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October 2003

Food and fitness

By Dianne Woods,
Nutrition Australia.

Energy is a balance between food and physical activity. The energy from the food we eat is influenced by the amount and type of food we choose. The energy we give out is determined by how physically active we are. Overweight or obesity are a result of imbalance between the energy we are eating and the energy we are giving out. In NSW one third of adults are now considered to be overweight or obese.

Nutrition Australia, Australia's peak nutrition body, recommend that our eating patterns follow the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Physical activity guidelines also help us balance our energy.

Being physically active does not mean that you have to be training to be an athlete. It is exercising at a moderate level for 40-60 minutes on most days. By moderate, we mean at a level that you can still talk to someone while exercising, but not easily.

One key to improving our fitness is to see activity as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience. Often it is the little changes through the day that can add up to improve our health. Some suggestions might be:

Sometimes planning our time also helps us to stay more active. It is often easy to use the excuse that we are too busy to find the time to exercise. We do not need to do the activity all at one time. Make use of the 10 minutes after lunch, the 5 minutes while the children are not arguing, or the 3 minutes while the dinner is cooking! It may help to draw up a weekly schedule of your family's activities to find time where you can do physically active things together. Often if we are with someone else it doesn't seem as difficult to keep motivated.

Healthy Eating Pyramid.

Description of Diagram: The Healthy Eating Pyramid shows food types divided into three main categories: Fats, oils and sugars should only be eaten in small amounts; Proteins, such as meat, eggs, fish, chicken, milk, yoghurt, cheese can be eaten moderately; while vegetables, legumes, cereals, bread, fruit and nuts should be eaten in larger quantities.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid shows us what we need to eat most of. Many adults think they eat enough fruit and vegetable, but studies show that most don't. We should aim to eat 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves (½ cup) of vegetables per day.

We should aim to eat a wide variety of cereal, bread and grain products. These are a good source of B vitamins, which assist us in maintaining our energy levels. Wholemeal products are more nutritious and give us a feeling of fullness longer as they take longer for our body to break down.

Calcium is another essential nutrient that is not eaten enough. Three servings can come from products such as cheese, yoghurts, custards and milk. It is essential to eat this amount throughout life to keep good bone strength and help to avoid osteoporosis (brittle bones). The variety of reduced fat milk products on the market has also allowed individuals who are overweight or on fat restricted diets to be able to eat adequate amounts.

Meat is one product that Australians seem to eat plenty of. Most adults eat twice the recommended amount. A small amount of meat is required to maintain muscle health and function. It is essential that the meat that we eat is lean. Many meat products on the market are high in saturated fat. Fat is not only a dense form of energy it can also contribute to health complications such as heart disease. Red meat helps to supply our body with iron. It is recommended that we eat red meat at least 3 times per week. Fish helps to supply our body with healthy oils. Fish should also be eaten three times per week. This does not include fish shop purchased fish that has boiled in oil or fat.

Other foods, in the eat least area, are often eaten much more often than occasionally. This group is high in fat, sugar or salt. These foods often replace foods from other food groups. By replacing other food groups we may not be getting enough of the essential vitamins and minerals that our body requires to provide optimal health.

If you would like more nutrition information, Nutrition Australia provides a comprehensive website,

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