Sunday, 29 December 2013

Portion Caution

With the silly season nearing an end we will soon be bombarded with endless advertisements for 'detox diets' and other 'quick fixes'. These DO NOT WORK! Sure you'll use a bit of weight to begin with (because you're essentially starving yourself) but you won't be able to maintain it and that's where the problem lies: the weight re-gain which then makes you even more upset and there more weight to lose than when you started (but that's a story for another blog). 

Save yourself the hassle and make small, easily achievable goals that you can stick to! Because we all know success drives more success (to read more on weight loss goals click here). One of the first places I would suggest a client look at when wanting to lose weight is portion sizes.

As a nation, we are getting fatter. In 2011-12, nearly 2 in 3 Australian adults and 1 in 4 Australian children were overweight or obese (based on the Australian Health Survey; see ABS 2012). And these statistics are expected to rise. 

Portion distortion

An interesting fact is the corresponding increase in both plate and total portion size. Plate sizes have increased by 40% since the 1960's. And this is a problem why? A study by Wansink and Coert of Cornell University in 2006 explained that plate size is an optical illusion, with the larger the plate the smaller the serving of food appears to be. Participants at a health and fitness camp served themselves and consumed 16% more cereal than fellow participants given smaller bowls. The scary part was, despite eating more, these participants estimated consuming 7% less than those who ate from the smaller bowls.

Plate sizes have increased along with obesity rates,
serving to increase our overall portions.

Super sizing and cheap meal deal upgrades have caused us
lose sight of what a healthy portion size is.

But it's not just at home that we have to be cautious of our portions, fast food outlets, restaurants and products on our supermarket shelves are also larger than they were 50 years ago. In an age of super sizing and cheap meal deal upgrades, it's easy to see how people have lost sight of what a healthy portion size is and gained weight in the process.

So, what is a healthy portion size anyway?

To overcome the effects of portion distortion, take note of what a serving size is meant to look like for each of the five food groups (and how many serves you're supposed to be having). I've listed the serve sizes based on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, but for more information on how serve sizes and how many YOU should be having, check out eat for health.

A serve of fruit is equal to...

A serve of grain (cereal) foods is equal to...

A serve of meat or alternatives is equal to...

A serve of dairy or alternatives is equal to...

A serve of veg is equal to...

A a guide, use your hands. You should be having roughly a palm-sized piece of meat, a fist-sized serve of rice or pasta and just a thumb-sized amount of oil or margarine.

Quick tips to reduce your portions
  • Use smaller plates, bowls, cups and cutlery. If you don't want to have to go out and buy a whole new crockery and cutlery set, try using a side plate instead of a main plate, a tea cup instead of a mug and a teaspoon instead of a large spoon.
  • Whenever you serve yourself up your usual sized meal or snack, remove a quarter of the meat, carb and sauce parts (not the veggies, we're generally not eating enough of those!) and reserve as leftovers.
  • Use the above pictures as a reference for the amount of each food you should be eating!
  • Pre-portion your snacks rather than just eating straight out of the box or packet.
  • Avoid the temptation of upsizing if you have to eat at a fast food restaurant- those extra couple of dollars will bring you more kilojoules (calories) than you bargained for.
  • Choose the smallest size cup or container on offer when buying out.

For more ideas, check out the reducing portion size section of my previous blog 'small changes that can add up to a big difference to your weight'.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Rum Balls

'Tis the season... so here it is, my Christmas rum ball recipe! While you couldn't class these rum balls as 'healthy', they're certainly better than their traditional counter-parts (and a good deal tastier I think!). If you're like me and don't like rum, this recipe works just as well without it- then they just become hazelnut truffles, mmm...

Rum Balls

2 and 3/4 C LSA
1/4 C cocoa powder
1 x 400g tin skim sweetened condensed milk
1/2 C chopped roasted hazelnuts
4 Tbsp dark rum (or amount to your liking)
To coat:
Cocoa powder
Chopped hazelnuts
Desiccated coconut
Chia seeds

  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well. 
  2. Refrigerate for at least 30mins so the mixture firms up and is easier to roll into balls.
  3. Pour all coating ingredients into separate bowls and keep another bowl of water handy (for when your hands get too sticky!).
  4. Roll heaped teaspoons of mixture into balls then coat in cocoa powder. Roll the second spoonful in chopped hazelnuts, the third in coconut, the fourth in chia seeds and so on.
  5. Keep refrigerated.
Makes  a lot (~60) balls. You can halve the recipe if that's too much. But they're great as a Christmas gift!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Smart cooking swaps

I love cooking and playing around with recipes to make them healthier and so I thought I'd share a list of some of the swaps I've come across that you can use when cooking to adapt your recipes and change them for the better!

In savoury dishes for: mashed avocado, olive oil
In sweet dishes for: macadamia oil


In savoury dishes for: Carnation Light and Creamy evaporated milk 
thickened with a little cornflour, Greek no fat plain yoghurt
In sweet dishes for: no fat plain yoghurt, reduced fat milk thickened with 
a little cornflour



In sweet dishes for: half the amount of honey, natural sweetener
(e.g. stevia)
In sweet dishes in place of both fat and sugar: apple puree
(homemade or bought), mashed banana



White flour

In any dish for: wholemeal flour, high fibre white flour, LSA, almond meal
crumbled Weet-Bix, crumbled All-Bran, quinoa flour
Or add: chia seeds, bran

Puff, choex or shortcrust pastry

In any dish for: filo pastry, brushed with reduced fat milk between
layers and a little spray of olive oil on the outermost layer to make it golden ad crispy

Grated cheese

In any dish for: a smaller amount of grated parmesan cheese (it's
stronger so you don't need as much), reduced fat cheese

Coconut cream/milk

In any dish for: Carnation Light and Creamy coconut flavoured
evaporated milk, or reduced fat milk with a few drops of coconut essence

Sour cream

In any dish for: no fat Greek yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Makeover: Thai Cashew Nut Beef Stir-fry at home

In keeping with the theme from my last blog, that you CAN create cheap, easy and healthy meals at home (read more here), I wanted to makeover a common Thai restaurant dish: cashew nut beef stir-fry. While definitely better for you than much of the fried fast food on offer, Thai dishes still aren't as healthy as you think they are. Often laden with oil and plenty of salt from Asian sauces such as soy sauce, and served in huge portions with plenty of white rice, you could make it better at home! (And save yourself some cash in the process).

