What to eat
A healthy, balanced diet will not only help you lose weight, it will also assist you in maintaining your goal weight and improve your overall health. To achieve and maintain a healthy body, you should eat a wide variety of nutritious foods and drink plenty of water every day. Follow our how to eat healthy guidelines and you'll be on the right track.
This food group includes bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles made from grains such as wheat, oats, rice, corn, rye and barley. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults, women should eat 4 to 9 serves and men 6 to 12 serves of cereals every day.
What is a serve?
- 2 slices of bread
- 1 cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles
- 1 cup breakfast cereal flakes
- ½ cup muesli
Cereals provide carbohydrates for energy, as well as protein and fibre. They're also a good source of healthy vitamins and minerals, including iron, thiamine, folate, riboflavin and niacin.
Opt for wholemeal or wholegrain bread, rice, pasta and cereals whenever possible, as they contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals than white varieties.
Vegetables and legumes
Australian adults should eat five serves of vegetables each and every day to maintain a healthy diet.
What is a serve?
- 1 cup lettuce or salad vegetables
- ½ cup dark green leafy vegetables (eg spinach or broccoli)
- ½ cup legumes (eg beans, lentils or peas)
- 1 medium potato or ½ medium sweet potato
All veggies are full of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre, but starchy vegetables are higher in carbohydrates and calories. By choosing non-starchy veggies, you can bulk out your meals and satisfy your appetite without blowing your daily calorie allowance.
Non-starchy vegetables include:
- Beans (green)
- Bean sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Cabbage (green, bok choy, Chinese)
- Greens (kale, mustard, turnip)
- Salad greens
Starchy vegetables include:
- Sweet potato
Legumes are also a healthy addition to your diet, as they're packed with fibre and protein, and they're low GI so they'll keep you feeling fuller for longer.
- Baked beans
- Lentils (red, green, brown)
- Kidney beans
- Soy beans
- Four-bean mix
- Split peas
The Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults recommend eating two serves of fruit a day.
What is a serve?
- 1 medium fruit (eg apple, orange or banana)
- 2 small fruits (eg apricots, plums or kiwifruit)
- 20 grapes or cherries
- ½ cup fruit juice
Fruit is a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin C and folate. It also contains filling fibre, but most of it is found in the skin of the fruit, so eating a whole piece of fruit is more satisfying and healthy than drinking a glass of fruit juice.
Meat, fish, poultry and alternatives
This important food group is made up of lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and legumes. It is recommended that healthy Australian adults eat one serve of this group every day.
What is a serve?
- 65-100g cooked meat or chicken (eg ½ cup mince or 2 slices roast meat)
- 80-120g cooked fish fillet
- 2 small eggs
- 1/3 cup cooked legumes
- 1/3 cup peanuts or almonds
These foods are a healthy source of protein, iron, zinc, niacin and vitamin B12.
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives
Aim for two serves of this group each day to be healthy. If you can't tolerate dairy products, try alternatives like salmon, almonds and calcium-fortified soy products.
What is a serve?
- 250ml milk or calcium-fortified soy milk
- 2 slices cheese
- 200g yoghurt
- 1 cup almonds
Dairy products and their alternatives are an excellent source of calcium, as well as a good source of protein, riboflavin, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12.
What to limit or avoid
The Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults recommend limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugars and added salt to 0 to 2½ serves for women or 0 to 3 serves for men per day.
- Limit foods high in saturated fat, including biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, potato chips, crisps, fried foods, pizza and fast-food burgers, as well as butter, margarine, cream and palm oil.
- Instead, choose foods that contain healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, nuts, oily fish and avocado.
- Limit food and drinks containing added sugars, such as lollies, soft drinks, cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy drinks and sports drinks (more on drinks below).
- Choose low-sodium foods and don't add salt when cooking or at the table.
Water should be your number-one beverage. It contains zero calories and will provide all the hydration you need without any nasty additives!
Tea and coffee
As always, moderation is the key. Although both black tea and coffee offer next to nothing in calories (unless you add milk and sugar), they contain caffeine and act as stimulants.
Avoid coffees that are loaded with syrups and artificial flavourings, which can dramatically increase the number of calories you consume. A healthy option is to choose skim milk and skip the sugar - one teaspoon of the sweet stuff contains 15 calories!
Calorie content of popular teas and coffees:
- Full-fat latte/flat white, regular: 168
- Full-fat latte/flat white, large: 224
- Skim latte/flat white, regular: 96
- Skim latte/flat white, large: 128
- Full-fat cappuccino, regular: 165
- Full-fat cappuccino, large: 220
- Skim cappuccino, regular: 96
- Skim cappuccino, large: 128
- Full-fat mocha, regular: 233
- Skim mocha, regular: 164
- Piccolo latte: 46
- Long black: 1
- Macchiato: 18
- Babycino: 32
- Hot chocolate with full-fat milk, regular: 188
- Hot chocolate with skim milk, regular: 171
- Herbal tea (without milk): 3
- Gloria Jean's Signature Iced Coffee, regular: 307
- Gloria Jean's Skim Chai Latte, regular: 198
- Gloria Jean's White Chocolate Mocha, regular: 327
- Coffee Club Iced Coffee: 833
- Coffee Club White Hot Chocolate: 290
- Jamaica Blue White Vienna, regular: 280
- Jamaica Blue Affogato: 120
- Jamaica Blue Chilled Vanilla Latte: 421
Juices and sugary drinks
Soft drinks, cordials, sports drinks and juices contain high amounts of sugar (and therefore calories), so it's wise to have them only occasionally. Even fruit juice can pack a caloric punch without satisfying your hunger, so you're better off eating a whole piece of fruit and drinking a glass of water.
