Our team of dietitians and nutritionists answer your questions to help you get more out of life.


Featured Questions

Q: How can I treat my kids to their favourite foods but still ensure they are getting a healthy diet?

A: One of the simplest ways to moderate your child's intake of treat foods is to establish a healthy approach to portion control. If your child loves sweets, set out an agreed upon portion in advance so that their expectations are managed and you are ensuring they aren't getting too much of a good thing. Another strategy is to replace high energy/high fat ingredients with healthier alternatives. For example, if your children love to eat hot chips, why not make ovenbaked chips. Simply slice the potato into wedges, spray lightly with canola oil and then cook at 180 degrees for 1 hour.


Q: I always seem to put on weight as soon as the jumpers come out. How can I manage my weight this winter?

A: Healthy eating in winter doesn't mean giving up the food you love. By paying attention to portion control and replacing high energy/high fat foods with lighter alternatives you can still enjoy the richer foods that we all love in the colder months. For example, replace cream in recipes such as pasta carbonara with CARNATION Light & Creamy Cooking Milk.


Q: Desserts and sweets are often high in fat and sugar – should my family avoid sweets or is there a sensible way they can form part of our regular diet?

A: Traditionally, desserts are high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients. However, there are plenty of nutritious options available. Desserts based on fruit or low-fat dairy products can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrate. Baked apple, fruit crumble, hot cakes, and low-fat custard are good examples. Many desserts can be modified to make them more nutritious. Take your favourite recipe and replace any full-fat dairy products with low-fat versions, reduce the amount of butter, margarine or oil and cut back on the amount of sugar. In most cases, you won't notice the difference. Also, make use of the many quick, nutritious options available and help you increase the fruit and dairy products in your family's diet. Low-fat smoothies, low-fat chocolate milkshakes, ready-made custard, yogurt, fruit salad and low-fat muffins are a nutritious, sweet end to a meal.


Q: What are Antioxidants and how can i get more into my diet?

A: An antioxidant is a naturally occurring biologically active substance that assists in preventing the unstable molecules in our body from doing our body damage. These molecules called free radicals are formed as a result of metabolism and the processes of everyday living and made worse by environments stresses. The antioxidant prevents the oxidation of these free radicals. Antioxidants are known to occur naturally in many foods such as fruit and vegetables like citrus fruits, nuts, seeds, tea, coffee, red wine and dark chocolate.


Q: What is Beta Glucan and how can it help with my cholesterol levels?

A: Beta Glucan is a type of soluble fibre that is found in the cell wall of certain foods such as oats and barley that can assist in lowering cholesterol re-absorption. When cholesterol is 'recycled' by the body and is reabsorbed through the intestinal wall, Beta Glucan binds to the cholesterol and traps it in the intestine so that it is removed from the body naturally.


Q: I am diabetic, why is a low GI diet beneficial for me?

A: Diabetics need to keep their blood glucose levels well controlled to help prevent the risk of complications. Research has shown that people with diabetes who follow a low GI diet have better controlled blood glucose levels which, together with eating sensible portion sizes assist in managing the condition. Studies from around the world are beginning to suggest that in fact all people on a diet with a high GI, not only those with diabetes, may have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Q: I have been told to eat more fibre and that there is two types of fibre- soluble and insoluble. What is the difference between the two?

A: Insoluble fibre like the bran in wheat absorbs water to help soften the contents of the bowel and move wastes through the body, hence it helps to keep the bowels regular. Insoluble fibre also helps you feeling fuller for longer as it acts as a bulking agent in the food we eat.


Q: I have just learnt my child cannot have salicylates. What foods contain high amounts of salicylates?

A: Salicylates are chemicals found naturally in plants and are key ingredients of aspirin and other pain relieving medications. They are found in a wide range of fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices as well as in drinks like tea, juice, beer and wine. Salicylates can also be found in flavourings, perfumes and many common health and beauty products.

Some people have a low level of tolerance to salicylates and can have unpleasant reactions if more than a small amount is consumed. These people need to avoid foods and products that are high in salicylates.


Q: How many cups of coffee can I have a day?

A: Coffee is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. The amount of caffeine in coffee varies depending on whether it is instant or fresh, the type of coffee beans and how strong the brew is. On average, one instant cup of coffee has 60-100mg caffeine and freshly brewed coffee has 80-350mg per cup.

The caffeine found naturally in coffee is a stimulant that can have positive effects on the body, such as boosting alertness and improving sports performance. Drinking excess caffeine may cause some unwanted effects, such as difficulty sleeping or an increase in heart rate.

