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Nuts in bowls

Sorting the diet facts from fads

It seems like every week there’s a new fad diet that we’re told we should follow or some fresh research that indicates something that was once bad for you is now in fact good for you. It’s almost impossible to keep up with what we should and shouldn’t be ingesting. However, Deakin University Associate Professor Sarah McNaughton, an advanced accredited practising dietitian, is well equipped to dispel the myths. Previously, she has shared some truths about vitamins, fruit, gluten and dairy. Now she delivers the facts about nuts, frozen vegetables and processed meat.

If nuts are full of fat, should they be avoided?

Nuts are high in fat, but if you’re weighing them up against a burger, you should choose the nuts. That’s because nuts are mainly comprised of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are the healthier types of fats. ‘Nuts also contain protein, fibre and micronutrients such as calcium, vitamin E, potassium and selenium, and therefore can be a healthy addition to your diet. They are a core food in the Australian Dietary Guidelines,’ Assoc. Prof. McNaughton explains.

She says that a large amount of nuts in a diet can have health benefits and may lead to lower risk of a range of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. ‘It has been shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts has benefits for cardiovascular disease and diabetes,’ Assoc. Prof. McNaughton adds.

It’s a good idea to eat a range of nuts because they all have different nutrient profiles. Find creative ways to integrate tree nuts such as almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pistachios and walnuts into dishes.

‘Nuts are great added to muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, as a snack food or can even be added to salads and stir-fries for some extra crunch. Nuts are a healthy snack option as they can help to make you feel full for longer,’ she suggests, and adds that if you choose roasted nuts look for those that are dry roasted without extra fats and salt. If you are worried about allergies to nuts and peanuts, Assoc. Prof. McNaughton suggests consulting the Food Standards website.

'Nuts are great added to muesli and yoghurt for breakfast, as a snack food or can even be added to salads and stir-fries for some extra crunch. Nuts are a healthy snack option as they can help to make you feel full for longer.'

Sarah McNaughton,
Associate Professor and advanced accredited practising dietitian, Deakin University

Is it a waste of time to eat frozen vegetables?

Before you limit your diet to only fresh fruit and vegetables sourced from the best farmers markets, it’s useful to know that frozen vegetables can actually be good for you and can contain similar amounts of many nutrients.

‘They can help you add variety when your favourite vegetables might be out of season,’ says Assoc. Prof. McNaughton. ’They can also be a good way to save money, as sometimes they can be more economical than fresh vegetables, and you can always have some on hand and avoid waste.’

But there’s a trick to getting the most out of your frozen vegetables: don’t overcook them. ‘Add them directly from the freezer to stir-fries, close to the end of cooking for soups and casseroles, or steam them very quickly. As they have already been blanched (cooked quickly) before freezing, they really just need warming up,’ she explains.

Assoc. Prof. McNaughton says many Australians would do well to stock up on frozen veg because less than 4% eat the recommended amount of vegetables. So reaching for frozen vegetables that can be cooked and served quickly might help people to increase their intake.

Does processed meat give you cancer?

Fans of antipasto might have gasped when they heard reports that processed meat was linked with cancer. In 2015, a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that eating processed meats was a risk for colorectal cancer, and that every additional 50g serve increased cancer risk by 18%.

According to Assoc. Prof. McNaughton meat products such as bacon, ham, salami and sausages are processed through salting, curing and smoking. They are often high in saturated fat and salt and according to the Australian Dietary Guidelines you should limit your intake of processed meats.

‘Processed meats have been examined in many studies to see whether they increase your cancer risk and therefore this is one group of foods that you should look to decrease in your diet, and swap with other healthier options,’ she says.

But that’s not to say you can’t enjoy a few strips of prosciutto from time to time. Instead, Assoc. Prof. McNaughton suggests reducing the amount you eat and sometimes replacing processed meat with other items. ‘For foods like pizza, look for other tasty toppings, such as mushrooms, eggplant or capsicum,’ she suggests.

Want to learn more about how food impacts your health? Consider studying food, nutrition and dietetics at Deakin University.

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Sarah McNaughton
Sarah McNaughton

Associate Professor, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University

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