Simple Switches

A healthy lifestyle is not ‘one size fits all’, what works for your best friend, sister, mother or boyfriend, may not work for your body and what you need. When making the choice to live a healthier, more balanced life, there are a number of routes you can take to reach your destination. We spoke with Mackenzie Fong, Dietician at the Boden Institute, Sydney University to better understand what is essential to good health and where we can make those changes in our day to day routines to see results.

When trying to improve our health is a big diet overhaul best or is it more beneficial to make small, healthy swaps gradually?

“Both methods offer their advantages and disadvantages. It comes down to individual choice and depends on how likely you are to sustain the changes. A big diet overhaul may result in faster, more noticeable changes which can be motivating. On the other hand, an overhaul may be difficult to sustain and can lead to feelings of deprivation.

The small, healthy swaps approach may offer more flexibility and is more likely to be sustainable. However, if the changes are too gradual, a lack of noticeable progress may be desponding.

On the extreme end of the scale, crash dieting where minimum nutrient requirements are not met, long periods of fasting, ‘detoxing’ or excessive exercise can damage your metabolism and may lead to weight regain further down the track”

What are some simple healthy swaps you can recommend?

  • Swap store bought lunches for homemade options. Food court options can be limiting and the portion size is often larger than recommended. Making your own lunches gives you more control over what you eat.
  • When eating out, swap energy dense menu options for ones that are lower in energy. Generally foods eaten out contain double the energy of the homemade version, so it is important to consider the energy content of meals eaten out of the home. Limit high energy foods such as processed meats, crumbed or battered foods, creamy sauces, dressings and stocks e.g. laksa, pasta carbonara, Caesar salad, deep fried foods. Swap these for foods with tomato/vegetable based sauces, lean protein options and meals containing plenty of veg and salad.
  • Swap butter for avocado. Avocado can be a great spread option and will provide you with healthy fats that are good for cardiovascular health.
  • Swap white rice crackers, which offer little nutrition, for a multigrain crisp bread which will provide you with a good source of fibre, protein and other important nutrients.
  • Not so much a swap, but have veggies with every lunch and dinner even if your meal isn’t traditionally served with veg. For example, chop up some carrot and capsicum to stir through a Bolognese sauce, throw together a side salad to have with a chicken curry.

For those of us always on the go, are there quick breakfast ideas you tend to stick to?

Yes! There are plenty of good options for a quick breakfast. Ideally, try to have a source of carbohydrates and protein:

  • Microwaved baked beans on toast (or in a wholemeal/wholegrain burrito if ‘on the go’)
  • Fruit salad
  • Smoothies – a great way to get in at least 2 serves of fruit into your diet. Having frozen berries and some banana in your kitchen means you can quickly whip up a breakfast full of fibre and antioxidants!

Alternatively, invest a little time the night before prepping breakfast i.e. pre boil eggs, make up a batch of homemade muesli or bake some healthy breakfast muffins.

What role should exercise play in maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. Every day you should aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk. The benefits of exercise are endless but to name a few, exercise can:

  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes
  • Increase bone mineral density and therefore lower fracture risk
  • Relieve anxiety and depression
  • Increase fitness

This last one is important as low fitness is the strongest predictor of mortality (even higher than obesity and smoking!)