How to improve diet?

Improving your diet

  • Introduction to improving your diet
  • What is a healthy diet?
  • Benefits of having a healthy diet
  • Tips for improving your diet
    • Keep track of how much you eat and don’t eat more than you expend
    • Eat a wide variety of foods every day
    • Base your diet on cereals and whole grains
    • Increase fruit and vegetable consumption
    • Meet calcium requirements to ensure healthy teeth and bones
    • Reduce fat, salt and sugar intake
    • Drink plenty of water
    • Choose a diet that offers maximum health benefits

Introduction to improving your diet

The beginning of the New Year is a time when many people resolve to improve aspects of their health and lifestyle. Many will resolve to improve their diet, either because they want to reduce their weight, or because they want to improve their nutritional health. Even after deciding to improve their diet, some people may have difficulty doing so. They may have well-developed unhealthy eating patterns, or they may not be well informed about what they should be eating to make their diet healthier. Obtaining good information about healthy eating is therefore an important part of improving diet.

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy diet is one in which energy is consumed in the same quantities as it is expended, and which contains all essential dietary nutrients (e.g. protein, vitamins and minerals). The total amount of energy an individual should consume will vary depending on gender, age and exercise habits. All people should source their energy from a variety of food groups and include plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals, and only small amounts of fat.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommend that adult women consume foods from the following groups in the following proportions each day:

  • Fruit: 2 servings (one serving is a medium piece of fruit or equivalent);
  • Vegetables: 5 servings (one serving is 75 g of cooked vegetables or a cup of raw salad vegetables);
  • Cereals: 4–9 servings (one serving is two slices of bread; one cup of cooked rice or equivalent);
  • Dairy products: 2 servings (one serving is 250 mL of milk, 40 g of cheese, or 200 g of yoghurt);
  • Lean meat, poultry, fish and legumes: 1 serving (one serving is 65–100 g of cooked meat or equivalent);
  • Fats and sugars: In small quantities, occasionally.

Adult men should consume the following quantities of the following foods each day:

  • Fruit: 2 servings (one serving is a medium piece of fruit or equivalent);
  • Vegetables: 5 servings (one serving is 75 g of cooked vegetables or a cup of raw salad vegetables);
  • Cereals: 6–12 servings (one serving is two slices of bread; one cup of cooked rice or equivalent);
  • Dairy products: 2 servings (one serving is 250 mL of milk, 40 g of cheese, or 200 g of yoghurt);
  • Lean meat, poultry, fish and legumes: 1 serving (one serving is 65–100 g of cooked meat or equivalent);
  • Fats and sugars: In small quantities, occasionally.

Benefits of having a healthy diet

A healthy diet is essential for good health and can reduce the risk of numerous chronic health conditions, including:

  • Metabolic syndrome;
  • Diabetes;
  • Cardiovascular disorders;
  • Stroke;
  • Hypertension;
  • Cancer;
  • Eye disorders.

Maintaining a healthy diet also helps maintain a healthy weight, which:

  • Promotes self-esteem;
  • Reduces the likelihood of depression;and
  • Gives you more energy to enjoy life.

Tips for improving your diet

There are many easy ways to improve the nutritional content of the diet and reduce fats and calories. If you are trying to improve your diet, try some of the following tips.

Keep track of how much you eat and don’t eat more than you expend

To stop yourself from consuming more energy than you expend and becoming overweight, it is important to monitor how much you eat each day by, for example, using a calorie counter.

Eat a wide variety of foods every day

An immense variety of fresh and packaged foods are available in Australia, making it easy for Australians to enjoy a diverse and healthy diet. As different types of food provide different nutrients in various quantities (e.g. orange vegetables such as pumpkin and carrot contain lots of vitamin A, while citrus fruits are high in vitamin C), eating a varied diet can help ensure all essential nutrients are obtained through eating. To increase the variety of foods in your diet, why not:

  • Try a new type of fruit or vegetable every week;
  • Serve food from a variety of groups with each meal (e.g. serve a salad and a glass of milk with breakfast, lunch or dinner);
  • Prepare a healthy eating plan that includes a wide variety of foods and outlines which ones will be eaten each day.

