How To Pack More Nutrition Into Your Meals

By The Wild Women On Top Team 

Messages around nutrition can be confusing at the best of times. We want to eat healthy, right? But how much is too much? How little is too little? Do we need protein powders? Supplements? What should our plate even… look like?

Most Australians don’t eat the recommended quantities of fruit and veggies every day. So how do we make sure we’re packing as much nutrition as we can into our diet?

We asked nutrition scientist, dietitian, author and presenter Dr Joanna McMillan how we can pack our meals with more nutrition, and what we shouldn’t be doing when it comes to a healthy diet.

Dr Jo, what’s the most common mistake you see women make when it comes to nutrition?

I’m going to pick two things. 

One is blaming a nutrient - so you go, ‘it’s the fault of fat or carbohydrates'. Or they make the mistake of just counting calories. 

Saying, 'I’m going to cut out carbs' or 'I'm going to eat low calories' – none of those things actually think about the nutrition that women really need. You can have a healthy low-carb diet, you can have a healthy low-fat diet. But if all you’re thinking about is food based on their carb, fat, or calorie content, you’re potentially missing out on your key nutrition.

We’ve got to start recognising that health is from the inside-out. There’s many different ways to eat healthily too, but there isn’t one diet that fits all. You certainly don’t need to count calories. [Counting calories] is encouraging women to have an obsession with diet. When I’m working with someone, I want them to think less about food. I want them to give priority to meal times and picking nourishing foods.

Nutrition is a long game. It’s about long-term health. And many women are endangering their long-term health with a focus on dieting.

When you’re putting together a meal, what is the best way to do it to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need?

What I would say, to make it simple, is:

Make sure you’ve got a protein-rich food. That can be a plant-protein food. I don’t mean protein powders, I mean real foods. If you’re vegetarian, it can be beans or tofu or lentils. It can be dairy foods like yogurt or milk or cheese. It can be meat or seafood. You want to make sure you have a source of protein at each meal. Getting smaller amounts of protein spread through the day is shown to be beneficial. 

Then you want to make sure you’ve got lots of plant food, whether or not you’ve chosen to include meat or seafood or daily. You want to make sure there’s lots of plants food. My plate model can be entirely plants if you want it to be. At least ¾ of the plate should be plant food.

Don’t be scared of carbs. We’ve got to bust this carbophobia. Even if you’re doing long, slow walks, you need carbohydrates to burn along the way. This idea of carbs being bad is silly. We have to lose that.

When you’re putting together a meal think:

  • Do you have a protein-rich food?
  • Do you have a smart carb (a slow release carb that’s fibre-rich with other nutrients in them. Think wholegrains, legumes, whole fruits).
  • Do you have loads of veggies?

What are your top three tips to packing more nutrition into your meals?

  1. Try to prepare most of your food yourself.
    When we eat out, even if you live somewhere like Sydney where we can regularly get healthy meals out, you don’t know what oil they’re using, how it’s cooked, or the portion size you’re going to get. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat out and most of us want to. My first tip would be to prepare most of your food at home, so you can make sure you’ve got the best quality ingredients present.
  2. Lose the idea of being low-fat or low-carb.
    Don’t even think about the macros. Having an awareness of what’s a protein-rich food or a carb-rich food isn’t a bad idea for balance on the plate. But don’t obsess over what that balance or ratio should be.You don’t need to count grams of anything. Put your focus on eating whole foods rather than ultra-processed food.
  3. Start to trust your body.
    If you’re eating whole foods, there are a number of ways to eat healthily. If you’re eating whole foods, you can start trusting your appetite.Try to be more in tune with your body. Your body is adept at keeping you at a set-point.  

In A Nutshell:

  • Ditch calorie counting and the idea that low-fat or low-carb is better.
  • Make sure you have a protein source at every meal (it doesn't have to be meat).
  • Load up on veggies. Make sure 3/4 of your plate is plant food.
  • Eat smart carbs (that are fibre-rich and packed full of nutrients). Examples include legumes and wholegrains.
  • Prepare most of your food at home.
  • Trust your body and your hunger.

 Find our more about Dr Jo, and her renowned Dr Joanna plate, at her website here.

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