A Beginners Guide To Healthy Eating | The PNW Clinic
February 3, 2023
Healthy eating is important for optimising overall health and well-being, and reducing the risk of developing chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Learning to eat healthy can be overwhelming. With conflicting information being presented across the media, online, between health professionals and wellness influences, it can be difficult to know what to trust.
The good news is that healthy eating does not need to be complicated. In this article, we will break down the important principles of healthy eating.
Before looking at specifics around food, it’s important to first build healthy eating patterns.
Regular eating describes eating 3 main meals a day, with 2-3 snacks in between. Ideally, it is best to leave no longer than 3 hours between meals and snacks.
A regular eating pattern is important for a variety of reasons, including (1):
- Stabilising appetite and minimising over-eating during mealtime
- Optimising energy levels
- Supporting digestive health
- Stabilising blood sugar levels
- Increasing hunger and fullness signals
Balanced plate model
Once you have built the foundation of regular eating, you can begin to focus on what foods to include at each meal.
The balanced plate model is designed to include the important nutrients your body needs to function. It is broken down into 4 main sections:
Protein is an important nutrient for building and repairing cells, muscle tissue, hormones and enzymes.
It is best to include lean sources of protein. This means that the protein source is lower in saturated fat.
Lean protein foods include:
- Lean meat such as beef, pork and lamb
- Poultry such as chicken and turkey without the skin
- Legumes and lentils
Carbohydrates supply our body and brain with energy.
The glycaemic index (GI) describes how a certain amount of food will affect blood sugar levels. Low-GI carbohydates promote a slower release of sugar into the blood. Low-GI carbohydrates help maintain healthy blood sugar levels (2).
Low-GI carbohydrates include:
- Wholegrain bread, pasta
- Brown rice
- Legumes and lentils
Low starch vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruit provide fibre and many important vitamins and minerals. Include a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables to make sure you are getting a diverse amount of nutrients.
Healthy fats supply our bodies with energy and support healthy cells.
Healthy fats include:
- Fatty fish
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
Understanding portions using the healthy plate model
A healthy, nutritionally balanced meal contains protein, carbohydrates, vegetables and/or fruit, and healthy fats.
The next component to building a healthy meal is understanding what portions to consider for each of these food groups. This will help make sure you are meeting your nutrient requirements, optimise your energy levels and promote digestive health.
When building a balanced meal, you want to aim for:
- ¼ plate lean protein
- ½ plate low-GI carbohydrates
- ½ non-starchy vegetables and/or fruit
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Approximately 95% of Australians do not eat enough fruits and vegetables (3). It is recommended to eat at least 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit per day.
If you struggle to eat enough fruits and vegetables, here are some tips to add more into your diet:
- Grate vegetables into sauces
- Snack on veggie sticks and cherry tomatoes
- Blend into smoothies
- Experiment with side salads
- Double the amount of veges in stirfrys
Choose whole grains
Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are important for good health as they promote digestive health, help control cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of developing chronic disease (4).
Here are some tips to include more whole grains in your diet:
- Swap white bread and pasta for whole grain varieties
- Swap white rice for brown rice
- Snack on popcorn
- Mix it up and new recipes that use grains you may not typically use, such as barley or quinoa
Plan your meals
Now you know what foods to include in your meals, it’s time to plan!
Planning your meals can help minimise the time you spend in the kitchen, reduce food waste, and relieve the stress of cooking last minute.
If you have never meal planned before, here are some quick tips to get you started:
- Pick out a meal planning template. For most people, a simple 7-day meal planner works well.
- Plan out your week. Consider your working schedule, social events or other weekly activities you may have on. This will help you plan more realistically.
- Gather some recipes and meal ideas. Time to pull out some of your favourite recipe books!
- Add some healthy snacks.
- Fill in your meal planning template with meals, then you’re all set!
Choose foods that will align with your preferences, culture and budget
The best healthy diet is one that you can sustain for life. This means that it needs to align with your preferences, culture and budget.
Healthy eating may look very different for different people. By using the healthy plate model and above tips, you can include foods that you enjoy and are realistic for you.
Enjoy fun foods in moderation
Fun foods are foods that are not necessary for health from a nutritional perspective. Instead, these foods are important for bringing enjoyment and variety into the diet.
Examples of fun foods include baked goods, sugar-sweetened drinks, alcohol, and take-away foods.
The amount of fun foods to include in your diet can vary from person to person. For example, if you are a highly active person, you may choose to include more of these foods to help you meet your energy requirements.
For most people, up to 2 servings a day of fun people works well. One serve is equal to approximately 600kJ (5).
Healthy eating is important for general health and well-being, as well as reducing risk of developing chronic disease.
While getting started may feel overwhelming, it does not need to be complicated!
Healthy eating will look different for everyone. However, building a regular eating routine, eating a variety of foods across food groups and understanding portions are some skills to get started with healthy eating.
If you want to learn more about how to get started with healthy eating, working 1:1 with a dietitian or nutritionist in Australia can give you the support and guidance you need. To find out more or see if we are a good fit for you, you can book a free 15-minute discovery call.
Article written by: PNW Clinic Dietitian Jade Wrigley