Nutrition, the science of the way diet affects health, centres around developing a healthy eating plan. While many Australians enjoy a varied and nutritious diet, the federal Department of Health notes there is room for improvement, linking conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers to poor eating patterns.
Healthy diet involves eating a variety of foods everyday from the following groups:
Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles Vegetables, legumes Fruit Milk, yoghurt, cheese Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes
Including plenty of plant foods (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, noodles, vegetables, legumes and fruit) is advised, as are consuming moderate amounts of animal foods (milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, eggs) and drinking water to quench your thirst.
Other strategies for gaining optimal nutrition include eating a range of fresh, unprocessed foods and sticking to a regular eating pattern. Whole, unprocessed foods provide higher levels of essential nutrients per unit of energy, leading to better management of cell growth, cell maintenance, appetite and energy balance. In the case of eating patterns, consuming medium-sized meals every three to four hours has been shown to more greatly benefit the metabolism when compared with infrequent, haphazard food intake.
Children and adolescents
As they grow and develop, the nutritional needs of children and adolescents differ from those of adults. According the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the following guidelines apply to those aged from birth to eighteen years:
Encourage and support breast feeding
Children and adolescents need sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. Growth should be checked regularly for young children, and physical activity is important for all children and adolescents
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods
Children and adolescents should be encouraged to eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits and cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles – preferably wholegrain)
Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives Include milks, yoghurts, cheese and/or alternatives Reduced-fat milks are not suitable for young children under two years because of their high energy needs, but reduced-fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents
Choose water as a drink
Alcohol is not recommended for children Care should be taken to limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants
Choose foods low in salt
Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars Care for your child’s food: prepare and store it safely
Similarly, the guidelines advise adults of the following:
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible Drink plenty of water. Take care to limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake Choose foods low in salt Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars. Prevent weight gain: be physically active and eat according to your energy needs Care for your food: prepare and store it safely
Women’s reproductive life – encompassing menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause – creates differing nutritional needs to those of men.
For pre-menstrual syndrome in particular, high protein foods may curb cravings for other, less nutritious high-energy foods; and B group vitamins have been shown to help relieve symptoms such as moodiness, tiredness and constipation.
Iron-deficiency is another condition affecting a greater percentage of women over men. While females and males metabolise iron from food at almost the same rate, men need only 7mg of iron in their daily diet, as opposed to the 16mg required by women. Common deficiency symptoms include fatigue and breathlessness. These foods are recommended iron sources:
Liver and red meat Fortified cereals Egg yolks Legumes and nuts Leafy green vegetables
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the need for certain nutrients rises. For instance, women need 600kj more than non-pregnant women on a daily basis, and must remain mindful avoid calcium, folate, iron and zinc deficiencies. Important nutrients for breastfeeding women in particular include protein, calcium, vitamin C, folate, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6 and fluids.
Those experiencing menopause do well to up their intake of phytoestrogens, which are natural oestrogen-like substances. These occur regularly in foods such as:
Wholegrains Flaxseed (linseed) Sesame seeds Nuts including almonds Legumes, especially soy and chickpeas Alfalfa sprouts Herbal teas, especially sage and aniseed Extra virgin olive oil Older Australians
Healthy independent older Australians are advised by the NHMRC to adopt the following nutritional guidelines. These apply to those over 65 years:
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods Keep active to maintain muscle strength and a healthy body weight Eat at least three meals every day Care for your food: prepare and store it correctly Eat plenty of vegetables (including legumes) and fruit Eat plenty of cereals, breads and pastas Eat a diet low in saturated fat Drink adequate amounts of water and/or other fluids If you drink alcohol, limit your intake Choose foods low in salt and use salt sparingly Include foods high in calcium Use added sugars in moderation