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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Portion Control

When it comes to losing weight and then keeping it off long term, it all comes down to portion sizes. Sure we may know that a restaurant meal out has a few more calories than we would usually enjoy at dinner, but an issue that we consider far less often is the insidious ways in which we eat extra calories numerous times throughout the day – a slightly larger slice of bread, an extra teaspoon or two of oil on the salad or simply eating from a larger plate just a few of the ways in which our portions tend to gradually increase over time, as does our weight.

The good news is that once you have a much clearer idea of what a portion of food should be it is relatively easy to cut back and ultimately it is a small number of cut backs spread over a range of food decisions that equates to weight control.

Food                             Portion Size                                          No of serves a day

Fruit                              1 medium piece or ¾ cup                       2

Vegetables                    ½ cup cooked or raw                              Min of 2-3 cups

Milk                                200ml                                                   3-4 dairy serves

Yoghurt                         100ml / ½ cup                                       3-4 dairy serves

Cheese                           30-40g or 2 slices                                  1 serve/day

Lean meat/chicken         100-150g cooked (palm size)                  1-2/day

Fish                              150-200g (hand size)                              1-2/day            

Rice/pasta                     ½ cup cooked                                        1-2/day

Breakfast cereal ¾ cup                                                   1 serve/day

Oil                                1 tspn                                                   1-2 serves/day

Avocado                        ¼ medium or 2 tbsp                               1 serve/day

Multigrain bread             2 small slices                                        1 serve/day

Wine                             120ml or 1 small glass                           1-2/day

Chocolate                      20g or 2-4 squares                                 1 serve/day

Nuts                             10-15 or 30g                                          1 serve/day

Sauces                         1 tbsp                                                   1-2 serves/day


Tip for portion control

1) Always measure breakfast cereal and rice/pasta serves using a measuring cup.

2) Keep kitchen scales handy to check meat portions and serving sizes.

3) Measure out sauces and oils rather than pouring haphazardly.

4) Purposely look for small slices of bread when shopping.

5) Use grated cheese or invest in a cheese slice to control portions.

6) Measure out serves of dip and cheese when serving platters.

7) Only carry portion controlled snacks of nuts and crackers.

8) Remember your plate ratios of ¼ protein, ¼ carbs and ½ vegetables or salad.

9) Serve desserts and treats in small bowls and glasses.

10) Always order a small or piccolo sized coffee.


Portions Visually

Meat = i-phone

Cheese = Make up compact

Carbs = Computer mouse

Bread = no bigger than your hand

Rice = Asian bowl

Wine = ½ teacup

Sauce = 20c piece


One of the biggest is issues to consider when it comes to portion control is that when we enjoy meals away from home, at a restaurant, café or even someone else’s home, that they are likely to consume at least 20-30% more calories. Extra oil, sauces and added fats via cheese and butter are just a few of the reasons for this. Added to this relatively large serving sizes of meat compared to small serves of vegetables, extra bread and possibly coffee and dessert, such a feeding frenzy can easily give you 500-600 extra calories without even trying.


Take control of this by sharing large meals where possible.

Order extra sides of soup and salad to fill up on low calorie foods.

Order entrée sizes meals and do not be afraid to ask for leftovers to be packaged up to take home.

Finish one glass of wine before starting another.

Move the bread basket out of sight and reach.

Ask for extra sauces to be served on the side.

Practice eating only ½ of large serves of sandwiches.

Remove the lid from burgers and steak sandwiches.

Ask for chips to be replaced with salad.

Look for child serve options of burgers, sandwiches, ice creams and fish meals.

Practice becoming comfortable not eating everything on your plate.

Never arrive at a smorgasbord or food court hungry.

In you are dining out where there are large volumes of food readily available, yum cha; decide how many serves you will eat before you get there. Such a mental rule makes it easier to stop eating.

