Sunday, 29 July 2012

How Healthy am I ... Really?

All this reading I've been doing on diet and nutrition and it's role in managing MS, got me thinking about my diet.  I've always thought of myself as a healthy sort of person, but when I really looked at what I was eating, maybe I wasn't as healthy as I thought.

Am I one of those skinny 'fat' people?

According to the research conducted by Roy Swank, my MS disability may be greatly reduced if I follow a low saturated fat diet.  That is less than 15 grams of saturated fat a day, less than 5g of saturated fat per meal.  Many people dismiss the Swank diet as 'not proven', but if you look at the Australian Heart Foundation Diet, they are almost the same.  The Heart Foundation says your saturated fat should be no more that 7% of your daily kilojoule intake.  So if the average adult consumes 8,700kj per day, no more than 609kj should come from saturated fat.  That equates to 16g of saturated fat per day. 

I grabbed The Australian Women's Weekly Cooking School Cook Book and looked at the fat content of some common dishes that we eat.

Dish – per serve
Total Fat (g)
Saturated Fat (g)
Spaghetti Carbonara
Quiche Lorraine
Butter Chicken (homemade)
Macaroni Cheese
Steak with Pepper sauce (includes cream)
Cream of Chicken Soup
Beef Stroganoff
Eggs Benedict

Beef lasagne
Roast Chicken with herb stuffing
Lemon Tart – 1 slice
Meat pie (homemade)
Spaghetti Bolognese
Butter Cake – 1 slice
Mushroom Risotto
Standing Rib Roast with roast vegetables
Combination Fried Rice
Mashed potato

Steak Sandwich
Pad Thai (noodles)
Chilli Con Carne
Sweet & sour pork
Chilli Prawn linguine
Pork & vegetable stir fry
Chicken & vegetable soup
Singapore Chilli Crab
Poached egg

All the dishes at the top of the list have more saturated fat in them than your whole daily allowance.  All the dishes at the bottom of the list have less than 5 grams of saturated fat.  The dishes in the middle in theory are too high in fat for me, but if I modified them, I could make them work.

Ways to reduce Saturated Fat

Dairy - The first thing I noticed when I looked at the ingredients in these dishes was that the ones high in saturated fat generally contained a lot of dairy - butter, cream and cheese in particular.  The easiest way to reduce saturated fat then, was to cut out the dairy. I cut it out for other MS reasons too, I'm not saying you have to.

Meat - Meat is not completely the enemy when it comes to saturated fat.  There are some lean meats that will work.  I just control the portion size, and I prefer to eat my meat with chopsticks (in a stir fry), or with a spoon (such as in chicken soup).  Processed meats are a problem - sausages, salami's etc... as they are generally very high in saturated fat.  My preferred 'meat' now is seafood - fish, prawns, scallops, crab, Moreton Bay Bugs, as these have very low levels of saturated fat in them, and taste delicious.

 Fresh seafood at the Sydney Fishmarket in Glebe

By eliminating dairy and choosing my 'meats' carefully, I have been able to easily reduce the saturated fat in my diet without being worried about counting grams of fat.

Here are some of the modifications I've made so I can enjoy my food in a healthier way:
  • I love risotto, but cooking it with butter and adding all the parmesan cheese at the end makes it too high in fat for me.  To get around this, I saute the onion in extra-virgin olive oil, and leave out the parmesan.  My kids are happy to grate a small amount of parmesan on top of their risotto rather than having it all through the rice. 
  • For my mashed potato, I mash it with olive oil, instead of milk/cream and butter, and it's delicious. 
  • For the fried rice, I leave out the bacon and just make it with seafood and vegetables.
  • For roast chicken I leave out the stuffing, sit the bird on a can of beer and roast it vertically in the BBQ.  The beer helps to steam the chicken keeping it moist, and being vertical (yes the beer can is up the chicken's you know what), the chicken doesn't cook in it's own fat.  I have a small amount of chicken breast and I don't eat the skin.
Interestingly, many low saturated fat dishes I have found are either Asian (not big dairy eaters), or Mediterranean.  As I get used to my new way of eating, I am finding it easier.  There are so many tasty foods to eat, it's just about making the right choices and a few adjustments.

I would love to hear from you, if you have found other ways to make food healthier.

