Organic for good nutrition

Do you eat lots of fresh, healthy food? Yes? No? Do you know about the essential vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to maintain its functions? Read on to find out all about organic foods, the goodness in fruits and vegetables and how to use the Healthy Eating Pyramid to make good food choices.

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What is nutrition?

Nutrition is the process of absorbing nutrients from the food you eat. When you eat nutritious food your body can produce enough energy and do what it needs to do to keep you healthy. Nutrients include vitamins, minerals, essential fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

Well-balanced diet

It is easy to have good nutrition: you just need to eat a well-balanced diet that combines a variety of foods. If you do this, you will get all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need to stay healthy.

Organic nutrition

Did you know that healthy eating is important as it can reduce the risk of us getting sick? Not only do we need to eat a variety of different foods, but we should also think about what is used on or in our food during the farming and production processes. Healthy organic food is free from pesticides and other nasty chemicals.

Preservatives and additives

Can you believe that the average Australian eats about two kilograms of food additives every year? Many of these can cause allergies, changes in your behaviour and sometimes illness.

Additives are put into foods to make them taste better, look better or last longer on the shelf. Not all additives are bad for you, but some can affect your behaviour or make it hard to concentrate. To avoid additives you should try and eat mainly organic foods.

Phytochemicals – why they are good for your health

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals (pronounced fy-toe-chemicals) are made by plants, and found in fruits and vegetables, legumes (beans and peas) and grains.

Phytochemical groups

There are groups of phytochemicals and you might have heard of ‘flavonoids’ or ‘carotenoids’. Fruits and vegetables get their colour from the phytochemicals they contain and can be sorted into five colour groups:

  • green
  • blue/purple
  • yellow/orange
  • white/brown
  • red

Each colour group contains different phytochemicals, so we need to eat a variety of colours to make sure we get all the nutrients we need.

Eating a Balanced Diet

We should enjoy a variety of foods from every food group, every day. The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a simple guide to the type and amount of foods we should eat.

Nutrition Australia’s Healthy Eating Pyramid

Nutrition Australia's Healthy Eating Pyramid

The foundation layers of the pyramid include three plant-based food groups:

  • vegetables and legumes
  • fruits
  • grains

These foods are high in nutrients including vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. These layers should make up the largest portion of our diet – around 70% of what we eat!

Whole grains such as brown rice, oats and quinoa, and wholemeal bread, pasta, and cereal should be chosen over highly processed and refined grains.

Nutrition Australia's Healthy Eating Pyramid middle layer

The middle layer includes:

  • milk, yogurt, cheese and alternatives
  • lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds

Dairy products provide us with calcium, protein and other vitamins and minerals. Non-dairy options in this layer, including soy, rice and cereal milks, should have at least 100mg per 100ml of added calcium.

Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds are our main source of protein with nutrients including iodine, iron, zinc, B12 vitamins and healthy fats.

The top layer refers to healthy fats as these are important to support brain function and a healthy heart. You should limit the amount of saturated fat you consume and avoid all trans fats. Healthy fats can be found in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and fish and from the consumption of oils such as extra virgin olive oil, and nut and seed oils.

As part of a balanced diet, ‘The Healthy Eating Pyramid’ also recommends:

  • Choosing water over sugary options such as soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Water helps support essential functions in the body and is the best drink to hydrate your body.
  • Limit salt and added sugar by avoiding adding salt or sugar to food when cooking or eating and limiting the consumption of packaged foods with added salt and sugar.
  • Enjoy herbs and spices to add colour and flavour to your meals. Many herbs and spices also have health-promoting properties.

Nutrition Australia's Healthy Eating Pyramid top layer

Foods and drinks to limit

The Australian Government’s ‘Australian Dietary Guidelines’ mentions something called ‘discretionary foods’ which don’t form part of the ‘Healthy Eating Pyramid’, and should only be enjoyed occasionally as part of a balanced diet.

These foods are high in kilojoules, saturated fat, added sugars and salt, and have very few nutrients.

Examples of discretionary foods include:

  • most sweet biscuits, cakes and desserts
  • most processed meats and sausages
  • ice-cream, confectionery and most chocolate
  • most meat pies and pastries
  • commercial burgers, hot chips, and fried foods
  • crisps and other fatty and/or salty snacks
  • sugar-sweetened cordials, soft drinks, fruit drinks and sports drinks

Foods and drinks to limit

It is recommended that ‘discretionary foods’ be limited to one serve per day for example:

  • sweet biscuits (2 small)
  • chocolate coated bars (1 bar)
  • potato chips (30g)
  • ice-cream (2 scoops)
  • lollies/chocolate (30g)
  • cake or muffin (1 medium piece)