Author Archives: Michela DiTocco

Nutrition for Older Adults

It is important all throughout your life to ensure you are getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals through a healthy diet, whether you are young or old. As you get older, your body’s dietary requirements change. You may need more of some minerals and to consume fewer calories, as well as exercise, to limit any possible weight gain and muscle loss.

There are many things to consider when looking at your diet as you get older, including: reducing your salt intake, drinking more water, increasing your fibre intake, and increasing vitamin D and C, and minerals calcium, zinc and iron.

Salt is found in many everyday foods like meats, eggs, milk and some vegetables, and if you are consuming a range of these foods, you should be consuming enough through your diet without the need to include extra salt as seasoning. Too much salt in your diet, over time, will increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease; it is important, therefore, to monitor your intake of salt.

Hydration levels are also important and as you get older you may not feel thirsty. However, your need for water remains the same, and it is important for you to continue to drink eight glasses of water per day.

Fibre is not consumed enough in our daily diets, leading to poor intestinal health and constipation. Including high fibre foods like wholegrain cereals and breads, fruits and beans/legumes, will make a massive difference to your diet. You must remember to keep up your fluid intake when increasing fibre in your diet.

Calcium is the most important mineral you need to increase as you get older. This is to prevent the onset of osteoporosis, a disease of the bones. Foods high in calcium are: milk, yoghurt, cheese, dark green leafy vegetables, and some fishes. Vitamin D also plays an important role in helping the body to absorb calcium into the bones and the best way to obtain vitamin D is by getting out in the sunshine.

Some other minerals become more important to your body as you age. Iron, for example, helps to keep your blood healthy. Low iron levels (anaemia), can arise due to poor absorption via the intestines, or some medication, and you may require vitamin C to assist in the absorption. Zinc is another important mineral, which maintains your sense of taste and helps your body to heal wounds. Rich sources of zinc include meats, shellfish, wholemeal breads and pulses.

The best way to ensure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is to consume a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, numerous types of proteins and dairy, and cereals and breads, and to limit the amount of processed sweets and savoury foods. Having regular checkups with your doctor and staying physically active will also ensure you are looking after your body as you get older.

Fibre, why we need it in our daily diets

Fibre is talked about a lot; how we are not getting enough in our daily diets, how it has many benefits (not just to maintain a healthy digestive system), and how we need to eat more fibre-packed foods.

Fibre is a complex carbohydrate, but is indigestible by humans and is found in plant foods, like cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables. There are 2 types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre has many benefits. It is able to absorb water and produces a gel-like substance in your intestines as it passes through, slowing down the digestion process and the absorption of carbohydrates, especially glucose, maintaining blood sugar levels, and reducing hunger cravings. Soluble fibre is also able to bind with cholesterol and prevent it from being absorbed back into the bloodstream, thereby lowering the cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease. Insoluble fibre, as the name suggests, is indigestible, and its main role is to add bulk to your faeces, speed up the digestion process through the intestines, and clean out your digestive system. It is also known as ‘roughage’.

As we can see, including both types of fibre in our diet has many health benefits. These include: lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers (colon or bowel), and assisting in weight loss and weight management. People who don’t consume enough fibre in their daily diet can experience constipation, haemorrhoids, IBS or become overweight or obese, to name a few.

Unlike other carbohydrates, fibre-rich foods are low in calories, bulky and filling, take longer to chew and will leave you feeling fuller for longer. It is believed that including soluble fibre foods in your diet can help to lose weight due to the slowing down of the digestive process, the delay in the absorption of sugars, and by helping you feel more full and satisfied, as previously mentioned.

It is recommended by many organisations that we should aim to consume around 30-35g of fibre daily, and gradually increase the amount to avoid any negative side-effects. Also remember that some fibres absorb water, so make sure you are drinking lots of it. There are many foods readily available to us which are packed full of fibre, including legumes, wholegrain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, brown rice, potatoes (with skin), lentils, beans, nut and seeds, and oats. Sometimes by making a few simple changes to our diet we can double our fibre intake, leading to a healthy body. Here is a link to a website which has a breakdown of fibre in some foods for you to look over and get an idea of the difference a few small changes can make:

http://www.wehealny.org/healthinfo/dietaryfiber/fibercontentchart.html

The main reasons we need fibre in our diet are to help our digestion, to help fight and prevent disease, and to help control our body-weight. By including a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, pulses and oats in our diet, we can ensure we are consuming both types of fibre to maintain a healthy body, inside and out.

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Are Low Calorie Diet Shakes all they’re cracked up to be?

Everywhere you go you find a new weight-loss/meal replacement diet shake that will give you the quick-fix weight-loss. These VCLD (very low calorie diet) shakes have been on the market for a few years now and there are over 10 different brands now, all competing with each other. A few familiar names include Optifast (the original), Celebrity Slim, Tony Fergusson, Ultra Slim, Biggest Loser, Kick Start, Optislim and Fat Blaster, just to name a few.

