The Mathematics of Eating

This post focuses on the best way to achieve your dietary goals by managing the proportions of nutrients you consume.

Generally we recommend to follow the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) for better understanding the balance of food groups the average healthy person needs each day. This guide focuses on the 5 main food groups (grains, vegetables, fruit, meat and alternatives, dairy and alternatives) with healthy fats and oils, and water also forming a part of the recommendations. Unhealthy processed foods are also seen on the AGHE but are recommended less frequently and in smaller amounts.

The AGHE should be looked at as if it was a pie graph. The grains and vegetables groups comprise of the largest proportions of this graph, followed by the remaining 3 groups; meat and alternatives, dairy and alternatives, and fruit.

It is important to note that food groups are not grouped solely by nutrient, and many nutrients are contained within, and across each food group. For example, protein is found mostly in the meat, poultry, fish, eggs and alternatives food group, along with dairy and alternative foods. Carbohydrates are mostly found in our grainy foods, but also in dairy, fruit and starchy vegetables. Fats are a whole other topic, however the important thing to know is that healthy fats and oils are found in vegetable oils, extra virgin olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds, avocado, etc; and unhealthy fats include the fat on meat, skin on chicken, and processed foods (seen in the bottom right corner of the AGHE).

Now for the important part of this blog…

Protein + Carbohydrates = Muscle Gain

If you are looking to increase your muscle mass, whether that be to tone up your body, or increase your strength for better physical performance, then your diet should comprise of mostly protein and carbohydrates. Protein is important for helping build and repair your muscles, while carbohydrates provide the energy to fuel your body through a workout, to prevent protein stores being utilised for energy.

Good protein foods include red meat, chicken, eggs, nuts, beans and lentils.

Good carbohydrate foods include bread, pasta, rice, potato and pumpkin.

While you still need all 5 food groups in order to obtain essential nutrients for your body, you should focus your main meals around protein foods and carbohydrates.

Protein + Fat = Maintenance

If you are looking to maintain your body weight, and maintain your muscle and fat compositions, then your diet should comprise of mostly protein foods and healthy fats.

Healthy fats include those previously mentioned; fish, extra virgin olive oil, other plant-based oils, nuts and seeds and avocado.

As with all diets, a balance of nutrients from all 5 food groups is essential.

Protein + Vegetables = Fat Loss

If you are looking to lose weight, then your diet should comprise of mostly protein foods, and vegetables. Vegetables provide a valuable source of many micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and have been proven to not only make it easier to lose weight, but reduce disease risk and improve overall health.

Vegetables are generally grouped according to starchy vegetables, or higher carbohydrate vegetables, such as potato, sweet potato, corn and pumpkin; green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, spinach; red or orange vegetables, such as tomato, carrot, capsicum, squash; as well as legumes (beans and lentils), and mushrooms, onion, etc.

A minimum of 5 serves of vegetables per day are ideal, with increased benefits from having vegetables of a variety of colours.

So, to sum up all the above, it is best to make sure you are creating meals based on all five food groups, however, if you are looking to gain muscle or lose weight, you may need to alter these proportions of foods in order to achieve your nutrition-related goals.

If you would like further guidance on creating meals to suit your needs, then please contact our dietitian Jessie to arrange an appointment.

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