Different people react differently to caffeine, with groups such as children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with high blood pressure being more vulnerable to the potential, adverse effects of caffeine. These groups are best to choose a decaffeinated coffee, which on average contains only 2-4mg caffeine per cup and still has that enjoyable coffee taste.

A moderate amount of coffee will produce a pleasant caffeine "buzz" and could provide the nutritional benefits of antioxidants. The American Daily Healthy Beverage Guidelines suggest we can drink up to 4 cups of coffee per day (providing 300-400 mg/day of caffeine).


Q: Does aspartame cause cancer?

A: No. Aspartame is a type of sweetener used in many diet products as a substitute for sugar. There is a common misconception that aspartame causes cancer. In fact, there are hundreds of studies to show that the amount of aspartame in our food supply today is safe. Its safety has been thoroughly tested and approved by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

Aspartame is used as an alternative to sugar because it provides sweetness without any calories. It is beneficial for people watching their weight, as it allows them to enjoy sweet foods without excess energy. Aspartame is typically found in diet products like soft drinks, cordial, yogurt and desserts.


Q: What's the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

A: Probiotics are live, good bacteria that are added to foods and drinks. After consuming a product that contains probiotics, the good bacteria are passed into the digestive tract where they help to improve the overall balance of bacteria in the digestive system. Factors such as diet, stress and antibiotics can upset the balance of good bacteria in the digestive system. Probiotics can help to balance out the harmful bacteria, keeping the digestive system healthy.

Probiotics are found in a number of different foods including yogurt and fermented milk drinks and they are also available in capsules and powders.

Prebiotics on the other hand, are not bacteria at all. They come from indigestible fibres found in fruits and vegetables, legumes and wholegrain breads and cereals and provide the food for good bacteria. Prebiotics enhance and promote the growth of the good bacteria that already exist in the digestive system.

To keep your digestive system healthy, include a variety of fruits and vegetables, legumes and wholegrain cereals every day. Boost your body's good bacteria with a probiotic-containing yogurt, a tasty snack option during the day or a nutritious way to add extra flavour to your cereal and fruit.


Q: Is all iron the same?

A: There are two types of iron found in different foods – haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal foods, such as meat, chicken, fish and offal. Non-haem iron is found in plant foods, such as wholegrain cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and some vegetables. These two types of iron are absorbed by the body differently – haem iron is well absorbed, whereas non-haem iron is not as well absorbed.

The good news is that foods rich in vitamin C can greatly increase the absorption of non-haem iron. These foods include citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, kiwi fruit, pawpaw, melons, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and broccoli.

For good health and to help meet your daily iron needs, try to include a variety of animal and plant foods in your diet every day. To help boost iron absorption from plant foods, include vitamin C-rich foods and drinks with your meals. For instance, have a small glass of orange juice with your wholegrain toast or choose an iron-containing breakfast cereal and top it with vitamin C-rich strawberries and kiwi fruit. Add vitamin-C rich fruit and vegetables, such as tomato, broccoli and green leafy vegetables at lunch and dinner to maximize your iron absorption throughout the entire day.


Q: Are the natural trans fats in dairy as harmful for the body as man-made trans fats?

A: There have been some suggestions that naturally occurring trans fats are less harmful than commercially made ones. The reason for this suggestion is that man-made trans fats are created when healthy, polyunsaturated or monounsaturated liquid vegetable oils go through a process called partial hydrogenation. However the current scientific evidence is inconclusive. The main effect of trans fats (whether natural or man made) is that they raise 'bad' cholesterol levels and decrease 'good' cholesterol levels, which increases the risk for heart disease.

The good news is that in Australia, many companies in the food industry are proactively working to reduce trans fats. As a result the overall consumption of trans fat in Australia is low. Australians consume much less trans fat than saturated fat, meaning saturated fat is more of a health concern. For heart health, it is recommended that you try to limit pastries, pies, biscuits and cakes to only occasionally and eat less than 2g trans fat each day.


Q: My mum is watching her blood sugar levels but has a sweet tooth. Can she eat dessert?

A: Good news. Your mum doesn't need to give up her dessert. It is important that people watching their blood sugar levels control the amount of carbohydrate they eat, as well as include foods high in fibre and low in saturated fat. This can be done by spreading carbohydrate foods over the day while enjoying a balanced diet and doing regular exercise. Desserts can be high in energy (kJ's) and added sugar so if she is trying to watch her weight she may also want to choose a lower total fat and energy (kJ) option. Remember while added sugar adds to amount of total carbohydrate present, all carbohydrates even those from natural sources such as fruit, milk and cereals can increase blood sugar levels if too much is eaten at once. That's why small portions are the key. Choosing the right type of dessert is important. The following options are good choices for dessert to help satisfy her sweet tooth and are equivalent to one serve of carbohydrate. One cup of fruit (e.g. grapes), 1 medium piece of fruit, ½ cup tinned fruit, ½ cup low fat custard, 200g diet yogurt or two small scoops of low fat ice cream.