Base your diet on cereals and whole grains

Many individuals try to avoid starchy foods (e.g. bread, rice and potatoes) when improving their diet, and particularly when trying to lose weight, because they incorrectly believe that starchy foods cause weight gain. On the contrary, starchy foods are an essential source of energy, providing carbohydrates, protein and fibre, and contain only about half as many calories per gram as fats. It is important to base your diet on cereals and grains, and to do that it may be useful to:

  • Eat plenty of cereals or grains with every meal;
  • Choose wholegrain options (e.g. brown rice, wholemeal bread and high fibre breakfast cereals) as these contain more fibre per gram than other options;
  • Include rice and pasta in your diet, as these options contain less salt than bread;
  • Try new cereals and grains which you haven’t tried before or don’t eat very often (e.g. couscous or polenta).

Increase fruit and vegetable consumption

Fruit and vegetables provide a variety of essential vitamins and minerals that protect against a range of health conditions and ensure the body functions properly. Include at least two pieces of fruit and five servings of vegetables in the daily diet to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

The majority of Australians do not consume sufficient fruit and vegetables. If you want to improve the fruit and vegetable content of your diet, you could try:

  • Eat at least two pieces of fruit and five servings of vegetables every day;
  • Eat a variety of vegetables every day, including dark green vegetables, leafy green vegetables, orange vegetables, raw salad vegetables and legumes;
  • Eat fruit and vegetables with every meal;
  • Snack on fruits and vegetables instead of chips, cakes or unhealthy foods;
  • Use fresh as well as frozen and tinned vegetables;
  • Add fruit to breakfast cereal or as a toast topping; and
  • Where possible, eat the skin of fruit as this contains fibre.

Meet calcium requirements to ensure healthy teeth and bones

Dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese and yoghurt) provide the best and most readily absorbable source of calcium. They are an essential component of a healthy diet. Calcium is an important component of teeth and bones, and inadequate calcium intake early in life increases the risk of bone conditions such as osteoporosis later in life. Consuming adequate amounts of calcium is therefore very important. The following tips may help you to increase your calcium intake:

  • Eat dairy with every meal, as the calcium it contains is more readily absorbed when it is eaten with other food sources. Try adding a glass of milk or a serving of cheese to meals;
  • Choose low-fat dairy varieties to obtain the calcium benefits of dairy without consuming additional fat;
  • If you cannot or do not want to eat dairy products, add a calcium supplement to your diet, although be aware that supplements lack the additional nutrients contained in dairy sources;
  • When shopping, ensure you purchase enough dairy products for everyone in the house to eat two servings per day;
  • Make healthy fruit smoothies by blending fruit, with low fat milk, ice and low-fat yoghurt.

Reduce fat, salt and sugar intake

Fats (particularly saturated fats) and sugars contain a lot of calories but very few nutrients. Excessive consumption of these foods can cause weight gain and increase the risk of numerous chronic health conditions. Consuming too much salt also increases the risk of chronic health conditions, in particular cardiovascular disorders. In order to reduce consumption of fat, salt and sugar, you could:

  • Choose lean meat varieties and prepare them without using fat (e.g. barbecue or grill). Remove the skin and trim the fat from meat before cooking it;
  • Choose unsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil or canola oil) for cooking;
  • Avoid take away and processed foods, as these often contain large quantities of fat, salt or sugar;
  • Avoid fatty, salty and sugary snacks. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables (with low-fat yoghurt) or unsalted nuts or seeds instead;
  • Choose low fat dairy options; and
  • Don’t add salt to vegetables or other foods when cooking.

Drink plenty of water

Adults should drink at least eight cups of water every day to maintain good health. When it is hot or you are performing physical activities, you may need to consume even more water. To increase your water consumption:

  • Drink a glass of water with every meal;
  • Drink water instead of fruit juice, soft drink or alcohol;
  • Carrya bottle of water in your bag so that you can sip it if you become thirsty; and
  • Drink plenty of water during and after physical exercise.

Choose a diet that offers maximum health benefits

Whether the goal is simply to lose weight, or also to improve systemic health, it is important to select a diet low in saturated fats and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables (e.g. the Mediterranean diet). Maintaining such a diet can help a person to lose weight, and will also reduce their risk of chronic health conditions such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

More information

For more information on staying healthy in the New Year, including tips on diet, partying, exercise and general health, see Health in the New Year.
  1. University of Maryland Medical Centre. New Year’s resolution guide . 11 December 2008 . Available from:
  2. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein and Amino Acids. Chapter 5: Energy . Washington DC: National Academies Press; 2005. . Available from:
  3. National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary guidelines for Australian adults . 10 April 2003 . Available from: URL link
  4. Esposito K, Marfella R, Ciotola M, et al. Effect of a Mediterranean-style diet on endothelial dysfunction and markers of vascular inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: A randomized trial . JAMA 2004: 292(12): 1440-6.
  5. Blaine BE, Rodman J, Newman JM. Weight loss treatment and psychological well-being: A review and meta-analysis. J Health Psychol. 2007; 12(1): 66-82.
  6. American Heart Foundation. Diet and lifestyle recommendations . 2009 . Available from:
  7. Food Standards Agency UK. Healthy Christmas eating . 2009 . Available from:
  8. Kellett E, Smith A, Schmerlaib Y. The Australian guide to healthy eating . Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. 1998. . Available from:
  9. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Low fruit and vegetable consumption . 2001 . Available from:
  10. Go for 2 & 5. Tips . Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. 2009 . Available from:
  11. Weaver CM. Calcium bioavailability and its relation to osteoporosis. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1992; 200(2): 157-60.
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Water: Meeting your daily fluid needs . 3 December 2008 . Available from:

Nutrition: Tips for Improving Your Health

Good nutrition is one of the keys to a healthy life. You can improve your health by keeping a balanced diet. You should eat foods that contain vitamins and minerals. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and a source of protein.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to any of them, talk to your doctor about your health. You may need to improve your eating habits for better nutrition.

  • Do you have a health problem or risk factor, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
    • Did your doctor tell you that you can improve your condition with better nutrition?
  • Do diabetes, cancer, heart disease, or osteoporosis run in your family?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you have questions about what foods you should eat or whether you should take vitamins?
  • Do you think that you would benefit from seeing a registered dietitian or someone who specializes in nutrition counseling?

Path to improved health

It can be hard to change your eating habits. It helps if you focus on small changes. Making changes to your diet may also be beneficial if you have diseases that can be made worse by things you are eating or drinking. Symptoms from conditions such as kidney disease, lactose intolerance, and celiac disease can all benefit from changes in diet. Below are suggestions to improve your health. Be sure to stay in touch with your doctor so they know how you are doing.

  • Find the strong and weak points in your current diet. Do you eat 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day? Do you get enough calcium? Do you eat whole grain, high-fiber foods? If so, you’re on the right track! Keep it up. If not, add more of these foods to your daily diet.
  • Keep track of your food intake by writing down what you eat and drink every day. This record will help you assess your diet. You’ll see if you need to eat more or less from certain food groups.
  • Think about asking for help from a dietitian. They can help you follow a special diet, especially if you have a health issue.

Almost everyone can benefit from cutting back on unhealthy fat. If you currently eat a lot of fat, commit to cutting back and changing your habits. Unhealthy fats include things such as: dark chicken meat; poultry skin; fatty cuts of pork, beef, and lamb; and high-fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheeses). Ways to cut back on unhealthy fats include:

  • Rather than frying meat, bake, grill, or broil it. Take off the skin before cooking chicken or turkey. Try eating fish at least once a week.
  • Reduce any extra fat. This includes butter on bread, sour cream on baked potatoes, and salad dressings. Use low-fat or nonfat versions of these foods.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with your meals and as snacks.
  • Read the nutrition labels on foods before you buy them. If you need help with the labels, ask your doctor or dietitian.
  • When you eat out, be aware of hidden fats and larger portion sizes.
  • Staying hydrated is important for good health. Drink zero- or low-calorie beverages, such as water or tea. Sweetened drinks add lots of sugar and calories to your diet. This includes fruit juice, soda, sports and energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, and sweetened iced tea.