These meal replacement shakes are a way to help you control your calorie intake without having to worry about what you should be eating and counting calories. Although they are extremely low in calories, comprising of around 800 calories per day, they are nutritionally balanced and contain all the recommended daily amounts of vitamins and minerals. They are usually recommended by your Doctor for people who need to rapidly lose weight and whose BMI is above 30.

There are both pros and cons to following a weight-loss plan such as the VCLD. The short term benefits (or Pros) can include rapid weight-loss, keeping temptation away, and having a quick and convenient way to prepare your meals in the go. The negative aspects to such a program are: minimal carbohydrates (which can affect the body in the long term); not learning how to eat properly; normally weight is put back on after you stop consuming the shakes; not enough fibre through lack of fresh fruits and vegetables; you can be left feeling hungry; the diet can be expensive.

Unless specified by your Doctor, these shakes are usually consumed twice a day (normally for breakfast and lunch), followed by a small protein and low GI vegetable-based meal. It is also recommended that you consume 2-3 snacks throughout the day of around 100 calories each, and a minimum of 8 glasses of water to maintain adequate hydration.

There are some people for whom this sort of weight-loss plan may not be beneficial, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, children or adolescents, type I diabetics, people with kidney, liver or CV disease, and people who are lactose intolerant (due to skim milk powder contained in this product). However, people with type II diabetes may benefit from this under their Doctor’s supervision. There are also possible side-effects some people may experience while taking this product, including headache, dizziness, bad breath, constipation, nausea and diarrhoea. Please be aware of these and cease following this program if they become apparent.

Overall, taking these low calorie diet shakes will help you lose a few quick kilos but such a lifestyle is unsustainable and not teaching you how to eat properly for your body. I believe that it is essential to provide support and education to individuals who want to start taking diet shakes, but they need to learn how to eat healthily for themselves and how to keep their excess weight off, through both diet and exercise.

The CSIRO ‘Total Well Being’ Diet

One of the more recently founded diets since 2006, the CSIRO diet, hit our shelves and has remained a best seller. Many Australians have since bought the book and tried this diet, many with positive results, and a change to their lifestyle for the better. Last year they released a companion book 2, which has a more detailed exercise plan, a new 12 week menu plan, and fresh recipes to try.

The diet is known as “the total well being diet” as it is a way of eating less and eating well without feeling hungry, and provides you with the necessary vitamins and minerals your body needs. This diet was devised using research conducted by the CSIRO. After completing trials on weight loss diets, they came to the conclusion that a high protein, low fat and low carbohydrate diet provided the healthiest and best long term results when followed. The breakdown of the meal plans are 20% fat, 34% protein and 46% carbohydrate. In relation to the other well known high protein diet (the Atkins diet, which is compromised of 20-60g of carbohydrates), the CSIRO diet contains 114g of carbohydrates which is double, however still lower than the Australian standard guidelines. The main difference between the CSIRO diet and the Australian Dietary guidelines are:

CSIRO – fat 20%, protein 34%, carbohydrate 43%, alcohol 3%

Aust. Guidelines – fat 30%, protein 15%, carbohydrate 50%, alcohol 5%

As you can see, the CSIRO diet contains more protein, less fat and fewer carbohydrates, while still maintaining an easy-to-follow program full of vitamins, minerals and fibre.

A typical daily menu plan would consist of breakfast of cereal with low fat milk, 2 snacks of fruit per day, 100g of chicken, fish or red meat for lunch and 200g for the dinner meal, with vegetables accompanying each meal, and a slice of wholemeal bread or an alternative carbohydrate. Alcohol is an option if you want if (only 2 glasses per week, however), and also a low fat yoghurt as an extra dairy alternative.

There are a few concerns regarding this diet however, including the daily cost of consuming around 300g of red meat, and also the high amount of red meat included in this diet and the lack of variety of proteins. Although there is a large portion of red meat incorporated in this diet, studies have shown that it has lowered blood triglyceride levels and overall body fat, especially in women. It is therefore of benefit to people at risk of heart disease, and even diabetes. The CSIRO are also looking at including more fish options in their menu plans, to include more variety, and also to increase the calcium and folate content through fresh vegetables and dairy.

Overall, many medical professionals commend this as a well balanced diet that can benefit many of us. Whether it is to lose some extra kilos, adopt a healthy way of eating or a healthy lifestyle, this diet can be beneficial to all. The CSIRO wants Australians to change our culture of overeating and inactivity for a healthier life.

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The Mediterranean Diet

mediterranean dietThe Mediterranean diet has been around for decades; however, only recently has it received much publicity and rave reviews. It is thought of as much more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle change in your eating habits, improving your metabolism and reducing any hunger cravings. It is based on the dietary patterns of the people of southern Italy, Crete, Greece and Spain from the 1960’s, which feature an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish. It also emphasises the importance of exercising and including this as a regular part of your daily routine.

