Quit sugar. Go gluten-free. Banish carbs. Eat organic. Shun dairy. Only eat raw. Stock up on superfoods. Have plenty of fibre. Give red meat the flick…is your head spinning yet?
One week it’s “stop eating X” and the next it’s “only eat Y”, so if you’re more than a little confused about what you should be eating, then don’t worry because you’re not alone. Celebrities are spruiking diets and cookbooks more than ever now, and with most providing real evidence of the benefits they can seem very compelling. But how can all of them be right? If someone was to follow all the different advice what’s left to eat? Air?
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Obviously it’s not possible to carry out all these varied diets at once without starving and putting your health at risk (especially when they’re not short-term fad diets but ones for life – like Gwyneth Paltrow and her gluten-free gospel). So if you don’t have any food intolerances or medical conditions, and are simply looking to improve your general health and wellbeing, then which diet is the best to sink your teeth into?
According to Lauren McGuckin, accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dieticians Association of Australia, there is no ‘magic bullet’ solution because our dietary needs are as unique as we are, and diets which point the finger at one particular food group or dietary component (such as carbs, sugar or gluten) simply cause confusion.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there. Blaming one particular dietary element as the cause for weight gain or other health issues is often not the answer and eliminating whole food groups can lead to nutritional shortfalls,” says Lauren.
“For the general population these often-drastic measures are also of little to no benefit, and because of their restrictiveness and the effort required to stick to the plan, they often aren’t sustainable.”
It appears many of these celebrity diets are also misleading in their portrayal, such as the gluten-free diet (which is really a low-carb diet in disguise), and going sugar-free.
“You don’t see results from the ‘no sugar’ diet specifically because you cut out sugar; it’s the act of eating less processed, sugar-containing foods and replacing them with lower calorie wholefoods that has the effect,” says Lauren. “Sugary processed foods and drinks, such as soft-drinks and lollies, are often also high in saturated fat and energy and are a major contribution to weight gain; so limiting these has always been a core dietary recommendation.”
So what do we do then? What should we be eating? According to the experts, there is no sexy solution and the answer is what most of us already know – forget the hype and get back to basics.
Here are some of Lauren’s top tips for eating well for life:
1. Follow Australian Dietary Guidelines
Eat plenty of fruit and veg; lean meat, poultry and seafood; low-fat diary; wholegrain/high fibre breads and cereals; drink plenty of water; and limit alcohol and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt.
2. Be individual and realistic
Tailor eating to your nutritional and health needs, and to fit with your lifestyle so you can maintain the diet for life.
3. Don’t cut out carbs
They’re a major source of fibre and other important vitamins and minerals. If you want to shed excess weight though, try halving your carbohydrate servings (e.g. cereals, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes).
4. Cook meals from scratch
You’ll reduce salt and sugar content, lessen the chances of additives/preservatives, be able to control the fat content, and improve your food quality by using fresh, top notch ingredients.
5. Eat fresh and unprocessed when you can
Less chemicals, additives and preservatives; and more satisfying as the stomach has to work more to digest wholefoods.
6. Be smart about fat – limit total fat intake for a slimmer waistline, but ensure you include vegetable-based fat sources for a healthy heart (e.g. nuts, avocado and olive oil).
7. Reduce your sugar intake
Limit the amount of sugary foods and added sugar you eat, particularly if you’re diabetic or watching your weight.
8. Eat the rainbow
No need to search for strange superfoods: there are cheaper ones already in your kitchen or garden. Eat foods with different (natural) colours to broaden the types of antioxidants you’re getting.
If your diet could do with a ‘tune-up’ or you suspect you might have a food intolerance, visit the Dieticians Association of Australia or see your GP.
Susan Taylor muses about life at One Woman Circus.