Things to consider

Balanced nutrition and regular exercise are good for your health. These habits can help you lose or maintain weight. Try to set realistic goals. They could be making some of the small diet changes listed above or walking daily.

Doctors and dietitians suggest making healthy eating habits a part of daily life rather than following fad diets. Nutrition tips and diets from different sources can be misleading. Keep in mind the advice below, and always check with your doctor first.

  • Secret diets aren’t the answer. Fad or short-term diets may promise to help you lose weight fast. However, they are hard to keep up with and could be unhealthy.
  • Good nutrition doesn’t come in a pill. Try eating a variety of foods instead. Your body benefits most from healthy whole foods. Only take vitamins that your doctor prescribes.
  • Diet programs or products can confuse you with their claims. Most people in these ads get paid for their endorsements. They don’t talk about side effects, problems, or regained weight.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How many servings should I eat from each food group?
  • If I’m on a strict diet, such as vegetarian or vegan, how can I improve my health?
  • Are there certain eating habits I should follow for my health condition?

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians, Nutrition: How to Make Healthier Food Choices

U.S. Department of Agriculture, ChooseMyPlate

Improving Your Eating Habits

When it comes to eating, we have strong habits. Some are good (“I always eat breakfast”), and some are not so good (“I always clean my plate”). Although many of our eating habits were established during childhood, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to change them.

Making sudden, radical changes to eating habits such as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short term weight loss. However, such radical changes are neither healthy nor a good idea, and won’t be successful in the long run. Permanently improving your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce.

  • REFLECT on all of your specific eating habits, both bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
  • REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
  • REINFORCE your new, healthier eating habits.

Reflect:

  1. Create a list of your eating habits. Keep a food diary for a few days. Write down everything you eat and the time of day you eat it. This will help you uncover your habits. For example, you might discover that you always seek a sweet snack to get you through the mid-afternoon energy slump. Use this diary pdf icon to help. It’s good to note how you were feeling when you decided to eat, especially if you were eating when not hungry. Were you tired? Stressed out?
  2. Highlight the habits on your list that may be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to weight gain are:
    • Eating too fast
    • Always cleaning your plate
    • Eating when not hungry
    • Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
    • Always eating dessert
    • Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)
  3. Look at the unhealthy eating habits you’ve highlighted. Be sure you’ve identified all the triggers that cause you to engage in those habits. Identify a few you’d like to work on improving first. Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for the things you’re doing right. Maybe you usually eat fruit for dessert, or you drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are good habits! Recognizing your successes will help encourage you to make more changes.
  4. Create a list of “cues” by reviewing your food diary to become more aware of when and where you’re “triggered” to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note how you are typically feeling at those times. Often an environmental “cue”, or a particular emotional state, is what encourages eating for non-hunger reasons.
  5. Common triggers for eating when not hungry are:
    • Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favorite snack food.
    • Sitting at home watching television.
    • Before or after a stressful meeting or situation at work.
    • Coming home after work and having no idea what’s for dinner.
    • Having someone offer you a dish they made “just for you!”
    • Walking past a candy dish on the counter.
    • Sitting in the break room beside the vending machine.
    • Seeing a plate of doughnuts at the morning staff meeting.
    • Swinging through your favorite drive-through every morning.
    • Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up.
  6. Circle the “cues” on your list that you face on a daily or weekly basis. While the Thanksgiving holiday may be a trigger to overeat, for now focus on cues you face more often. Eventually you want a plan for as many eating cues as you can.
  7. Ask yourself these questions for each “cue” you’ve circled:
    • Is there anything I can do to avoid the cue or situation? This option works best for cues that don’t involve others. For example, could you choose a different route to work to avoid stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way? Is there another place in the break room where you can sit so you’re not next to the vending machine?
    • For things I can’t avoid, can I do something differently that would be healthier? Obviously, you can’t avoid all situations that trigger your unhealthy eating habits, like staff meetings at work. In these situations, evaluate your options. Could you suggest or bring healthier snacks or beverages? Could you offer to take notes to distract your attention? Could you sit farther away from the food so it won’t be as easy to grab something? Could you plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before the meeting?