To make this a healthier version of one of my favourite Thai dishes, I used lean beef, heaps of veg, long grain (low G.I.) brown rice, a small amount of salt reduced soy sauce and plenty of other flavours such as chilli, ginger and garlic. Using spray oil in a non-stick fry-pan will reduce the amount of oil used. I used jars of minced garlic, ginger and chilli to save costs and it will last you in the fridge for months. But, if you're able, the fresh versions always tend to have a better kick of flavour.

Thai Cashew Nut Beef Stir-fry

400g lean beef fillet, cut into thin strips
Tip: Using 2 dinner plates to measure out your
vegetables when slicing and dicing will ensure
you get your 1/2 plate worth of veg
per person!
1/2 red onion, cut into thin wedges
2 tsp minced garlic 
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp minced chilli
2 Tbsp chilli jam
4 Tbsp reduced-salt soy sauce
1/4 C dry sherry (or Chinese rice wine)
1/4 C unsalted raw cashew nuts 
1 C long grain (low G.I.) brown rice
2 dinner plates full of vegetables such as:
bok choy

     1.    Start cooking rice (note brown rice take longer to cook than white rice, around 1/2 an hour). 
     2.  Stir-fry beef in a large frypan over high heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and cover with    
          foil to keep warm. 
     3.  Saute onion, garlic, ginger and chilli until onion is softened. Add vegetables and cook until just 
          tender. Return beef to pan, along with chilli jam, soy sauce and dry sherry. Add cashew nuts. 
     4.  Serve stir-fry topped on rice. 

 Serves 4.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The real cost of junk food

While some consider it cheap, easy and delicious, I think junk food is just that- junk! I'm talking fast food in all it's fatty glory- burgers, chips, pizzas, pastries, fried takeaway and soft drink. These foods are empty kilojoules with plenty of saturated fat, salt and sugar, but lacking in key vitamins and minerals and most definitely not a balanced meal... And they're making us fat!

While most people can recognise that these foods are doing them damage, or at least aren't the healthiest choice, many are blinded by the misconception that unhealthy (or junk) food is cheaper and more convenient than creating healthy meals.

But I'm going to tell you that just ain't true! 
I worked as one of the lead researchers on a healthy food basket project in regional NSW earlier this year to develop a nutritionally complete 7-day menu, complete with recipes and a shopping list that when priced at a local large-chain supermarket could feed a family of four for $8 per person per day. 
I'm talking 3 meals, 3 snacks and common healthy versions of foods that we all eat and enjoy. That's right- I'll let that sink in for a minute.

While my theory- that healthy food can be just as cheap, if not cheaper than unhealthy food- is yet to be scientifically proven (the next project, to cost an 'unhealthy' food basket, is already in the pipeline), I thought I'd do some preliminary research just to show you what I mean.

Below is a comparison of two diets- on the left one day from the project's healthy homemade menu for the 'mother'- a hypothetical 35 year old female, and on the right a fictional (possibly over exaggerated for some of you, but people really do eat like this) unhealthy diet. I compared these diets qualitatively (i.e. how many serves of fruit, veg and dairy) and quantitatively (i.e. how many macro- and micro-nutrients they contained) but also, and most importantly, in terms of cost! But why should I blabber on when you can see it for yourself...

Design by Thomas Guest

So, while you're considering that, why don't you also consider my top tips for eating healthily on a budget and without hours spent in the kitchen:

  • Allocate your food budget according to the healthy food plate: spend most on wholegrain breads and cereals, fruit, veg, lean meat and low fat dairy, and least on oil, margarine and 'treat' foods (like those in the unhealthy diet above!).
  • Buy non-perishable staples such as rice, pasta, flour, tinned legumes and tomatoes in bulk and when on special- and remember that when it comes to these items, the home brand is often just as good if not better!
  • Use the price of products per 100g to compare, especially when buying in bulk (see here for more advice on label reading).
  • Stock your freezer with lean meats (already sliced and in meal-sized portions), wholegrain bread (it lasts so much longer!), frozen berries and other over-ripe fruit (like bananas) and veg (try pre-slicing in portions too).
  • Plan your meals for the week, write a shopping list and stick to it!
  • Buy fruit and veg in season as they are usually cheaper- frozen and (in natural juice or reduced salt) tinned fruit or veg is just as good as the fresh stuff if you're short on cash.
  • Pack your lunch for work or school the night before- leftovers make great lunches (just like in our 'healthy' diet above)!
  • Try buying items with the least packaging as these will be cheaper e.g. block cheese over sliced or grated, large tub of yoghurt over individual tubs, large bags of nuts and dried fruit over portion packs (just make sure you still stick to the serving size on the packet!)
  • Add lentils, chickpeas or kidney beans to dishes like soups or casseroles to make the meat go further and reduce the amount of saturated fat and add more fibre!