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The Total Diet Approach To Healthy Eating

It’s not about nutrients or single foods – healthy eating is about the overall pattern of food you eat. 

vegetablesToo much fat, not enough calcium, avoid foods containing carbohydrates; the list of nutrients and foods to avoid changes with the season. Whether you wish to lose weight or improve your health, there is always a superfood or wonder nutrient you should be including in your daily diet. But according to the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in its newly updated position paper the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating, “classifying specific foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is overly simplistic and may foster unhealthy eating behaviours”. I couldn’t agree more.

The Academy’s position paper has been updated to reflect the most current nutrition guidelines, as well as the White House’s Lets Move! campaign to reduce childhood obesity and Healthy People 2020. All of these public policies and dietary patterns support a total diet approach, whereby all food can fit within a healthy diet as long as it is consumed in moderation, in an appropriate portion size, and is combined with physical activity. Balancing food and drinks within energy needs, rather than any one food or meal, is a realistic approach to healthy eating.

Think about it, when it comes to making changes to our eating patterns, many of us don’t want to give up foods we love. Giving them us is unrealistic, particularly if these foods have a cultural significance. Therefore the concept of moderation and proportionality are necessary and practical. Despite this, we need to be careful with the interpretation of total diet approach, otherwise people may start to indulge in unlimited amounts of foods with low nutrient density (kilojoule-rich, nutrient poor foods….think chocolate cake, lollies, potato crisps and soft drinks, just to name a few). Foods high in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, salt and alcohol still need to be limited, so that overall food and beverage consumption meets our daily nutrient needs without exceeding energy levels. But the question is then, how much are we allowed to eat?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer for this, as energy needs vary from person to person. As a first step, we need to ensure we’re including a range of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, dairy products, and meat and meat products into our diet in appropriate amounts. If we then have some room spare in our daily energy requirements, we can then include the occasional low nutrient dense treat such as an ice cream or a piece of chocolate cake. Not every day but once every week or so. In other words, include as much variety as you can from whole, minimally processed foods and then if you’re active enough you might have some room for higher kilojoule foods that aren’t essential for good health but add further enjoyment to food. Do this and you’ll have healthy eating down to a tee.

Would removing the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels with food help you develop healthier eating habits?



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