Replace:

  1. Replace unhealthy habits with new, healthy ones. For example, in reflecting upon your eating habits, you may realize that you eat too fast when you eat alone. So, make a commitment to share a lunch each week with a colleague, or have a neighbor over for dinner one night a week. Another strategy is to put your fork down between bites. Also, minimize distractions, such as watching the news while you eat. Such distractions keep you from paying attention to how quickly and how much you’re eating.
  2. Eat more slowly. If you eat too quickly, you may “clean your plate” instead of paying attention to whether your hunger is satisfied.
  3. Eat only when you’re truly hungry instead of when you are tired, anxious, or feeling an emotion besides hunger. If you find yourself eating when you are experiencing an emotion besides hunger, such as boredom or anxiety, try to find a non-eating activity to do instead. You may find a quick walk or phone call with a friend helps you feel better.
  4. Plan meals ahead of time to ensure that you eat a healthy well-balanced meal.

Reinforce:

Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Habits take time to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. When you do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate yourself or think that one mistake “blows” a whole day’s worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at a time!

25 Ways to Improve Your Health with Food

Food is much too often associated with weight gain or loss. From the calorie-counters to the most gluttonous of eaters, oftentimes the first things someone thinks when they put a piece of food in their mouth are, “How many calories are in this?” and “What’s this going to do with my waistline?”

Sure, we’re seeing plenty of other ways that food is associated with our body these days — whether that’s keeping our immune systems strong, fighting cancer, or even battling a hangover, just to name a few. But despite all of the recent studies and reports that have been released about foods’ positive effects on the body, too many people still think of a “diet” only as a way of controlling one’s weight.

At least that’s what New York City nutritionist Samantha Lynch tells us. A lot of her time at work is spent convincing people that they won’t solve all of their problems by just knowing what foods will help them lose weight the fastest. Of all the patients Lynch sees, about 80 percent are strictly focused on weight loss, and it can cause Lynch’s ultimate vision for their nutrition plan to become blurred.

” focus so much on the calories that they become preoccupied with food, and the food they feel they shouldn’t be eating. This backfires and to yo-yo dieting,” she explains.

Rather than focusing strictly on weight loss, Lynch looks at nutrition from the bigger picture, and works with her clients to help them make permanent changes to their diets that will improve their overall health. Instead of just focusing on the calorie and fat counts in food with her clients, Lynch stresses the importance of whole, non-processed foods that will use the domino effect to improve her clients’ overall health — foods that will boost energy, which in turn will affect their mood, support their digestion, and so on. At that point, weight loss is merely a side effect of her counseling, she says.

We like her approach, which is why we asked her to work with us again when we decided to define the necessary foods for overall health. To do this, we determined eight, fundamental pillars of health, and worked with Lynch to outline the foods that are best for each of them. While at first we thought that eight was surely too few to encompass one’s overall well-being, Lynch encouraged us to see that when you overwhelm yourself with things to “keep in check,” you’re setting yourself up for failure. By outlining eight, simple, and of course, important, pillars, we’re not only creating a plan to make you healthy, but one that you’ll succeed at, too.

But while there are only eight structural foundations to your health, you’ll be happy to hear there are lots of foods to consume to help you stay healthy. For example, enjoying a glass of milk before bedtime doesn’t have to be just for children, because it helps improve your sleep, too, and raw oysters aren’t the only aphrodisiac out there — avocados can get your get you in the mood, as well. You may already know that fiber is good for your gut, and that omega-3-rich foods support your joints, but you might not know that asparagus promotes a healthy gut, too, and that there are foods, like fried food and gluten products, that can be detrimental to your joint health.

Food affects more than just your waistline, and with informed and smart choices, it can become a tool for helping you achieve your overall health. Improve your health with food by eating your way through the eight pillars of health — we’re here to help you do it.

Story was originally published on June 25, 2013.