People who adhere to such a lifestyle can have a 70% longer life expectancy and an 80% better quality of life. Therefore this diet is not specifically for those wanting to lose weight, but can also be used by those wanting a healthier lifestyle. It is believed that this eating style can help to prevent many diseases and conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unstable insulin levels, asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancers. A main point of this diet is that it strongly encourages you to not smoke, and for the most part people follow this rule and it’s better for their health.

Now let’s get into the diet itself: it is considered low in saturated fats (bad fats like red meat), and high in monounsaturated fats (good fats like olive oil), and fibre. It is broken down into proteins comprising 20%, fats 35% and carbohydrates 45% of your daily meals. The overall breakdown of the diet is:

  • A high consumption of olive oil
  • A high intake of fruits/vegetables/ legumes
  • Non-refined carbohydrates (no processed products)
  • Fish 3-4 times a week
  • A moderate amount of milk/ cheese/ yoghurts (low fat variety)
  • 3-4 eggs a week
  • Low consumption of red meat
  • 1-2 glasses of wine, preferably red, a day
  • Nuts as a snack
  • Honey as a sweetener (instead of sugar)
  • 6 glasses of water a day

The are many protein options including fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, yoghurts and very little red meat in this diet. Although the traditional Mediterranean diet provides 40% of your total daily calories from fat, it is via monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, which is a good source of antioxidants and omega 3, and is cholesterol free. It is important to remember that if you are trying to lose weight you will need to watch your intake of olive oil due to its high caloric value.

The final major component of this diet is the inclusion of daily exercise, at least 30 minutes. Not only will this help you achieve any weight loss goals faster, it will improve your cardiovascular fitness and leave you feeling fitter, stronger and healthier. The overall health effects of this diet are credited to the small portions, regular exercise and the emphasis on fresh foods.

The Paleo Diet


The Paleo diet, also referred to as the Palaeolithic diet, the caveman diet, the Stone Age diet or the hunter-gatherer diet, is thought to be one of the world’s healthiest and simplest diets around today. It has been thought that following a diet similar to our hunter-gatherer ancestors in today’s society is of great benefit, not only for our health and fitness, but for weight-loss and potential prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These include heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, acne, auto-immune disease, and many others. This is a breakthrough nutrition plan that has been devised by professors of Palaeolithic diets, fitness professionals and nutritionists, and is based on eating foods that we are genetically designed to eat. The Paleo diet is derived from the diets of our Palaeolithic ancestors and is supported with scientific research and through real life achievements.

This diet is primarily based on consuming lean cuts of meat (beef, pork, chicken turkey, rabbit, goat offal and game meat), fish (most available fresh fish and shellfish), eggs (limited to 6 per week), tree nuts, fresh fruit (almost every variety), non-starchy vegetables, and oils (including olive, avocado, flaxseed, and coconut). Water is the only drink (there was nothing else available back then), and there is a big emphasis on cutting out salt and sugar, as they were not available in this Paleo era. The main foods to avoid are dairy foods (and processed foods made with any dairy products), cereal grains (corn, oats, rice, wheat…), legumes, and starchy vegetables. We are talking about an era in time that lasted 2.5 million years and was around 10,000 years ago, ending with the development of agriculture. If they were able to survive in this era, an adapted version of their diet has been proven to help fight disease, provide maximum energy and keep you naturally thin, healthy and strong.

There are many books devoted to this topic, including a basic book and cookbook to complement the diet, with many easy and tasty recipes to follow. There is also a version of this diet dedicated to athletes, whose dietary requirements are more demanding. For the serious athlete it is important to ensure the right foods are consumed before, during, and after workouts/events. This is outlined in the 5 stages of daily eating relative to exercise:

Stage 1- Eating before exercise

Stage 2– Eating during exercise

Stage 3– Eating immediately after exercise

Stage 4– Eating for extended recovery

Stage 5– Eating for long term recovery

There are many reasons that this diet is a great way to allow the body to perform at its maximum potential and why many athletes around the world choose to adopt such eating guidelines. They allow an increased intake of BCAA (branched chain amino acids), which promote muscle development and anabolic function, while offsetting immunosuppression which is common in endurance athletes after long bouts of exercise. Such a diet can reduce tissue inflammation usually prevalent in athletes and promote muscle healing, and can also be alkaline-enhancing, allowing muscle protein synthesis to be promoted.

Overall, this diet is a change from the standard Western diet we have become accustomed to; however, there are many benefits to adopting such a dietary change. Primarily, the many health benefits, weight-loss benefits and athletic performance benefits have been documented and backed up with scientific research over the years and have proven to have healthy and long lasting effects.

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