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How To Have a healthy Diet

1. Eat plenty of fruit and vegies
Why?
Studies of large populations throughout the world consistently show that people who have diets high in fruit and vegies (including legumes — beans, peas and lentils) have substantially lower risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, several major cancers, possibly high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent diabetes).
How much?
At least two serves of fruit and five of vegies each day (for adults). A serve of fruit is about one medium-sized piece, or two small pieces, for vegies, it’s about half a cup, cooked.

How to do it
Variety is the key — benefits come from a combination of substances working together, so eat as many different-coloured fruit and vegies as you can to get maximum benefit.

2. Eat plenty of cereals, preferably wholegrain
Why?
Cereal fibre and whole grains (which include a range of vitamins and other beneficial chemicals from the outer layer) have been shown to give you a decreased risk of coronary heart disease and some cancers, particularly bowel cancer. Data from several countries suggests that eating more bread and cereals helps you eat less fat.
How much?
At least four serves a day for women and five for men. A serve is two slices of bread or a cup of cooked rice or pasta, for example.

How to do it
Cakes, biscuits and pastries don’t count here — they contain a lot of fat and should be occasional foods only. Easy ways to meet the daily target include eating bread with each meal (preferably wholegrain), regularly using rice, couscous, pasta or noodles to accompany hot dishes, and having cereal for breakfast. Try our Fibre quiz as well.

3. Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives such as legumes and nuts
Why?
Meat, fish and chicken are an important source of iron, which is absorbed much better by the body than non-haem iron from grains and vegetables. Iron deficiency can lead to tiredness and may progress to anaemia and other serious conditions. Meat is also an important source of zinc (important in making protein in the body), vitamin B12 (necessary for the nervous system as well as for making DNA) and of course protein. Legumes and nuts are a good source of protein and other nutrients for vegetarians.
How much?
Eat a moderate serve of lean red meat three or four times a week; if you don’t you need to make sure you eat other foods high in iron (see below; this applies especially to girls, women and athletes). Two to three meals of fish a week are recommended to obtain omega-3 fatty acids.

How to do it
Liver, oysters and mussels are the best sources of iron, followed by beef and lamb, pork and chicken. Soy beans, green vegies, eggs and almonds are also quite high in iron but it’s not absorbed as well. Vegetarians should choose from a variety of legumes (beans and pulses), green vegetables, nuts and seeds to get their iron. Wholegrain and wholemeal cereals are also good sources of iron and zinc. Vitamin B12 is found in animal foods and added to some soy products and cereals. Check out the Iron calculator to see how your diet compares.

4. Limit saturated (and trans) fat
Why?
High levels of saturated and trans fat in the diet are risk factors for heart disease (see Fat and heart disease for more on this).
How much?
Saturated and trans fat together shouldn’t make up more than 10% of the kilojoules you eat.

How to do it
Saturated fat’s the main type in milk, cream, butter, cheese, fatty meats, palm and coconut oil, and in hydrogenated vegetable oil used in many processed foods. Eat reduced- and low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. Use polyunsaturated or monounsaturated spreads instead of butter. Eat lean cuts of meat, discard skin from chicken, cut back on fatty mince, sausages, processed and luncheon meats. Limit creamy sauces and gravies. Many fast foods like fried chicken, burgers and chips are high in saturated fat. Cut back on biscuits, pastries and cakes (commercial ones are usually high in saturated fat and some also contain trans fats produced during processing of vegetable oils). Also have a look at our Fat quiz.

5. Include reduced-fat dairy foods and/or alternatives in your diet
Why?
Dairy foods are a major source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They are also the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet. Not getting enough calcium is one factor associated with osteoporosis.
How much?
Three serves of dairy foods or alternatives a day are recommended for women and two to four serves for men. A serve is a cup of milk, 40 g of cheese, 200 g (a tub) of yoghurt.