One of the most important concepts to grasp if your goal is to lose weight and keep it off is moderation. A one off dessert or chocolate bar will not result in weight gain, but repeatedly eating more calories on a daily basis from larger portion sizes than you need will. For this reason, keeping constantly mindful of how much you are eating, and whether you really need this much is a crucial thing to keep at the forefront of your mind if your goal is weight control.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Stop the cravings

It is all well and good to commit to eating well and avoiding sugary, processed foods but what about the cravings? The somewhat unrelenting drive to seek out sweet food frequently experienced at the end of a meal and described by many, most commonly at 3 or 4pm each afternoon.

Sugar cravings, as they are commonly referred to can be defined as the physiological drive to eat sweet, carbohydrate containing foods, as well as the psychological programming to seek out sweet foods when feeling tired, bored or unhappy.

Whatever the underlying cause of your craving, on a daily basis the most powerful tool we can have is to learn to manage, and ideally prevent the cravings. Ideally this management plan can then be implemented before we see ourselves downing an entire packet of biscuits or lollies come 3pm on a quiet working day.

1) Officially end your meal
Whether it is with herbal tea, a piece of cheese, chewing gum or brushing your teeth, having a cue that tells your brain that the meal time is over, whilst shifting your palate to a neutral flavour will help to shift your focus away from eating.

2) Bulk up the salad and vegetables.
One of the biggest issues with our meals, lunch in particular, is that we do not eat enough leafy salad vegetables. Get into the habit of finishing your midday meal with some salad greens dressed with some olive oil to help cleanse the palate and provide the bulk in your belly that will help to tell your brain you are full.

3) Focus on timings.
Eating a late lunch can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to cravings as it is likely that your blood glucose levels have gone low late morning which can trigger hunger throughout the afternoon. Schedule a lunch break by 1pm and an afternoon tea break between 3-4pm so you are not tempted by sweet treats in between.

4) Opt for herbal or black tea in between.
Forget the milk coffee and tea in between your meals and snacks and replace with clear herbal or black tea. Not only do plain teas contain negligible kJ but they also help to keep your palate fresh and your body rehydrated.

5) Step away from the sugar
For the times when the cravings seem too much to bear, keep in mind that the worst thing you can do is eat sweet food when you are craving sugar, as the more you eat, the more you will want. Instead feed your cravings with more satisfying, protein based snack such as cheese and crackers or a nut or protein bar. Worst case scenario, opting for a few squares of dark chocolate which is not as sweet as milk chocolate, along with a protein rich snack such as a handful of nuts will help to get you through to your next meal or snack without a complete sugar binge.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The 10 foods we should eat every day

Forget what we should not be eating, instead let’s focus on the powerful super foods that pack a serious nutrition hit for their punch and which, when consumed daily help to build a strong health platform for your body long term.

1) Berries.
Berries are not only low in calories but they contain some the highest known food concentrations of antioxidants as well as good amounts of fibre and a number of key vitamins including Vitamin C. Any berry will do, fresh or frozen, and just ½ a cup a day made into a smoothie, eaten with low fat yogurt or added to cereal in the morning will give you a daily antioxidant hit.

2) Green tea.
Swap a coffee or two for a strong cup of green tea a day and your weight and immune system are likely to benefit. Not only is green tea exceptionally high in antioxidants, there is also some evidence to show that it can help with fat metabolism. Aim for a cup after each meal and caffeine free varieties are available if you find you are caffeine sensitive. If you do not love the flavour of plain green tea, the flavoured varieties are fine and remember, the longer you leave the tea bag in, the better it will be for you.

3) Probiotic yoghurt.
Probiotics, found in a number of yoghurts are the microorganisms naturally found in the human digestive tract that improve the balance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Probiotics have been shown to help reduce digestive symptoms such as constipation and bloating, help restore gut flora after consuming a course of antibiotics and help rebalance the bacteria required for optimal nutrient absorption. Research is also building to show the link of gut health to overall immune function which gives even more reason to include probiotics in your daily food regime.
4) Red-capsicum.
Forget an apple a day; a red capsicum will give you a massive Vitamin C boost for minimal calories. A rich source of carotenoids, the group of antioxidants known to play a powerful role in helping to down regulate a number of inflammatory pathways in the body. Individuals who have had a higher intake of carotenoids during their lives have been associated with lower risks of mortality from common disease states including heart disease, cancer and stroke in large population based health studies. Red capsicums are a great vege snack teamed with hommus or cucumber dip.

