as well as cutting the salty sauces she uses and always including vegetables (other than just potatoes). This will make her evening meals much healthier, and cut down on the kilojoules she consumes.
  • Using low or reduced-fat dairy products will boost her calcium intake and cut back on kilojoules and saturated fats.
    Tiina has decided to continue visiting the dietitian regularly to work on her diet and health.

Joe

Volunteer - Joe“The dietitian gave me lots of tips on what I should eat and what I shouldn’t eat. I’ve also learnt the best ways to snack when I’m busy at work, without being unhealthy.”

Joe is a hairdresser with his own busy salon. While he finds time for three fairly healthy meals a day, our dietitian was concerned he wasn’t eating much protein until lunchtime and wasn’t eating regularly enough through the day. There was usually a gap of six hours between breakfast and lunch and again between lunch and dinner, and he rarely topped up his energy levels with a between-meal snack. This means his blood glucose levels and energy would dip at various times through the day — when he needs to be on the go. Joe’s’s blood test showed he had low vitamin D levels.

Volunteer Joe energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict  

  • Joe should include at least two snacks through the day — for example, unsalted almonds or walnuts, fruit, or avocado and crispbread. And he should focus on low-GI carbohydrates rather than easily digested carbs that give big spikes and troughs in blood sugar.
  • The dietary analysis showed his calcium intake was less than half his body needs — he only drank soy milk (calcium-fortified) three times that week, and had no dairy products. He avoids dairy to assist with a sinus condition, but he needs to focus on getting more calcium — having calcium-fortified soy milk as a snack each day will help.
  • Joe only drinks about half the amount of water he should and eats too much salt — more than the upper daily sodium limit and one and a half times the maximum suggested dietary target. Cutting down on salt and drinking more water should be priorities.
  • To avoid vitamin D deficiency, Joe should try to spend more time outside in cooler times of the day. As his weight is just at the upper end of normal, the dietitian also recommended he should gradually lose 4–5 kg.

Chris

Volunteer - Chris“I like feeling fit and healthy — finding out I have high cholesterol with my family history of diabetes and heart disease adds to my motivation.”

Chris is a very active builder and part-time personal trainer — he spends at least 1–1.5 hours eight times a week at the gym. His BMI looks high on paper: 26 (healthy range is 20–25), but BMI doesn’t work well with people who have high proportions of muscle mass, like Chris. The dietitian thought his weight was fine now, but he’d need to look at reducing it if he gave up the heavy exercise in the future.

Chris used to smoke and has mild asthma, as well as a family history of diabetes and heart disease — conditions he’s keen to avoid. Chris has a well-balanced diet with good ratios of nutrients, and a focus on low-GI carbs. Chris’s blood test showed his cholesterol level was slightly high.

Volunteer Chris energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict

There were two main areas where Chris could improve his diet:

  • His blood tests showed no sign of the diabetes that affects his father and one of his brothers. But he does have a slightly high cholesterol level, which he’s particularly concerned about, given his family history. The dietitian recommended he includes fish two or three times a week and replaces some of the animal protein he eats with legumes or beans.
  • Saturated fat is nearly 40% of Chris’s fat intake, which is too high. It mainly comes from commercial cake, which he has with his coffee once or twice a day. While he manages to burn off the surplus kilojoules at the gym, the cakes would push up his saturated fat intake. Swapping to lower-saturated-fat homemade cake or having a honey or jam sandwich on wholegrain or rye would cut the fat and still make a satisfying sweet snack.

Kari

Volunteer - Kari“I’m concerned I’m not getting the nutrients I need — I’m a part-time meat eater and for the rest of the time a terrible vegetarian.”

Kari works as an events manager, which spells stress and often long hours. On top of this she’s a musician with her own band, so it’s not surprising she doesn’t spend much time planning her mainly vegetarian diet. She starts the day well with cereal, yoghurt and fruit, but lots of restaurant lunches for work this week were often followed by a dinner of crispbreads with cheese and fruit. When she did cook at home, she had healthy vegie and tofu stir-fry with rice, or vegetable soup. She usually eats meat only once a month or so, which could contribute to a low vitamin B12 level.

Kari’s diet is short on thiamin, magnesium, iron and folate; she only gets about three-quarters of the fibre she needs and she’s about 15% short on energy, which helps to explain why her BMI is in the underweight range. She’s also not drinking enough water. Kari’s blood test showed that her blood sugar level was high, but she’s not aware of a family history of blood sugar problems.

Volunteer Kari energy chart

Our dietitian’s verdict

Kari could make a few changes:

  • To help her blood sugar levels, have snacks with a low GI and some protein throughout the day — rye crispbread with ricotta, cottage or cream cheese, or tuna; nuts; a glass of milk or some yoghurt and fruit.
  • Linseed, sunflower seeds and almond mix added to her foods would increase both protein and folate.
  • Eating meat or fish at least once a week will help boost her vitamin B12 and iron intake.
  • Reduce salt — she has just over the maximum recommended 2300 mg a day.
  • Reduce her alcohol intake from up to six standard drinks when socialising to just one a day, plus an extra drink on social occasions.
 

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