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

03.What should you be eating?

The American journalist and author Michael Pollan famously sums up healthy eating in his most recent book In defense of food, by saying, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” He also suggests it should be “real food — the sort of food our great-grandmothers would recognise.”

It’s a beautifully simple way of saying what we’ve all heard before, but often don’t do. Below is a more detailed checklist. The recommended servings are designed for people aged between 19 and 60, who are not pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods For example, eat as many different-coloured fruit and vegies as you can; include different cereals, nuts, legumes and seeds.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit At least two serves of fruit and five of vegies (including legumes) each day. A serve of fruit is about one medium-sized or two small pieces; for vegies, it’s about half a cup, cooked.
  • Eat plenty of cereals, preferably wholegrain At least four serves a day for women and six for men. A serve is two slices of bread or a cup of cooked rice or pasta, for example.
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives such as legumes and nuts Eat a moderate serve of lean red meat three or four times a week. If you don’t, you need to make sure you eat other foods high in iron. Two to three meals of fish a week are recommended to obtain omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians should choose from a variety of legumes (beans and lentils), green vegetables, nuts and seeds to get their iron and other important nutrients.
  • Include dairy foods and/or alternatives — mainly reduced or low-fat ones Two to three serves a day are recommended for women and two to four serves for men. A serve is a cup of milk, 40 g of cheese or 200 g (a tub) of yoghurt. Dairy alternatives include calcium-fortified soy drinks, calcium-fortified tofu, a cup of almonds, five sardines or half a cup of canned pink salmon (with bones).
  • Drink plenty of water Choosing water most of the time as a drink means you avoid unnecessary kilojoules.
    Don’t eat too much saturated or trans fat Together, they shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the kilojoules you eat. Saturated fat is the main type in milk, cream, butter, cheese, fatty meats, palm and coconut oil, while trans fat is in hydrogenated vegetable oil and many processed foods (including fast foods, biscuits, pastries and cakes).
  • Don’t eat too much salt Choose low- and reduced-salt versions of foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, crackers, baked beans and other canned foods, soups, spreads and sauces; limit how much takeaway food you eat.
  • Don’t eat too much sugary food Sugar contains kilojoules, but no vital nutrients. Don’t eat too much confectionery, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits and pastries. While it’s OK to add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to a nutritious food like wholegrain breakfast cereal to make it tastier, don’t go overboard.
  • Go easy on alcohol It’s still under review as we go to press, but the latest draft recommendations are that adults limit their alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks a day.

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