5) Tomatoes.
Rich in Vitamin C and beta carotene, cooked tomatoes in particular will give you a daily dose of the nutrient lycopene another powerful antioxidant linked to reduced incidence of some cancers including stomach and pancreatic cancer.

6) Walnuts.
While all nuts have a number of health benefits, the unique thing about walnuts is that they are the nuts richest in long chain polyunsaturated fats. Just 30g of walnuts each day again helps to optimise cell wall composition and has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels and helps to provide more of those vital plant forms of omega 3 fats. Grab a handful a day or add to salads or baking – just 10 a day is all you need.

7) Oily fish.
Fresh tuna or salmon give massive doses of omega 3 fat, the type of fat associated with reduced inflammation in the body. It is well documented that the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids; DHA and EPA, that found in highest concentrations in deep-sea cold fish have a number of roles that are beneficial for health. The numerous other health benefits of omega 3 fats including reduced triglycerides, blood pressure and inflammatory processes in the body also support their use. Fresh Atlantic salmon is one of the richest natural sources of these fats; and 200g provide the recommended daily requirement of omega 3’s for heart and potentially head health.

8) Broccoli.
Not the dietitian’s favourite vegetable for nothing, the phytonutrient content of broccoli is difficult to find in many other foods. Broccoli is a rich source of folate; the antioxidant lutein that can delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and the phytochemical called sulphoraphane that has specific anti-cancer properties. Lightly steam to retain as much of the nutrition as possible and add to salads, stir fries or dips on a daily basis.

9) Vegetable Soup
Whether you make it yourself, or keep a ready prepared supermarket variety, keeping a vegetable based soup handy means that you never have an excuse to not eat your vege, no matter how busy you are. Whether you enjoy it as a light meal, use it as a filling option before you head out for a big night or use it to manage hunger during the day, soup is a must have fridge staple for weight control. In fact, studies from The Pennsylvania State University have shown that you eat up to 25% fewer calories when you enjoy vegetable based soup as part of a meal.

10) Dark Chocolate.
If you are going to enjoy some chocolate regularly, make it dark. Chocolate made with a high proportion of cocoa contains high amounts of the antioxidant molecules the flavonoids and the phenolic phytochemicals and is actually rated higher than both tea and red wine in terms of antioxidant capacity but naturally controlling your portion size is the key. Aim for just 20g for roughly 100 calories and 5-7g of fat.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The truth about frozen yoghurt

For anyone who was a fan of Seinfeld in the 1990’s, you will remember a particularly funny episode when Elaine formed an addiction to the latest healthy food craze, a ‘fat free’ frozen yoghurt. Despite the yoghurts claims, Elaine continues to gain weight as she indulges in tasty treat and decides to send a sample of the yoghurt to a lab for testing. As suspected, the tests reveal the yoghurt does in fact contain fat, and once the store replaces the yoghurt with the real low fat variety, business plummets and the shop is forced to close.

Unfortunately, a report released by consumer watchdog CHOICE today reveals that the growing number of frozen yoghurt chains may not be offering as healthy a product as they perhaps claim too.

A few years back it was pies, then muffins, followed by juices and over the past couple of years, it seems that every shopping centre is now home to at least  couple of frozen yoghurt chains – Wow Cow, Mooberry, Yoghurtland, Yogurberry and Zwirl just some of the well-known brands. Served in a range of flavours, cup sizes and with the option of assorted toppings, suddenly yoghurt has taken on a whole new meaning.

