what a nu­tri­tion­ist wants you to know

Ac­cred­ited prac­tis­ing di­eti­tian Themis Chrys­sidis an­swers his clients’ five most com­mon ques­tions.

Weight Watchers Magazine (Australia) - - Contents -

your top 5 ques­tions an­swered

#1: Pasta is bad, right?

Wrong. Pasta is food and no food is in­her­ently bad. You are not com­mit­ting a crime. You are sim­ply eat­ing a de­li­cious com­bi­na­tion of flour, eggs and wa­ter. That’s it.

How­ever, the way we eat pasta in Aus­tralia is a prob­lem. Pasta meals are often too large and lack veg­eta­bles and pro­tein, so we eat too much pasta in one meal. If I ate a plate of steak I would gain weight. The dif­fer­ence is the fat and pro­tein in the meat slows down di­ges­tion and keeps me full, and the act of chew­ing the meat also makes me eat slower, there­fore I eat less. We also usu­ally eat meat with veg­eta­bles, which di­lutes the meal’s kilo­joule con­tent.

Next time you have pasta, don’t fear it; en­joy it. Here are some healthy and nu­tri­tious pasta sug­ges­tions. Cook one cup of dried pasta with a tomato-based sauce and a de­li­cious veg­etable side. Also try to add some pro­tein.

Tra­di­tion­ally, minced meat is added to pasta, but you could also try lentils, chick­peas or seafood. The meat (or meat al­ter­na­tives) and veg­eta­bles will leave you sat­is­fied with­out overeat­ing. (For some great pasta ideas, go to page 74).

#2: Does fruit have too much sugar?

Aside from veg­eta­bles, I hon­estly can­not think of a health­ier, more con­ve­nient and so­cially ac­cept­able snack. De­spite their sweet flavour, most fruits do not con­tain a large amount of sugar, but they do pro­vide plenty of vi­ta­mins, min­er­als, low- GI car­bo­hy­drate, fi­bre and an­tiox­i­dants.

We need to stop de­mon­is­ing in­di­vid­ual nutrients. We eat foods, not nutrients. Re­mov­ing one nu­tri­ent from your diet can result in se­ri­ous de­fi­cien­cies due to the re­moval of other healthy foods. Blan­ket nu­tri­ent ex­clu­sions also lead to con­fu­sion. It may lead peo­ple to begin con­sid­er­ing soft drink and fruit as equal, de­spite hon­estly and log­i­cally know­ing that they are not.

As a di­eti­tian, I have never sug­gested that sugar is healthy or should be con­sumed freely. It de­pends how the sugar is be­ing con­sumed. Yes, if you can avoid added sugar, such as in your cof­fee, great. If you have one cof­fee a day with one sugar, try to re­duce the sugar to half a tea­spoon. Over­all, though, one tea­spoon of sugar in one cof­fee per day (de­pend­ing on the rest of your diet) is un­likely to be a ma­jor prob­lem. When some­one has six sweet­ened cof­fees a day and that leads to six tea­spoons of sugar con­sumed, it’s time to con­sider how to re­duce their in­take.

Sim­i­larly, fruit contains sugar. But it can’t be re­moved and it’s pack­aged up as part of a nu­tri­tious, con­ve­nient snack. If I re­move fruit from my diet be­cause I don’t want to eat sugar, what about all the other qual­ity nu­tri­tion I’m miss­ing out on?

Yes, sugar in its re­fined form and added to food pro­vides lit­tle nu­tri­tional value. How­ever, we eat food, not plain sugar. A lot of the time – es­pe­cially in the case of fruit – the pos­i­tives out­weigh the neg­a­tives. If they don’t, as is the case with much pro­cessed, pack­aged food, try to cut down. Ditch the bags of lol­lies – but then en­joy a piece of nu­tri­tious fruit. >


#3: Is it bad to eat af­ter 8pm?

There is very lit­tle cred­i­ble ev­i­dence to sug­gest that eat­ing af­ter a spe­cific time at night re­sults in weight gain. I often ad­vise clients to in­stead look at what they eat late at night and how they eat.

If you’ve had din­ner and are snack­ing on sweet bis­cuits, cho­co­late or cheese and crack­ers, is it the time of the day that’s the is­sue, or the fact that you have eaten 1000-2000kj with­out re­al­is­ing it?

Or, if you’re eat­ing din­ner late, is it the time of the meal or the food you’re eat­ing that’s the prob­lem? Con­sider the prac­ti­cal im­pli­ca­tions of eat­ing late. When was your last meal? Are you starv­ing when you get home? As a result, do you pre­pare a bal­anced meal with three to four serves of veg­eta­bles, or do the veg­eta­bles get for­got­ten be­cause you haven’t got time? Are you hun­gry and as a result eat a larger por­tion than you need? Is your serve of meat, rice or pasta larger than usual? Or do you sim­ply or­der take­away chicken and chips or pizza in­stead of eat­ing a nu­tri­tious, bal­anced, por­tion-con­trolled meal?

