Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Our eating habits: Good news, and bad, about what we eat

Hamiltonians have a sweet tooth, Aucklanders eat more takeaways and Tauranga tops the alcohol rankings. Health professionals hope the results of a survey will kickstart programmes to improve Kiwis' eating habits.

Ami Kelly said she had been a 'sugar addict'. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ami Kelly said she had been a 'sugar addict'. Photo / Dean Purcell

Kiwis are drinking more alcohol and eating more bread, red meat and takeaways than a year ago, data from Southern Cross shows.

Some regions were worse than others. People in Tauranga drink the most alcohol, Aucklanders eat more takeaways and Hamiltonians have the biggest sweet tooth, according to the health insurer's annual online health survey of 2000 New Zealanders last year.

Aucklanders bucked the national trend by swapping red meat for white meat and fish and eating less cheese and biscuits than the rest of the country and Wellingtonians ate the most fresh fruit and vegetables.

5+ A Day general manager Paula Dudley said the news that 75 per cent of those surveyed ate five or more servings of vegetables a week was promising, but it showed work still needed to to be done with the remaining 25 per cent of the population who were eating fewer veges than that.

People were also drinking more booze compared with the same survey in 2012 and 14 per cent said they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks a week.

Those aged 50 or over were the biggest alcohol drinkers, with 20 per cent drinking five or more units a week. And when it came to fizzy drink, 43 per cent of respondents stayed away from the carbonated beverage but, of those who did drink it, 16 per cent drank five or more units a week.

The biggest drinkers were aged between 30 and 39, followed by those under 30.

Heart Foundation medical director Professor Norman Sharpe said too much sugar and too many sugary drinks were being consumed - particularly by children - and the organisation was lobbying the Government to regulate soft drinks.

"Again sugary soft drinks are not the only problem, they are part of a larger problem, and in a sense they are an entry point for us to do something about overweight and obesity particularly for children," he said.

Instead of "demonising sugar", the Heart Foundation promoted a balanced message of eating a variety of foods and cutting back on junk food and takeaways which were high in salt, fat and sugar.

Most people surveyed were aware of their bad habits. Forty three per cent of participants admitted to eating too many sweets, 35 per cent said they drank too many fizzy drinks and 30 per cent owned up to eating too many biscuits a week.

Health practitioner and Warriors nutritionist Lee-Ann Wann said the fact people admitted that large servings of certain foods were unhealthy was a good first step to improving eating habits.

"If you consistently eat lollies and biscuits and you are aware of that, then add in some extra good stuff to push out the bad stuff.

"It may be that you start the day with a good breakfast and drink lots of fluid - water - in the morning to minimise those desires later on in the day."

Ms Wann put the increase in alcohol, bread and takeaway consumption down to modern lifestyles being more stressful.

"Takeaway meals are quick and alcohol is seen as time out and relaxing.

"If you've had a stressful day at work it's really common to have a glass of wine and relax and for a lot of people that keeps them going because it's time out."

Bread was also an easy fall back for people who were tired and busy because it was quick and easy and tasted good because of all the sugar added to it, she said.

Where you live also affects what you eat and drink, Ms Wann said. Tauranga promoted a more laid-back beach lifestyle which might encourage people to drink a bit more, she said, while Wellington's diverse markets and shops encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables if they were readily available.

Southern Cross Health Society chief executive Peter Tynan said the survey was done to gain a better understanding of the general health and wellness levels throughout New Zealand.

Mr Tynan said it is important people watch what they eat because the cost of inaction was rising.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease make up more than 80 per cent of all deaths in New Zealand and taking up about 70 per cent of the country's public health sector spend, he said.

"Clearly prevention is better than cure and starting in the workplace is almost a no-brainer."

"If you can eliminate some of the sugar and fat-laden foods from places of work and begin creating good habits, then you're on to a good thing."

Cutting out sugar key to new diet

Ami Kelly found cutting sugar out of her diet was a battle.

She kept being taunted by a piece of chocolate in the fridge or had to stop herself from licking icing off the spoon when making her children's birthday cakes.

But nine months after she stopped eating sugar, the 28-year-old mother-of-two can't believe how much better she feels for it.

The accounts manager had always struggled with her weight and had followed what she now admits was a misinformed low-fat diet to shed the pounds.

She was drinking about 600ml of Coke Zero a day and going to the gym without noticing much difference in her weight or how she was feeling.

Now under the guidance of nutritionist Lee-Ann Wann, Mrs Kelly follows a strict eating plan and has swapped carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and most oats for good fats such as almond and brazil nuts, as well as eating a lot of lean meat and vegetables.

She even limits her fruit intake to two or three servings a week because of the sugar, has very little dairy and where possible tries to eat free-range and organic foods.

"The difference has been huge for me. The way I feel - I don't get as much bloating from the carbohydrates and things. I noticed when I went back on sugar I became quite ratty and irritable."

She also gets fewer headaches and has more energy.

Mrs Kelly said she had been a "sugar addict" and it had taken a while to cut it out.

"I can now have a lolly in front of me and not pick it up and eat it."

She has now gone from having some whenever she felt like it and a sugar binge once every three weeks to having a small sweet treat once a month.

Coke Zero had also been her weakness but she now treated herself to one about once every six weeks.

"I was having a lot of Coke but I was having water as well. But now it's just all water and I drink green tea with coconut oil in it and that's sort of my vice."

A sugar-free diet

Breakfast: Salmon, eggs, roasted tomatoes and cooked spinach.
Morning tea: Chicken breast.
Lunch: 150g free range lean meat and vegetables or salad.
Afternoon tea: Almonds or brazil nuts, green tea with coconut oil.
Dinner: Free range meat, salad
Based on Ami Kelly's sample eating plan.

Wellingtonians consume more fruit and vegetables than the rest of the country while Aucklanders eat less cheese, red meat and biscuits

higherSignificantly higher than other regions.

lower Significantly lower than other regions.


Tips for a healthy heart

1. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
2. If choosing meat, make it lean; include fish as an alternative
3. Choose low-fat milk
4. Replace butter with margarines and healthy oils
5. Reduce salt; check sodium on food labels
Source: Heart Foundation.

- NZ Herald

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