It’s been 34 years since nutritionist, dietitian, and food commentator Catherine Saxelby first published her book Nutrition for Life.
In 1986 the world of food was perhaps a much less complicated place. The book contained sound advice: cut back on your salt and sugar, eat more vegetables, be portion wise. All things which still make sense decades later.
Now in its sixth edition, the completely revised edition reflects current nutrition thinking. Each section has been revised and it covers topics such as the microbiome, juice cleanses, mindful eating and superfoods.
Nutrition for Life is not a diet book, nor is it a cookbook, there’s not a recipe in sight. What it does offer is practical information that will allow you to get the most from your foods and answers to those confusing nutrition problems and food controversies.
When Saxelby surveyed her readers ahead of the 2020 edition, she found they wanted to know more about foods for anti-ageing, losing weight and how to have more energy in their day.
“Plus they were after specific topics on controversial foods like coconut, hemp, kale and insects, and diets such as low-carb, keto and vegan,” she said.
“They wanted information from a credible expert such as a qualified nutritionist or dietitian – rather than a celebrity blogger or chef.”
We asked Saxelby some questions of our own.
What’s changed the most since you first published Nutrition for Life?
Oh so many things have changed in nutrition.
Firstly we are witnessing the appearance of new trendy foods from new uses for existing foods such as cauliflower and beetroot to the appearance of new foods with a nutrition buzz such as matcha, kale, hemp, lupins and plant mylks made from almond, oat, rice, macadamia and pea protein.
Some foods are emerging from a long but ignored tradition and are being “re-discovered” such as the fermented foods of kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi. It all ties in the granny skills trend of knitting, crocheting and home preserving – making things from what we already have or grow.
Second we are in the midst of a tug of war between the various dietary tribes. Think of paleo, keto, raw, no-sugar, gluten-free, clean eating, and intermittent fasting. All waging war on each other. All saying that they are the best. Paleo say all grains are bad while gluten-free say grains are ok as long as they don’t contain any gluten (wheat, rye, barley and oats). Raw foodists say anything cooked is bad. No wonder then that we are confused.
Plus we’ve had changes in food packaging and labelling, for example.
The Health Star Rating has come in, the red tick from the Heart Foundation has gone.
Hemp has been approved for food use here so we’re seeing hemp hearts, oil and hemp flakes appearing in supermarkets.
We are seeing a lot more café culture where we sit and sip coffees or piccolos made in various ways in a café and not at home.
We’ve witnessed the rise of sugary syrups – rice malt syrup, agave, honey – and of sugar alternatives -coconut sugar, panela, fructose, glucose. Not forgetting the zero-calorie versions such as stevia and erythritol which now are replacing the older aspartame and acesulphame-K which had negative attitudes although this could never be proven in any studies.
People have gotten busier and have more “things” to cope with in their busy lives. Food has to fit in around them.
We are witnessing the decline of a larger meal for four, five, or six people and the rise of meals for one. The number of single-serve meals has greatly increased as people live on their own or eat at differing times so need something for one.
What should we be eating more of?
More vegetables and salads, more legumes (peas, beans and lentils), more smart carbs, more good fats and more proteins.
What should we be eating less of?
Less added sugar, less salt, less alcohol and less junk food.
Who’s the bad guy in 2020? Salt, sugar, fats, carbs?
I reckon the bad guy for 2020 will end up being ultra-processed foods (UPF) aka junk food or treats. These now comprise some 35 per cent of all food eaten in Australia which is mind-blowing! These are combinations of sugar, salt, fat and refined starches and are designed to be more-ish and to make us want to eat and eat. Think of chocolate biscuits, creamy ice-creams, confectionery, movie popcorn, packets of salty potato crisps and corn chips.
It’s really the snacks and in-between meal choices that are the problem today – that’s where the junk creeps in.
UPF or modern-day snacks are really mini-meals with too many kilojoules and too much sugar and salt. Served in huge portions, are processed and don’t contribute any of the essential nutrients we really need, they serve to encourage mindless eating while watching a movie or show.
