8 grain swaps that help support optimal health

  1. Swap brown rice for barley
  2. Swap pasta for wholemeal pasta
  3. Swap basmati rice for quinoa 
  4. Swap wholemeal bread for mixed grain bread
  5. Swap sourdough bread for rye bread
  6. Swap instant porridge for rolled oats
  7. Swap wholegrain cereal for muesli
  8. Swap wheat biscuits for bran cereal.

Yes, the first options are excellent choices when compared to refined cereals like most white breads, white rices, low-fibre cereals, rice crackers and noodles.

But you can still go one better if you choose.

Research suggests that slowly digested, fibrous grains are the healthiest of them all.

Eating foods that tick each of these 2 criteria will likely help to:

  • feed your gut bacteria and make you feel fuller, within hours,
  • improve markers of your heart and metabolic health, within weeks, and
  • substantially lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain, over the coming months and years.

When deciding which grain to eat, it is important to remember that both slowly digested grains and higher fibre grains provide health benefits that are unique and equally important.

An optimal diet, therefore, is one that consistently contains both.

4 natural ways to lower your cholesterol

High cholesterol increases your chances of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in Australia.

Whilst new research finds 1 in every 3 Australian adults has high cholesterol, it can be reduced significantly with simple dietary changes:

1. Eating more viscous fibre, by:

  • Taking a psyllium supplement (with water) daily,
  • Switching to oats at breakfast,
  • Learning to use barley instead of rice, and
  • Ensuring you eat plenty of legumes, fruits or vegetables by incorporating more of them into every meal. Okra and eggplant are particularly rich sources.

2. Increasing your intake of soy protein, by:

  • Having soy milk or soy yoghurt instead of cows milk or cows yoghurt,
  • Switching from regular bread to soy & linseed bread,
  • Incorporating 1/2 cup soy beans into main meals a few times each week, and
  • Using tofu instead of meat a few times each week.

3. Incorporating plant-sterols into your diet, by:

  • Switching from butter to a plant-sterol enriched margarine, and
  • Enjoying plant-based oils and green leafy vegetables daily, such as spinach, kale and cabbage.

4. Eating nuts daily, by:

  • Replacing one of your current snacks with a handful of unsalted nuts (particularly almonds), and
  • Adding nuts to your main meals, such as salads and stir-fries.

The interesting thing is that standard dietary advice, such as reducing saturated fats or cholesterol from the diet, has little impact on heart disease risk alone.

Yet these 4 dietary changes reduce cholesterol by up to 30% within weeks, and lower heart disease risk significantly. This is an effect comparable to taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

And if you have high cholesterol and all of these changes are overwhelming you, don’t despair.

Start instead by asking the question: which of these changes can I do?

How to create a healthy habit

Step 1: Decide on a health goal that you would like to achieve.

Step 2: Choose 1 small and simple behaviour that will get you towards your goal. Make sure it is something that you are confident you can do on a daily basis.

Step 3: Plan when and where you will do this action. Be specific and choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day of the week.

Step 4: Each day you encounter that time and place, do the action. If it helps, keep a daily record you can mark off whilst you are forming the new habit.

Step 5: Continue until you are doing this new behaviour without even having to think about it. Research suggests that for most us of, it will be no more than 10 weeks.

The important thing to note is that getting healthier doesn’t require huge amounts of time, attention or motivation.

But it does require a desire to change, and a plan to actually make it happen.

The high-fat, high-calorie foods that you should be eating

The idea that we should limit the intake of all high-fat, high-calorie foods is now outdated and actually unhealthy.

Research conclusively tells us that most plant-based fats and oils should be promoted and encouraged, because adding them into our diet results in significantly better heart and metabolic health.

What’s more, this impressive health benefit is one that few other dietary changes can achieve.

From the literature, I think we can confidently conclude that even eating more fruits and vegetables or more whole grains, whilst still important, is unlikely to give us the same heart health benefits that eating more plant-based fats and oils does.

What are plant-based fats and oils?

Not all plant-based fats and oils are equal, but some examples I encourage are:

  • 30 grams (1 handful) of nuts or seeds,
  • 50mL of most vegetable oils (particularly extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil),
  • 50 grams (or 1/4) avocado,
  • 20 grams of nut spread,
  • If using salad dressings, to opt for full-fat salad dressings instead of low-fat salad dressings, and
  • If not using avocado or nut spreads, to opt for margarine instead of animal-fat or lower-fat alternatives, such as butter, honey or jam.

Will eating these foods make you put on weight?

Research now clearly tells us that the fat and calorie content of a food does not, surprisingly, predict its effect on our weight.