How to do it
Full-fat dairy products are high in saturated fat so it’s best to choose reduced- and low-fat versions. Calcium-enriched milks are also available. Cottage and ricotta cheese have very little calcium and can’t be counted as a serve. Dairy alternatives include calcium-fortified soy beverages, calcium-fortified tofu, a cup of almonds, five sardines or half a cup of canned pink salmon (with bones). Our Calcium quiz may also help.

6. Drink plenty of water
Why?
Water is essential for life. It’s needed for digestion, absorption, transportation and as a solvent for nutrients, for elimination of waste products and temperature regulation. Long-term mild dehydration and poor fluid intake can result in increased risk of kidney stones and urinary tract cancers.
How much?
It’s recommended that average-sized adults drink six to eight glasses (1.5 to 2 L) of fluid a day. If you’re very active or work in hot conditions, you’ll need more.

How to do it
Water is best — it doesn’t have any kilojoules. Tea contains antioxidants, which may help protect you against cancer and heart disease. Coffee contains about twice as much caffeine as regular tea. Too much caffeine makes you urinate more and so you lose fluid. Fruit and vegetable juices can be a useful source of vitamin C, potassium and folate. Limit cordials and soft drinks with added sugar — you’ll add lots of kilojoules without any important nutrients. Alcohol is a strong diuretic and high in kilojoules. Check you're getting enough water.

7. Choose foods low in salt
Why?
Cutting back on salt (sodium chloride) may stop your blood pressure getting higher as you get older, and high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. And for most people cutting back on salt can help reduce already high blood pressure. The evidence is growing that salt’s a factor in osteoporosis, kidney stones, asthma and heart enlargement.
How much?
An upper daily limit of 2300 mg of sodium is recommended — that’s just over a teaspoon of salt. This includes salt you add at the table and in cooking (estimated at about 15% of total salt intake) as well as salt present in processed foods (estimated at about 75% of total salt intake).

How to do it
Choose low- and reduced-salt versions of food like bread (a significant source of salt in our diets), breakfast cereals, crackers, baked beans and other canned foods, soups, spreads and sauces; watch how much take-away food you eat (like burgers, chips, meat pies, pizzas); soy, oyster and fish sauce are high in salt (try using reduced-salt versions at home). Watch out for stock cubes and for MSG and hydrolysed vegetable protein in ingredient lists — they’re a source of sodium.

8. Limit alcohol
Why?
Drinking a lot of alcohol is is associated with a huge range of conditions, the most important being high blood pressure and stroke, various cancers (including liver and breast), alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. On the flipside, moderate intake of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease in people over 45 and possibly the polyphenols in red wine (which are antioxidants) may prevent blood cells sticking together and also reduce fatty deposits in your arteries.
How much?
It’s recommended that adults, if they drink at all, limit their alcohol to no more than two standard drinks a day for men and one for women. This is also the level at which heart protection is seen in population studies.

How to do it
A can of regular beer (4.9% alcohol) is one and a half standard drinks; of medium light beer (3.5%) one standard drink; and of light beer (2.7%) half a standard drink. One nip of spirits or 100 mL of wine (about half the amount usually poured) is a standard drink, and a can of premixed spirits (about 5% alcohol) is one and a half standard drinks.

9. Don’t eat too much sugary food
Why?
Sugar provides kilojoules, but no needed nutrients and high sugar users may eat fewer nutritious foods. It’s also linked to dental decay and there are some concerns it may be associated with syndrome X (for more on sugar and your health see Controversy: nothing wrong with sugar).
How much?
Total sugar, which includes naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk as well as sugar added as sucrose (table sugar), glucose, fructose, malt or honey shouldn’t make up more than 20% of the kilojoules you eat.

How to do it
Limit your consumption of foods that contain sugar without essential nutrients, for example confectionery, soft drinks, cakes, biscuits and pastries. While it’s OK to add a teaspoon of sugar or honey to a breakfast cereal for taste, don’t go overboard — maybe add fruit instead.

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