While frozen yoghurt may sound like a particularly healthy option, the yoghurt you are buying bears little resemblance to classic, plain Greek yoghurt that most nutritionists would suggest is consumed as your daily yoghurt of choice. While frozen yoghurt does contain some of the key nutrients found in yoghurt including calcium and some protein, the truth is that with the amount of added sugar, frozen yoghurt has a nutritional profile much closer to that of ice cream than to natural yoghurt. And that is without taking into account the vast range of sauces, confectionary, nuts and fruits that can be added to serves at the various frozen yoghurt chains. In each of these examples at least 2 teaspoons of extra sugar is added to a small serve of frozen yoghurt, with each topping added, which also naturally significantly increases the calories. In fact, a medium serve of frozen yoghurt, topped with chocolate and nuts can contain as many calories as a small meal.

Perhaps the most concerning thing of all is that because we think it is a ‘healthy’ choice, we give ourselves permission to eat more of it. A small serving cup of ice cream suddenly becomes a large portion of frozen yoghurt simply because the perception is that it is a better choice. So, stop kidding yourself. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, in life and in our food selections and this is again the case with frozen yoghurt.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Girls vs. boys

I would have to say that the part of my work that I enjoy the most is that I get to observe people every single day – I get to observe single people, married people, divorced people, straight people, gay people, families, split families, children, teens – you name it, I get to see them all. And one of the recent observations I have had is the emphasis on young boys sport.

For any parent of a child aged 6-12 years, they are likely to be familiar with the concept of Saturday sport. Whether it is a private school requirement or a choice to play netball or in this case football with a local team, many a parent spends Saturday and even part of Sunday crunched up in their 4 wheel drive, or other family friendly car dragging kids off to various sporting games all over Sydney. (Non-family people take note; this is the best time to avoid Sydney roads at all costs).

Now, I notice that while Dads are all too happy to drag the male members of the family off to junior AFL, soccer and league, it is far more likely to see a little girl being dragged to watch Felix or Oscar kick a ball around, than it is to see Felix or Oscar going to see Maddie play netball or soccer.

What is it about male sports, even when males are just 6 or 7 years old that attracts such attention? To me, as an outsider it seems ridiculous that such important family time is dictated to by compulsory sport altogether, but the fact that many, many more people seem to attend rugby league at Birchgrove on a Sunday morning than can be seen at the local girls soccer game up the road is not by chance. It is at this point, so early in a child’s life that we teach Felix and Oscar that their game is more important. And by dragging Maddie down there to spend hours chatting to her girlfriends while watching her brother play, we teach her that her brother is more important than she is.

It seems such as simple thing – sport is on and kids have to go. Mum is not that interested so Dad gets the gig and Dad skews his energy and attention to the young yet still testosterone driven male sport. Little girls learn that brother grabs Dads attention more than she does, brother’s sport is the most important thing and the best thing she can do is keep quiet until the game is over. Is it at this point that all women learn to sit patiently and wait for their men while they drink, play sport, work whatever – when are they waiting for us?

I am not a mother yet, but I hope to be sometime soon. And I can confirm this now, that not only will my Oscar or Felix be watching Maddie but I hope that many more of their friends will be too because I would never want my daughter to ever think that her brother, just because he is a boy, is more important than she is.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't be evil......

Occasionally there is a tag line or quote that has a powerful impact and the ‘google’ motto, ‘Don’t be evil’, made public in the documentary film ‘Google; Behind the Scenes’ did that for me. To me these simple words did an excellent job of summarizing what we all bring to this world, as individuals or as corporations in the sense of whether we are contributing positively or negative to the global energy system. And this morning, after spending some time reflecting on the contents of the new Coca Cola advertisement which aired in Australian prime time last night, again the concept of ‘Don’t be evil’ echoed in my ears.

As a health professional, when I go to sleep at night, my goal is to feel that I have contributed positively to this world. Sure there are perks associated with working in the media but in general I see my role as a dietitian in contributing positively to the health and well-being of my clients. Indeed, there is nothing more gratifying than to see a client achieve their food and weight related goals in conjunction with my guidance and I am never as happy as when I have had a successful day seeing lots of clients who are on track health wise.