For example:

  • some high-fat, higher-calorie foods, such as nuts and cheese, are associated with less or no weight gain.
  • some low-fat, lower-calorie foods, such as soft drinks and refined grains (like white bread and white rice), are associated with significant weight gain.

Whilst there are a lot of factors at play here, fat is well-known to slow down digestion, and thus changes our hormonal response after eating.

This is thought to contribute to a foods impact on our weight in the long-term, and might be partly why skim-milk or low-fat milk does not appear to be any better for our weight than full-cream milk.

The bottom line

The healthiest way to manage your weight, I believe, is to mostly enjoy a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods, including the plant-based fats and oils listed above.

If your daily consumption of calories is something that needs to be addressed, the first step is eating less highly processed or “treat” foods, such as cakes, biscuits, soft drink, refined grains and confectionary.

The total calories that you consume every day is still important.

But the total calories (or total fat) found in a single food, is not.

Why you shouldn’t eat like Elle Macpherson

One of the main reasons I see for all the confusion in nutrition today?

People seeing association as causation.

Association is 2 things that occur at the same time. This doesn’t mean that one causes another.

Causation is a description of cause and effect. One only happens directly because of the other.

Yes, it’s sunny when you’re at the beach, and raining when your umbrella is up. But going to the beach or reaching for your umbrella won’t change the weather, of course.

If we understand this, why believe that eating how Elle Macpherson eats is the right thing to do?

5 common myths about breakfast

Myth 1. Eating breakfast boosts our metabolism.

The best scientific evidence we have shows our resting metabolic rate is not increased by eating breakfast. Indeed, research shows that even not eating anything prior to midday for 6 weeks straight does not impair our resting metabolism.

Myth 2. Eating breakfast means we eat less calories in total throughout the day.

This is not only unproven, we actually know the exact opposite is true: we eat more. This makes good sense, because when we skip breakfast, we are skipping the intake of a significant amount of calories.

Myth 3. Purposely skipping breakfast is a good strategy for weight loss.

The largest and longest study to compare the effectiveness of skipping vs. eating breakfast on weight found that skipping breakfast:

  • does not result in any significant weight loss, and
  • does not have any significant effect on our weight compared to eating breakfast.

Just because eating breakfast does not increase our metabolism, and can mean we eat more calories in total, does not mean that we should purposely skip it.

Myth 4. When we eat is more important than what we eat.

What and how much we eat is, in my view, what matters most:

  • Whilst breakfast eaters have higher nutrient intakes than breakfast skippers, high nutrient intake is (of course) dependant on eating more nutrient-rich foods.
  • Whilst breakfast eaters have better long-term health than breakfast skippers, good health is (of course) dependant on eating healthier foods.

Myth 5. There is a ‘correct’ time to eat for everybody.

Research shows that one of the most consistent predictors of body weight (outside of genetics!) is the driver of what makes us eat:

  • When we eat in reaction to our external environment and emotions, we are more likely to overeat.
  • When we eat in response to our internal hunger signals, we are less likely to overeat.

Being more conscious about eating according to hunger is one of the most effective strategies we have to prevent overeating.

For me, the biggest problem with advice about eating or skipping breakfast is that it gives the impression we must be eating at a certain time.

In general, we actually don’t.

For most of us, eating is best done by listening to the hunger signals of our body, and not by worrying about what the time is on our clock.

A simple tip for achieving your health goals

When we say we’re going to make a health change, we typically only concentrate on the ‘what’. Exercise more, meditate more or eat more fruit and vegetables, are some of the many examples.

Of course, achieving the ‘what’ will soon become a constant struggle, a battle between our conscious and unconscious mind.

A better solution is to not only call out the what, but the where, the when and the how:

“I will exercise, at the gym, on Monday after work, on my drive home.”

“I will meditate, in my bedroom, at 6:40am on Tuesday and Thursday, by setting my alarm.”

“I will eat an apple, in the park, during my Friday afternoon walk, by placing a reminder in my calendar.”

We clearly state the where, when and how for our work, time with friends, extra-curriculum activities, and favourite TV shows.

Interesting that we so often forget to apply the same simple concept for our health goals, too.

27 different ways to get a body that you love

  1. Eat less carbs
  2. Eat less fat
  3. Eat more carbs
  4. Eat more fat
  5. But just coconut fat
  6. Do quit sugar
  7. Actually, don’t quit sugar
  8. Just drink lemon juice
  9. And only eat cabbage soup
  10. Eat plenty of chocolate (of course)
  11. But only eat alkaline foods
  12. Eat meat, but never grains and legumes
  13. Eat grains and legumes, but never meat
  14. Exercise more
  15. Or don’t exercise at all
  16. Skip breakfast
  17. But never skip any meals
  18. Just go gluten-free
  19. And dairy-free, and nut-free
  20. Hey, what about some days going almost food-free
  21. Definitely don’t cook
  22. But do eat and cook like the Japanese
  23. Or maybe more like the French
  24. Count every calorie
  25. But because that’s too hard, count ProPoints instead
  26. Maybe it’s best to believe in miracles, or…
  27. Learn to love and accept your amazing body for exactly how it is.

