Living in Australia

Diet and nutrition

Allianz Global Assistance Overseas Health - healthy food

A good, balanced diet is essential for us to perform to the best of our ability. A wide variety of fresh, healthy foods enables us to think and concentrate better and gives us the energy to work and play to the best of our ability. The human body is like a machine, so it’s important to give it the right fuel to keep the engine running smoothly. 

Australia’s diverse, multicultural society means you can find a variety of food from different cultures around the world. Here are a few basic tips that you can use as a guide to healthy eating.

Fresh is best

Eating fresh fruit and vegetables – the fresher the better – is a good policy on which to base your healthy eating plan. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is one of the easiest ways to help you maintain good health.

Fruit and vegetables contain lots of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to protect us from all sorts of illness, from colds and flu to more serious diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The nutrients and antioxidants in fruit and vegetables are great for glowing skin, and strong teeth and nails. Fresh fruit and vegetables are also full of fibre, which helps with digestion.

Fruit and vegetables should represent the main part of your food intake. You should eat more of this type of food than any other. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that all adult men and women aged 19 to 50 should have five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day.

This provides the nutrients and energy we need for a moderately active lifestyle. If you are extremely active, pregnant, or breast feeding, your requirements may be more than this.

Together with fresh fruit and vegetables, we also need to include food that contain grains, lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy.

It’s always best to choose the freshest food possible, that hasn’t been frozen, smoked, tinned, or pre-cooked as fresh food has more nutrients than food that has been cooked or preserved in some way.

Bigger is not always better

As a society, we often tend to overeat. Portion sizes at restaurants, cafes, and other food outlets have increased in recent years. Think about those huge muffins and over-sized cookies at your favourite coffee shop. And what about the big buckets of popcorn at movie theatres?

This is often done to make us feel like we are getting good value for money, but indulging in these ‘upsized’ snacks can be at the cost of our waistlines – and our health. Despite the tendency of food outlets to adopt the ‘bigger is better’ approach, our modern lifestyles mean that our bodies generally require less energy intake than our ancestors may have needed.

We are less active during our day-to-day lives, with many people working in sedentary office type jobs that do not require much physical exertion.  If we were ploughing fields or tending crops as our ancestors may have done hundreds of years ago, we would need to eat more to fuel our bodies for this physical work. Nowadays, sitting still in front of a computer all day means that our bodies require less energy to sustain us. Eating too much food is not ideal for optimal health.

At meal time, we tend to eat everything that is served up on our plate. To avoid over eating, try to eat slowly and take notice of how full you feel. Aim not to completely fill your plate when serving meals at home.

Always wait a few minutes after you’ve finished your serve to give you brain time to register that you stomach is full. If you’re genuinely still hungry, you can always have some more. When you’re eating out, don’t feel compelled to eat everything on your plate – stop when you start to feel full.

Variety is the spice of life

Try to include as much variety in your meals as possible. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating a wide variety of fresh, nutritious foods. We get as much joy from how beautiful food looks as we do from how it tastes and a variety of colours and textures on the plate holds a lot of visual appeal.

Fruit and vegetables naturally have an enormous range of colours and textures that entice our tastebuds. Be sure to include a variety of different types of fresh vegetables and fruit at every meal, choosing from what’s in season at your local supermarket or fresh produce outlet.

To receive all the essential nutrients you need for good health, it’s also important to include a variety from across the five different food groups. So, while fruit and vegetables should form the main part of our diet, it’s also important to include grains, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy in our diet every day. Why not experiment with different types of pastas, rices and other grains like polenta and quinoa?

You can even vary the types of bread you use for sandwiches, mixing it up with rolls, wraps, rye bread or sour dough.

Tasty Treats in Moderation

It’s often tempting to have a sweet treat with your mid-morning cup of tea or coffee. Or to have dessert after dinner. Friday night drinks with your colleagues at the local pub or wine bar – where you often have those tasty, salty snacks – can be an appealing way to end a long week.

Alcohol, soft drinks and foods that contain a lot of sugar, salt and saturated fats are generally low in essential nutrients and fibre and are often too high in energy levels. While we might love the taste sensation, these types of foods generally bring us little or no benefit nutritionally, contribute to unwanted weight gain and are associated with increased risk of obesity and chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer when consumed in large quantities.

It’s very easy to have too many of these types of foods and drinks too often – because they taste so good! Unfortunately, they do not provide much in the way of health benefits, and we should consider them as treats for special occasions and only consume them every now and then, keeping the serving size small.                                                            

Eating out

No matter where you are in Australia, you’ll find restaurants in a variety of cuisines, from Chinese, Indian and Thai, to Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and more.

While you have a lot of choices when it comes to restaurants, keep in mind that dining out for every meal can be expensive and may not always be the healthiest option.

Buying international food

Your local grocery store is likely to have aisles dedicated to international foods – stocking Asian, Indian, Italian, Greek, Mexican, Middle Eastern, African and American foods. Most grocery stores also have Kosher and Halal options.

You’ll also find specialty supermarkets that have a more extensive selection of imported foods from different parts of the world.

Healthy eating in Australia

In Australia, you may not have access to the same types of food and produce you had at home, so you may need to adjust your eating habits slightly.

To help you adapt to your new lifestyle, we’ve put together a few tips to help you eat well while you’re here:

  • Cook at home
  • Plan your meals for the week
  • If you’re living with roommates, consider sharing food and cooking responsibilities
  • Save your leftovers for lunch
  • Buy your fruit and vegetables at your local market
  • Keep a collection of cheap, healthy recipes
  • Read food labels (so you know what you’re eating)
  • Eat more vegetables and whole foods
  • Reduce the amount of processed and packaged foods you eat
  • Buy frozen vegetables (try to avoid those with added salt, sugar and fat)

For more information about diet and nutrition in Australia, visit the Eat for Health website.

For meal planning ideas download the "Nutritious meal planning, preparation, and cooking advice for international students" and the "Appetite for Study Cookbook" guide developed by the University of Canberra.

Benefits of a well-balanced diet

Eating a healthy and well-balanced diet can help:

  • give you the energy you need to exercise, socialise and study
  • you maintain a healthy weight
  • improve your ability to concentrate and cope with stress
  • reduce the risk of common health issues, including excess weight, heart disease, blood pressure, certain cancers and constipation
  • build your immune system to fight common colds and flu.

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