I imagine this would be the same for a number of professionals – teachers, parents, doctors’ even most lawyers J  whose focus is to not only make money to live a comfortable life but to also put good energy, skills and resources back into the universe.

When I consider big multinational food companies who pump millions of sugar and fat based calories into the universe every day, I struggle to see the positive contribution. Sure, on one hand these groups create thousands of jobs, service a consumer want for these food types and give back to the community via various feel good initiatives, but should these groups still be rewarded when you argue that at least some parts of their business are a little bit evil in terms of what they are selling, developing and marketing?

These were the feelings I experienced when viewing the Coca Cola advertisement highlighting their commitment to smaller serving sizes of sugar based drinks; clearer caloric labeling and programs to support disadvantaged children get more active. Sure, it is great to see a company acknowledging that sugar based drinks are a contributing factor to obesity and also their commitment to do what they can to help but is it not a little bit hypocritical? Would those advertising dollars not be better spent on actually helping the managing obesity, at grass roots? Is it still a good thing when the underlying business model is to sell more and more liquid calories?

There is not one cause of obesity and successful obesity prevention and management requires numerous strategies and initiatives from individuals and as well as the public and private sectors. I do wonder though, if the executives of these big food companies rest easy at night? Whether, if they actually saw the impact of obesity at a grass roots level, would they continue to do what they do? And do they really believe that they are ‘doing no evil’ as they work towards plugging more and more high fat and sugar calories into the universe? What I do know is that I couldn’t do it, and while these groups are still around, the health professionals like me will have plenty of work to do, hopefully funded by Coca Cola or Pepsico in the future.



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Are grandparents making their grandkids fat?

School holidays – 2 or 3 weeks in which working parents juggle the demands of their career with child care and keeping busy, energetic children stimulated for an extra 6-8 hours a day. For some this will mean extra child care, or time off work and then there are the growing number of grandparents who are taking the role of secondary caregivers for more and more busy, working parents. While this may appear the perfect scenario for families, recent research published by the University of Helsinki has found that children who are cared for my grandparents are more likely to be overweight than children cared for by parents.


The study which was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology examined the weight status of 9000 children living in the UK and found that on average 23% of children were overweight and 26% of children cared for by grandparents were overweight. Researchers concluded that the benefits associated with grandparents caring for children from a historical perspective may not hold in modern life in which sedentary entertainment, high calorie food choices and long working hours tend to dominate family life.


And every single day, we see this. Children spending hours if not days sitting in front of screens, food treats a regular daily occurrence and schedules being based on the child’s wants, interests and desires – long gone of the days where Michael spent the day pottering with Nan in the garden and a treat was a glass of milk and a homemade biscuit.


So what does this mean for parents and grandparents who naturally want to do the best by their children, at least from a health perspective long term? It means that we need to start saying no – no to purchasing food away from the home; no to the TV, video games and i-pad’s and no to spending more and more money on entertainment in place of simple activities such as playing in the park or heaven forbid in the garden with friends. Not only does saying no help to empower any caregiver to be in charge of the child rather than the other way round, it basically helps to control calorie intake and increase activity to help prevent excessive weight gain.


You only have to spend a little time in a shopping centre or local kids entertainment centre to see fat kids. In Australia at least 1 in 4 kids has a significant weight issue and no parent or grandparent really wants this.


School Holiday Healthy Family Tips

1) Limit treats to at most 1 extra food item such as a small ice cream once a day.

2) Limit screen time to 2 hours a day, this includes ipads and DVDs.

3) Arrange play dates with other children.

4) Avoid all sweet drinks and choose only water.

5) Pack lunches where possible.

6) Allow children to choose their treat each day; for example, do you want an ice cream now or a sushi later?

7) Avoid shopping centres where overconsumption is encouraged.

8) Never take a child out of the house hungry.

9) Choose kids sized portions of everything including milkshakes, cakes and drinks.

10) Avoid ‘all you can places’ such as sushi trains and smorgasbords.


Susie Burrell is a paediatric dietitian who has worked in the area of childhood obesity for more than 10 years –