Yes, the dieting industry is painfully inconsistent, unscientific, and, more often than not, damaging to our health and well-being.

The good news is you don’t actually have to follow along.

Should you quit sugar?

As always, it’s your choice.

But whilst limiting our intake of high-sugar, nutrient-poor foods (like confectionary, soft drinks, biscuits and cakes) is obviously important for good health, there are 2 things to be aware of if you choose to quit sugar all together.

First, sugar doesn’t automatically make a food unhealthy. No one became overweight from a banana or an apple, and a small amount of added sugar to a nutritious food doesn’t suddenly make it bad. A teaspoon of sugar can help make the medicine go down.

Second, being low in sugar doesn’t automatically make a food healthy. After all, potato chips are low in sugar, and a sugar-free brownie is still a brownie.

Indeed, foods are an array of different fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and more. Their health effect is based on the combined role of each of these, not just the presence or absence of one.

Using a single nutrient can therefore play a role when comparing two otherwise similar foods, but never in judging the healthiness of a whole food or diet alone. 

This concept holds true for not just sugar, but for calories, carbohydrates, fat, fructose, glycemic index, protein, saturated fat and more.

Understand this, and you’ll understand why a lot of fad diets are indeed just fads.

The 3 dangerous myths we believe about our body weight

Far too many people today face stigma and discrimination for being overweight.

What’s more, this discrimination is often rationalised as OK.

But please don’t be fooled: there is nothing that is OK about this.

The presence and tolerance of this discrimination is largely a result of these 3 dangerous myths we believe about our body weight:

1. Overweight and obesity are the direct result of overeating and inactivity. It’s your fault if you’re fat.
2. Being overweight is always unhealthy. For you to be healthy, you need to lose weight.
3. Sustainable weight loss is easy. If you just had the willpower to continue eating better and moving more, the weight will stay off.

Each of these 3 beliefs are very, very wrong.

First, scientific research shows body weight is a highly heritable trait. Our genes directly affect how our appetite and metabolism respond when we overeat, and in this way determine how sensitive we are to gaining weight. Indeed, the heritability of our body weight has been estimated by some to be as high as the heritability of our body height.

Second, weight loss is not a prerequisite for good health. Research shows good health is possible at a wide range of body weights, and that better health can easily be obtained without losing a significant amount of weight. Not only is it more important to live healthily and happily than it is to lose weight, but we are now seeing a growing understanding that dieting and the pursuit of weight loss often causes more problems than it solves.

Third, once we are overweight, our bodies fight hard to keep it. Decades of research shows that almost all persons who lose weight regain it within the next 5 years. Our bodies have a biological set-point that means our weight typically remains stable over the long-term, no matter how much willpower we may have.

We should all be made aware of the myths that we believe about our body weight.

Not just because we are currently buying into a worldview that is wrong. But because we are also currently buying into a worldview that helps to foster a discrimination that’s hurtful and dangerous.

When we are told and believe that how we are is wrong, not enough and less than, we feel lost, hopeless and worthless.

Slowly but surely, it breaks us down and damages the very core of who we are.

It is essential to understand too that harmful words are not helpful. Shaming and belittling others does not create greater motivation or encourage one into eating better or moving more. Indeed, research suggests shame may erase the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.

So, how can we help to reverse this stigma and discrimination?

Together, we can speak up. When we hear someone making comments about someone’s weight, we can tell them that it’s not OK and that it hurts. It doesn’t matter if the person they are talking about is us or someone else. It doesn’t matter if they are in the room or not. And it doesn’t matter if they are talking about someone specific, or just people in general. We can tell them that saying hurtful things is never OK by us.

Together, we can say sorry. If we have ever said something hurtful to someone based on their weight, it’s not too late for us to apologise. We all make mistakes and say things we regret, and it will likely do them the world of good to know that we are sorry and that we care.

And together, we can love ourselves. Research tells us that we judge people in the areas where we are vulnerable to shame, especially those who are doing worse than we’re doing. When we feel good about our body, we lose the need to make others feel bad about theirs. Loving ourselves also gives us the leverage to tell someone we know who has been affected what we really think about them: that they are beautiful, both inside and out.

Doing these things are important and they truly make a difference.

We are all deserving of being loved, and accepted, for exactly the way that we are.

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