A Footnote on Fat - Swank states in his book, The Multiple Sclerosis Diet, that the estimated fat intake of our Western ancestors 200 years ago was probably around 60 grams per day.  That's total fat, not just saturated fat.  The first recorded fat consumption figures in the United States was 125 grams per person per day in 1909.  By 1948 it was 141 grams.  In comparison China was 38 grams, India 27 grams, and Japan 14 grams.  Dietary fat intake in Australia has risen from 129 grams per person per day in 1990-92, to 143 grams in 2005-07.(source)


  1. This was really interesting Kylie. I am going to try making mashed potatoes your way from now on. I might still need a bit of butter for my risotto though!

    Hope you have had a great weekend. We are getting ready to watch some of the gymnastics now!

    Best wishes,

    1. I know - how good are the Olympics?
      The olive mash is really good. I must admit I don't miss the butter in the risotto, but I do miss a little bit of parmesan.

  2. Now that I don't have to cook for kids anymore, I am almost vegetarian. I love cooking up whatever vegies I have in the fridge......sometimes steamed and sometimes stir fried in olive oil..... and eating them with brown rice. I sometimes add nuts, not sure if the fat in them is good or bad, but I guess my weakness is parmesan cheese, which I sprinkle on top.
    I usually only eat meat when I go out or have people over. A bit boring I guess but I just love vegies and crave them! x

    1. There's nothing boring about vegies, and nuts are good as they are mainly good fats, and you only eat a few of them at a time. I often throw some nuts in a stir fry. My challenge is to find meals we can all eat as a family, because I don't want to be 'the baby' that needs a special meal.

  3. Hello Kylie,

    Thank you this post is brilliant - it is right up my healthy eating "alley".
    I love the Asian way of eating and eat it as often as possible - I have 2 fascinating books on the Japanese diet and a "bible" Thai cookbook and noting the absence of dairy In an Asians diet.
    Also noting they have cooked breakfasts and never eat western cereals etc and hardly any breads at all (thus eliminating wheat, dairy and sugar from their diet).
    One case in the Japanese book shows a photo of the author (who is Japanese) after she lived in the US for a while and the exceptional amount of weight she put on.
    She returned home to her Japanese mother in Japan and her mother was horrified at the difference in her daughter and how obese she was.
    Asians usually follow a meal with a small amount of fruit if needed - never once again like a western diet of fat and sugar laden processed deserts.

    Well done Kylie (I'm a brown rice lover and know of a great place that serves brown rice sushi 😊)
    We will meet one day I know and have some brown rice sushi and green tea.
    x loulou

    1. Thanks Loulou,
      Looking forward to that brown rice sushi, and that Japanese book sounds really interesting. Would love to have a look.

  4. i believe diet can make a difference with many health issues.
    i've cut out a lot of things in my diet, including dairy.
    have you tried, are you able to have almond milk?
    i have the unsweetened one. i find it nice but not in tea or coffee.

    1. I garee. I use almond milk in cooking and recipes buy the only milk I like in coffee is Vitasoy.

  5. I do believe you are what you eat. I try to eat as much as I can that I know where it comes from (eg, the earth) I try never to eat processed food and only it low fat dairy.
    I am so pleased that you are well on track and are comfortable with the whole thing. Keep up the good work. xxoo

  6. I agree. If only we all ate food from the earth and cut out the processed foods, we'd all be much healthier.

  7. Hi Kylie, I believe trying anything is worthwhile and can sometimes involve trial and error. I have IBS and the diet which suits me best took quite a few years to sort out but if I don't follow it then I suffer the consequences.
    Eating healthy is great medicine and I wish you fabulous results in this dietary journey.
    Have only just joined the dots from Instagram to your blog!

    1. Thanks Annie. I'm glad to hear you have found a diet that works for you. I'm still learning what will work for me, but I hope I can get the balance just right.

  8. Some great tips here. I am definitely going to try the mash with olive oil. I usually avoid mash so am looking forward to having it again. I think the real culprit in this high fat consumption is the huge quantity of processed and convenience food available in our western societies. Going back to basics would be good for all of us. x Sharon

  9. The good thing about Australia is that you have to cook most dishes from scratch which whilst time consuming and a bit irritating (to me, anyway ;-) means at least you know what goes into your dinner! I think Dairy is often portrayed as being healthy, maybe it is in lots of ways e.g. calcium rich etc, but it is always fattening. If you even cut it out for a few weeks you can see the weight drop off you. I am however, not brave enough to evaluate my diet - I know it's pretty terrible, but you have made me think about it a bit more with this post, so I am going to try to eat more fruit and veg now x

  10. Some great tips there Kylie, thanks for sharing them, sounds like you will be feeling a million bucks in no time!!


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