ABC Nutrition owner and well-respected dietitian, Angela Berrill is passionate about health and nutrition, and believes in finding ways for people to enjoy food while also nurturing their bodies.
What foods should I be eating?
While it can be difficult to navigate the many mixed messages around what we should be eating, the fundamentals of what makes up a healthy diet haven't changed. The Ministry of Health and the Heart Foundation recommend that we choose "mostly whole and less processed" foods to support our health.
What is a whole food?
The Ministry of Health defines whole foods as, "Foods that are close to their natural state but may have been harvested, washed or cleaned ready for consumption or cooking. Examples of whole foods are fresh vegetables and fruit, raw legumes, raw nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, chicken and red meat (with visible fat removed)." Whole foods are a very healthy choice due to containing an abundance of naturally occurring nutrients, which support our health.
'Less–processed' foods on the other hand, have undergone a little processing, "but have kept most of their physical, chemical, sensory and nutritional properties." These foods include pasteurised milk, frozen vegetables or canned legumes, with minimal salt and/or sugar added. While these foods have undergone a little processing, they are still healthy and nutritious options to include in your diet. They can also often be more affordable and convenient than their whole food counterparts.
At the other end of the spectrum, 'highly-processed foods' are moving further and further away from the food in its natural state, with often saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium (salt) being added. These foods often have lower levels of the naturally occurring dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients due to the heavy processing. Such foods include soft drinks, biscuits, chips, refined cereals, processed meats (e.g. ham, sausages and salami) and many convenience foods.
Aren't whole foods more expensive?
You can help to keep the costs down by buying vegetables and fruit in season, ensuring that you use everything from root to tip and that you store food correctly. Love Food Hate Waste New Zealand has a number of helpful tips for how you can cut back on food waste. In addition to minimising food waste, where you can and if your situation allows, it also pays to think about the sustainability of your food choices – purchase foods which are grown locally or made in New Zealand, saying "No" to plastic bags and being mindful of food miles.
How can I tell if something is a healthy choice?
While we should be aiming to eat mostly whole foods, many of these foods won't carry a food label. However, where a food does carry a label, this can be a helpful way to understand whether it is a healthy choice. Reading the ingredients list can be a good place to start.
Ingredients will be listed in descending weight order. In the case of sugar, be aware that it can be called many different names! The Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) also contains a wealth of information. The Heart Foundation recommends that when purchasing processed foods you look for, "less is best of the 3Ss" – that is choosing products which contain the least amount of saturated fat, sugar and sodium per 100g.
Health Stars can be a useful guide to indicate which foods are healthier choices within a food category. Generally speaking the higher the Stars, the healthier the food. However, it does still pay to check the NIP and choose products which contain the least sugar, saturated fat and sodium per 100g – the levels of some nutrients might be higher than you'd expect, despite the Star rating.
Finally, it's important to remember, that no one food is going to make your diet healthy or unhealthy.
We need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, the diet as a whole. For heart health, the Heart Foundation recommends we eat a "dietary pattern based largely on minimally-processed foods with plenty of vegetables and fruit; including some intact whole grains in place of refined grains: legumes, nuts, seeds and other sources of healthy fats such as oily fish." If we get this right most of the time, the rest tends to take care of itself.
5 tips for eating well on a budget
1. Shop in season – fresh produce is often much cheaper when you buy it in season.
2. Less-processed foods still count - these can be an affordable and nutritious option when foods are out of season or out of budget.
3. Buy local – imported foods often tend to cost more than local, plus you'll be saving on food miles.
4. Reduce food waste – get creative and try to use as much of your food as possible.
5. Prepare meals at home – while this will require a little bit of kitchen-know-how, it will save you money in the long run.
3 ways with broccoli stalks
Next time a recipe calls for adding broccoli, go one step further than adding just the florets and use the stalk as well. Not only will you be reducing food waste but you'll also be adding more of this nutritious vegetable to your meals.
1. Add the grated or chopped stalk to your favourite stir-fry, pasta or fritter recipe.
2. Much like a cauliflower, broccoli can also be used to make 'rice', by blitzing in a food-processor.
3. Soup and stock – use the chopped stalks for added flavour and nutrition.