Sure, if you eat a main meal and go to bed not long af­ter, you may wake up slightly heav­ier. How­ever, this slight vari­a­tion in weight from day to day is nor­mal and will level out within a few days. So the time of day that you eat isn’t the is­sue; it’s the ef­fect that eat­ing late could have on your food choices and por­tion sizes that could be prob­lem­atic.

#4: Should I cook with olive oil?

In short, yes. There isn’t a health­ier oil avail­able. Olive oil is full of healthy mo­noun­sat­u­rated fats which are linked to re­duced in­flam­ma­tion; im­proved heart, eye and brain func­tion; re­duced risk of heart dis­ease and re­duced risk of Alzheimer’s. Plus, it’s full of healthy an­tiox­i­dants.

The ar­gu­ment against olive oil is that cook­ing it causes trans fats and free rad­i­cals (here comes the science part). The ap­pli­ca­tion of high heat and pres­sure to any oil causes free rad­i­cals, and trans fats are linked to in­creased over­all mor­tal­ity and, in gen­eral, are not healthy.

Trans fats ex­ist nat­u­rally in small amounts in an­i­mal-based foods and are man­u­fac­tured by tak­ing an un­sat­u­rated fat, which is liq­uid at room tem­per­a­ture, and adding a hy­dro­gen mol­e­cule to its chem­i­cal struc­ture to form a solid at room tem­per­a­ture.

The most volatile part of a fat mol­e­cule is its car­bon dou­ble bond. Sat­u­rated fats have no dou­ble bonds, are solid at room tem­per­a­ture and hence are con­sid­ered the most stable to cook with. This might be true but it does not make them healthy.

The more un­sat­u­rated a fat is (or the more dou­ble bonds it has), the more op­por­tu­nity there is for trans fats to be cre­ated. Olive oil is a mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat, so the fat mol­e­cules only have one dou­ble bond. This re­duces the amount of trans fats and free rad­i­cals that can be cre­ated. Fur­ther­more, in or­der to cre­ate them, tem­per­a­tures must ex­ceed the smok­ing point of the olive oil which, in the case of good-qual­ity ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil, is about 240 de­grees Cel­sius. Prac­ti­cally speak­ing, this is very un­likely in the do­mes­tic set­ting. Most peo­ple cook at no more than 180 de­grees Cel­sius.

To make a long story short, olive oil’s high an­tiox­i­dant con­tent will help fight the free rad­i­cals cre­ated when it is heated. At worst, a very small amount of trans fats are cre­ated when heat­ing olive oil at very high tem­per­a­tures. Even then, the over­all health ben­e­fits of olive oil, whether used at room tem­per­a­ture or heated, still far out­weigh other oils.

#5: Should I snack dur­ing the day?

Yes, ab­so­lutely! If you’re like me and love food, you’ll take any op­por­tu­nity to en­joy a meal or snack. I often en­cour­age clients to eat small, fre­quent meals spread evenly through the day. This helps man­age blood-sugar lev­els and helps keep en­ergy lev­els stable. Snacks should also be con­sid­ered a valu­able op­por­tu­nity to con­sume im­por­tant nutrients and are cru­cial for help­ing to en­sure we meet our daily nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments.

Snacks also help peo­ple make sen­si­ble food choices. I often say that the key to mak­ing good food choices is con­trol­ling your hunger, putting your­self in a po­si­tion where you can re­sist temp­ta­tion and mak­ing a de­ci­sion with your brain, not your stom­ach.

Sen­si­ble snack­ing en­sures you’re not starv­ing at meal­times and, con­se­quently, you’re more likely to make a healthy choice. If a small tub of nat­u­ral yo­ghurt and a hand­ful of nuts mid­morn­ing helps you make a healthy choice at lunchtime, it’s a worth­while in­vest­ment.


Dough good On av­er­age, a 100g serve (1 cup) of dried pasta pro­vides 1400kj, 70g car­bo­hy­drate, 12g pro­tein, 4g fi­bre and 9 Smart­points.

How much? Aus­tralian guide­lines rec­om­mend two serves of fruit a day. A serve is one medi­um­sized fruit such as a ba­nana, two smaller fruits like plums or a cup of fruit salad.

Mid­night snack? If you find your­self feel­ing hun­gry at night and want­ing to raid the fridge, have a healthy snack such as a slice of whole­grain toast with nut but­ter or a boiled egg.

The good oil Stud­ies have shown olive oil con­sump­tion may help pro­tect against some can­cers and im­prove blood pres­sure, im­mune func­tion and rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

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