Everyone seems to be going plant-based? Is it a fad?
No it’s a long-term trend that started way back once nutritionists started recommending we eat less meat and replace this with more vegetables and legumes (lentils, chick peas etc).
It’s good to see trendy restaurants now turning cherry tomatoes or eggplants or fennel into something delicious and delightful to eat. Meat, chicken and fish has long been the centre of any meal but this changed once eating out became more casual, less of a fine dining experience and share plates appeared on menus.
What I’m against is the faux meat or plant-based burgers and sausages that mimic meat but are made from spun soy or spun wheat (textured vegetable protein or TVP). These are made from crops and would be highly processed and produce more gas emissions as a result of intensive cropping compared to traditionally-raised grass-fed beef or lamb from Australia.
Plus these vegan sausages or burgers are not good for the environment as they are made in the US and are transported here frozen racking up huge food miles. I have just looked at Linda Mccartney frozen veg burgers and Eaty Gourmet Snags.
The solution is not to avoid meat completely (as we do with this latest trend) but to buy better-quality meat and eat smaller amounts of it.
I often wonder why people can’t just buy less meat (shop for 300 or 400g to feed four, not 500 or 600g) and cook up more vegetables and/or salad? It’s not that hard. You don’t have to throw away your old recipes. Or go vegan (which has many known nutritional deficiencies such as lack of B12 or iron or omega-3s). Just change the proportions of what you dish up on the plate.
The golden rule is: half the plate to be non-starchy vegetables; quarter of the plate to be meat/fish/chicken/tofu or legumes; and quarter of the plate to be starch (potato/rice/pasta/quinoa).
Nutritionists have been saying this for years!
What’s the healthiest way to lose weight?
Try these. How to lose weight without going on a diet.
Eat mindfully: Consciously slowing down your rate of eating automatically decreases your food intake by 10 per cent and maximizes your meal satisfaction. Take small bites and chew well.
Eat with a fork and knife, not your fingers: Put the fork and knife down between each bite. Halfway through your meal, have a one-minute pause.
Don’t eat in front of the TV or read a magazine or your smart phone: This only becomes mindless eating and distracts you from listening to your stomach.
Eat with your non-dominant hand or use chopsticks instead of a fork.
Pay attention to your stomach: Listen to your body. It takes your stomach 15 or 20 minutes to signal your brain that it’s full. If you rush your food down, you’ll find you’ve often overeaten before you realised you were full. Slowing your eating also aids digestion and de-stresses you.
Eat more filling fibre: High-fibre foods like grainy breads, bran cereals, salads, lentils, beans and fresh fruit take time to chew and digest. They fill you up BEFORE you’ve overeaten so you feel satisfied without overdoing the kilojoules/calories. Best of all, fibre actually blocks the absorption of a percentage of the food in your digestive system so you eat well but don’t end up taking in all those kilojoules.
Don’t cut out any one food group: Eat some whole grains. Eat some meat or fish. Eat some dairy or get your calcium from reasonable sources. Eat some yoghurt or cheese (dairy). Eat one treat a day to stop binge eating.
Serve your meals on a smaller plate: Use an appetizer or bread plate – 24cm in diameter – instead of a larger dinner sized plate which can be 32cm across. The food will automatically look more which makes you think you’re eating big.
Additionally, studies show that using tall, thin glasses instead of wide, short ones can reduce the amount of liquids you pour yourself: This strategy can help you limit alcohol, fizzy drinks, cream-based smoothies and similar beverages.
What would your last supper be and why?
My last supper or final “best” meal would be: grilled firm fish such as barramundi (which I’m in love with); some sort of coleslaw with a nice dressing; a slice of thick crusty wholemeal bread; and a glass of crisp dry white wine such as a semillon sauvignon blanc or sauvignon blanc. I’m not a dessert seeker so wouldn’t bother finishing off such a splendid dinner with anything sweet! That’s it for me. Maybe I’d add a glass of sparkling water as well.
- Nutrition for Life, by Catherine Saxelby. Hardie Grant Books, $34.99.