Calorie content of popular juices and sugary drinks:
- Orange juice, glass (200ml): 56
- Apple juice, glass (200ml): 86
- Berri Apple, Mango & Banana juice, glass (200ml): 90
- Boost Juice, low-fat banana smoothie, original (610ml): 458
- Coca-Cola, bottle (600ml): 258
- Fanta Orange, bottle (600ml): 276
- Deep Spring Orange & Mango mineral water (600ml): 186
- Red Bull, can (250ml): 115
- Powerade, bottle (600ml): 186
- Cottee's Coola Lime cordial, glass (250ml): 70
- McDonald's chocolate shake, medium: 416
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram - whereas carbohydrates and protein have 4 calories per gram. Although it doesn't have as much energy per gram as fat (which has 9 calories), it's still a considerable amount so be sure to count alcohol in your daily calorie intake.
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends no more than two standard drinks a day for men and women, as well as two alcohol-free days per week.
Calorie content of popular alcoholic drinks:
- Wine, red or white (dry), small glass (120ml): 82
- Wine, red or white (dry), medium glass (160ml): 109
- Sparkling wine, small glass (120ml): 78
- Sparkling wine, medium glass (160ml): 104
- Full-strength beer, schooner (450ml): 162
- Full-strength beer, stubbie/can (375ml): 135
- Mid-strength beer, schooner (450ml): 108
- Mid-strength beer, stubbie/can (375ml): 90
- Vodka, 30ml shot: 68 calories
- Vodka, 30 ml shot, with 200ml lemonade: 134
- Whisky, 30ml shot: 67
- Whisky, 30ml shot, with 200ml Coca-Cola: 153
- Vodka Cruiser (4.6%), premixed bottle (275ml): 173
- Jim Beam White & Cola (4.8%), premixed bottle (330ml): 168
How to eat healthy when eating out
Even when you're trying to lose weight and eat healthy, it's still important to enjoy life - and socialising is part of that! When going out to dinner or attending social events, the key being healthy is to plan what you will eat and drink ahead of time to prevent overeating.
When choosing food at a social event, try to stick with the basic rules of healthy eating - keep it clean and lean. For example, pick a grilled piece of fish or lean meat with salad or steamed vegetables.
Here are a few general tips for ordering and choosing healthy meals when you're eating out:
- Many restaurants post their menu on their website, so make your choice before you head out to avoid being tempted by an unhealthy meal at the last minute.
- Eat a healthy snack about an hour before you go out to avoid being ravenous when you arrive, which could lead you to make bad food choices and overeat.
- Save up some calories during the day by skipping one or two snacks so you can afford to eat a little more at dinner.
- Choose grilled, barbecued, baked, steamed or poached dishes rather than ones that are described as fried, battered, crispy, tempura, creamy or buttered. If it's baked in cheese, it doesn't count as healthy!
- Ask for sauces and dressings on the side as they're often high in fat. You can use only as much as you need without drowning your food in extra oil, butter or cream.
- Choose tomato-based sauces rather than cream-based.
- Cut down on the amount you eat by ordering two healthy entrées.
- Choose an entrée-sized pasta dish with a side order of healthy salad.
- Order a side of steamed vegetables without butter.
- Set a limit of alcoholic beverages you'll have (say, two) and space them out. Order a large sparkling mineral water with lemon and sip it throughout the meal.
- Eat slowly and stop when you feel satisfied rather than when you've finished your plate. Another option is to decide how much food you'll eat as soon as your plate arrives - and stick to it.
- If there are leftovers on your plate, ask for a doggy bag and have it for lunch the next day.
- Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls to avoid overeating before you realise you're full.
- Skip the cheese and dessert, or share with the table and have only a taste.
Healthy choices: Thai, Indian and pub food
Consistency is the key to maintaining a healthy weight and body. If you make healthy meals at home, you shouldalso make healthy choices when you're dining out. 12WBT dietitian Georgie Moore has developed a guide to eating out the healthy way so you don't look at the menu and panic next time you're at a restaurant!
- If you're sharing plates, serve yourself all the food you'd like before you start eating. That way you're aware of exactly how much you're eating instead of filling your plate a second (or third) time. Go easy on the rice. I know it's perfect for soaking up all those yummy sauces, but one cup of cooked white rice is 258 calories.
- Ideally, your plate should be made up of 25 per cent low-GI carbs, 25 per cent lean protein and 50 per cent non-starchy vegies.
- The more brightly coloured the vegies, the better. Non-starchy vegies contain very few calories, so you can have as many as you want!
Better Thai menu choices:
- Thai salad - but watch the dressing
- Stir fry with ginger and shallots, chilli and basil, or garlic and pepper sauce
- Tom yum or tom jued soups
- Choose a meal that contains vegetables (other than potato) rather than just meat.
- Go slow on clean-up foods - the foods that are commonly used to clean your plate - such as rice, naan bread or pappadums.
Better Indian menu choices:
- Dhal or rasam soup
- Rogan josh, saagwala, Chettinad, okra masala
- A great choice is steak or grilled fish with salad (minus the chips).
- Watch your portion sizes. With meat, order a serve the size of your palm and the thickness of your pinkie finger. Pub kitchens generally don't follow this rule, so chances are you'll have to leave some on your plate.
- With salads, limit the number of proteins and extra items - think meat, seafood, cheese, egg, croutons and dressing - to no more than two. If the dressing is creamy, ask for it on the side so you can determine exactly how much you eat. Make sure the salad is based on leafy veggies rather than pasta, rice or other carb-heavy ingredients.
Better pub menu choices:
- Grilled fish with salad
- Steak with salad
- Grilled haloumi salad
In short, be prepared, think ahead and make good choices!