A friend reckons he has it good. His partner cooks a bacon-hash-brown-fry-up for breakfast every day. “Are you sure?” I said. “Cause that’s exactly what I would feed my partner if I wanted to bump him off!”
It is easy to fall into the trap of giving people you love lots of ultra-processed, high-kilojoule, nutrient-poor foods because they like them. But immediate pleasure comes at a cost.
When the food your loved ones eat is of poor nutritional quality, their odds of developing tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers increase. Is that what you really want for them?
Why shouldn’t you feed them bacon?
Processed meats are preserved by curing, salting, smoking or adding preservatives. They include bacon, ham, salami, chorizo, luncheon meats and some sausages.
Swap your breakfast bacon for a poached egg and grilled tomato on wholegrain bread. Swap chopped bacon in recipes for an onion browned with garlic and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or nuts to add flavour, crunch and nutrients.
Don’t let your loves ones drink sugary drinks
Having holes in your teeth (aka dental caries) is the most common and costly, yet preventable, nutrition-related disease in the world.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants us to reduce our intake of “free sugars” – those added by manufacturers or home cooks, or naturally present in honey and fruit juice – to less than 10% of our total kilojoule intake. We could achieve this target if we all stopped drinking soft drinks.
Instead of soft drink, offer your loved ones more water; soda or mineral is fine so long as it is plain.
Yes, alcohol is on the list
Adolescents and young adults whose parents and friends drink a lot are more likely to have higher alcohol intakes too. The amount of alcohol you drink is what your kids see as “normal” drinking.
For healthy adults, the recommendation is no more than two standard drinks on any day and no more than four on any occasion to lower lifetime risk of alcohol-related harm, injury or disease.
Support those you love to cut back their alcohol intake.
Tough love rules
It takes some tough love to serve up what’s “good” for your family members, especially when it is not their favourite.
My child came home from school declaring “You don’t know what it’s like to be the only one without potato chips in your lunch box.” My response? “That must be hard, but you do not know how tough it is being a parent who loves you sooo much that I can’t put chips in your lunchbox.”
These nutrition tips will help get you started at home:
Make food rules. Parents without rules about things such as not skipping breakfast or eating in front of TV have adolescents with worse food habits than those with rules. A supportive home environment for nutrition means kids do eat better.
Never give up encouraging your loved ones to eat more, and a bigger variety, of vegetables and fruit. People who increase their intake of vegetables and fruit also report increased life satisfaction, happiness and well-being.
Show them which foods belong to the basic foods groups and which do not. Young children find it easy to recognise foods packed with essential nutrients, but harder to identify energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods or junk foods. Discretionary foods make up more than one-third (35%) of what Australians eat, compared to the recommended maximum of 15%. Most people need to cut their “discretionary foods” by more than half.
Plan meals and snacks ahead of time. Base them around the five nutrient-rich core foods: vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, lean sources of protein (fish, chicken, meat, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried beans and lentils) and dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and milk. Prepare school and work lunches the night before and refrigerate them.
Try healthy fast food cooked at home. Instead of ordering in, spread a pizza base with tomato paste and top it with grated carrot and zucchini or other vegetables, some cooked chicken, meat or four-bean mix and grated cheese. Bake until crispy and serve with salad. People who cook more have healthier eating habits, better nutrient intakes and spend less money on take-aways.
Frequent family meals have added benefits, including better mental health, self-esteem and school success. Show just how much you love them by teaching them how to cook, set the dinner table and share family meals.
Clare Collins is affiliated with the Priority Research Centre in Physical Activity and Nutrition, the University of Newcastle, NSW. She is an NHMRC Senior Research fellow. She created the online Healthy Eating Quiz and the Australian Eating Survey. She has received funding from a range of research grants including NHMRC, ARC, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Meat and Livestock Australia. She has consulted to SHINE Australia and Novo Nordisk. Clare Collins is a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia on specific nutrition issues, including Australia's Healthy Weight Week.
Authors: Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle