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Overhaul your eating habits

It's easy to slip into bad habits when it comes to food. Here are some solutions to four common problems that can sabotage your good intentions to eat a healthy diet.

Problem number 1: Eating the same few meals over and over again

It's a common scenario: it's late and you've just finished another long day at work. You go on automatic pilot, throwing together one of three or four meals you can prepare really quickly. There's nothing wrong with having favourite dishes you eat more regularly. It’s better to have a few easy dishes up your sleeve that you can concoct in a hurry than to resort to unhealthy takeaway. But problems can occur if you rely on a handful of meals with a limited range of ingredients. One of the keys to a healthy diet is to eat a broad variety of fresh foods which ensures you get the essential nutrients your body needs in order to function well. A limited diet will make this difficult.

The solution: Freshen up your recipe repertoire

Make a list of at least 10 meals you can prepare with minimal fuss. These meals should represent a wide range of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, legumes, wholegrain carbohydrates, nuts and seeds and low-fat dairy. Cookbooks, magazines, friends and the internet can all provide recipe inspiration. Try not to repeat the same dish more than twice a week to ensure you eat a good variety of foods and aim to add a new dish every fortnight so your repertoire grows. If you’re not confident in the kitchen, why not try a cooking class, or ask a friend or family member who is a good cook to share some of their ideas.

Problem number 2: Relying on ready-made meals

Supermarket shelves are bursting with pre-prepared meals. These are fine to have now and again, but like takeaway food, you should consider them as 'sometimes' foods only. Generally, a processed meal has fewer nutrients and fibre, and more salt and other additives than freshly-prepared food, and unlike the food you prepare yourself, you have no control over the type of fat or the amount of salt that’s added.

The solution: Limit these types of meals

With some advance planning it’s not hard to make good healthy meals at home on weeknights – and it will save you money at the same time! Good strategies include:

  • Having a plan for at least three weeknight meals and making sure you have the ingredients on hand
  • Cooking double the quantity of meals and freezing half for later
  • Investing a couple of hours at the weekend cooking ahead for the working week.

Problem number 3: Eating too much meat

In many homes, the main meal at night is centred around meat, with vegetables as an afterthought. But a plate that’s overloaded with meat makes it harder to have a varied diet that includes five serves of vegetables each day as recommended in the National Health and Medical Research Council Dietary Guidelines for Australians.

Eating too many processed meats such as ham, sausages, hot dogs or salami has also been linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer.

The solution: Eat a variety of protein foods – with plenty of vegetables

You can still enjoy meat but remember that the National Health and Medical Research Council Australian Dietary Guidelines advise eating a small 65–100g serve of meat three to four times a week. That leaves room for meals based on other protein foods such as fish (two to three serves weekly for good health as recommended by the Heart Foundation), skinless poultry and plant proteins like lentils, beans and tofu.

  • Make sure your plate is balanced – many accredited practising dietitians now suggest that a quarter of your plate should contain a protein food, half the plate should contain vegetables, and the remaining quarter be made up of whole grains, pasta, rice or a starchy vegetable like potato or sweet potato
  • Choose the leanest cuts of meat and trim all visible fat
  • Experiment with meatless meals based on lentils or beans (Indian and Middle Eastern cookbooks can provide plenty of inspiration). They’re a great way to boost your fibre intake and save money too.
  • Make ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs only an occasional food, as they’re also generally high in salt and saturated fat.

Problem number 4: Skipping vegetables and fruit

We're all meant to eat at least two serves of fruit a day and five servings of vegetables according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines by the National Health and Medical Research Council. But most of us don’t reach our quota and so miss out on essential nutrients that can't be replaced with a daily vitamin tablet.

The solution: Add fruit at breakfast and make room for more vegies at lunch

Look for opportunities to slip a serve of vegetables and fruit into meals. Fruit with breakfast is a good start; so is taking a couple of pieces of fruit into work to snack on during the day. Don’t wait until dinner to eat all your vegetables. Try a salad, or roasted or stir-fried vegetables with lunch, or add salad vegetables to a sandwich. Instead of snacking on biscuits and cheese, try raw vegetables with healthy dips like hummous or tzatziki. And fit in an extra serve of vegetables by adding mushrooms, tomatoes or corn to your weekend breakfasts.

Further information

Better Health Channel: Healthy recipes http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcsite.nsf/pages/bhc_recipes?open

Go for 2 fruit and 5 vegetables: recipes http://www.gofor2and5.com.au/recipes.aspx?c=3&a=133&n=1

Heart Foundation of Australia: recipes http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/recipes/Pages/default.aspx

Sources

Better Health Channel. Healthy eating tips. [online] Melbourne, VIC: State Government of Victoria. c1999-2010 [updated Oct 2008, accessed 4 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Healthy_eating_for_children_and_adults

Kellett E, Smith A, Schmerlaib Y. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. 1998 [accessed 4 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/

National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for all Australians. [online]. Canberra: ACT: Commonwealth of Australian. 2003 [accessed 4 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/publications/synopses/dietsyn.htm

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Disclaimer
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2010