Q: My teenage daughter is skipping breakfast at the moment. What are the benefits of eating a healthy breakfast?

A: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as it is a long time since the body was last refuelled. A nutritious and sustaining breakfast will supply her with the energy she needs to get the day off to the right start. A breakfast that is high in carbohydrate will supply energy for muscles and the brain. Carbohydrate foods that are good breakfast choices include bread, crumpets, cereal, fruit, milk and yogurt. Wholegrain breads and cereals are the best option for breakfast, as they contain carbohydrates, essential nutrients and dietary fibre, which is important for inner balance. Many breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamins and minerals to help boost daily nutrition. If time in the mornings is limited, try quick options like reduced fat-yogurt, wholegrain toast or a piece of fruit.


Q: Desserts and sweets are often high in fat and sugar – should my family avoid sweets or is there a sensible way they can form part of our regular diet?

A: Traditionally, desserts are high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients. However, there are plenty of nutritious options available. Desserts based on fruit or low-fat dairy products can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrate. Baked apple, fruit crumble, hot cakes, and low-fat custard are good examples. Many desserts can be modified to make them more nutritious. Take your favourite recipe and replace any full-fat dairy products with low-fat versions, reduce the amount of butter, margarine or oil and cut back on the amount of sugar. In most cases, you won't notice the difference. Also, make use of the many quick, nutritious options available and help you increase the fruit and dairy products in your family's diet. Low-fat smoothies, low-fat chocolate milkshakes, ready-made custard, yogurt, fruit salad and low-fat muffins are a nutritious, sweet end to a meal.


Q: Does eating before exercise affect my ability to lose weight?

A: The key to losing body fat is to consume less kilojoules than you utilise over a period of time. It is more important what you do over a number of days than what you eat (or don't eat) at a particular meal. If you exercise without eating you may use a greater proportion of fat during the exercise session. However, if you eat before exercise, you will be able to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time. This will allow you to use more kilojoules in total. It really depends on what type of exercise you are doing and how long you intend to exercise for. If you are doing moderate intensity exercise such as running, swimming or cycling for around 60 minutes or longer, it makes sense to eat before exercise. Exercise at any time is better than no exercise at all.


Q: I am a 30-year-old female. I exercise twice a day – a combination of aerobics and running. I eat three good meals a day but find I am constantly tired. What can I eat to improve my energy levels?

A: There are a number of factors which contribute to fatigue and tiredness. The first thing to consider is your carbohydrate intake. An inadequate carbohydrate intake will contribute to fatigue. Most active people find it difficult to consume sufficient carbohydrate in three meals a day. You may need to increase your intake by adding snacks such as fruit, yogurt, flavoured milk, sandwiches or cereal bars between meals. Another thing to consider is the timing of your food intake. You will find you get more out of your workouts if you eat before and after exercise. Aim to consume a meal or snack 1-3 hours before exercise and within 30-60 minutes after exercise. Dehydration can also contribute to fatigue. Drink during your workouts and regularly throughout the day. Iron deficiency can also cause fatigue. Have your iron levels checked by a doctor. If you are iron deficient you will need a course of supplements along with some changes to your diet. A consultation with a sports dietician is recommended if you are found to be iron deficient. Another consideration is that you may be over-exercising. Your body needs time to recover from exercise. Perhaps you need to schedule a day off once a week or vary your workouts so that you have a combination of light and heavy sessions.


Q: I don't like to drink milk. How can I get enough calcium in my diet?

A: Dairy foods are the best source of calcium and eating at least 3 serves (200ml milk, tub of yogurt, slice of cheese) each day will meet most people's calcium requirements. If you don't like milk, consume more cheese and yogurt. Alternatively, you could try a soy beverage – just makes sure it has calcium added. Other good sources of calcium include tinned fish such as salmon and sardines where the bones are eaten, oysters, almonds, tahini and tofu.


Q: I play netball at around 1.00pm on Saturdays. What and when should I eat before matches?

A: When playing at 1.00pm focus on having a nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-based breakfast. Recommended choices include cereal with fruit plus some toast, fruit and yogurt, spaghetti on toast or English muffins plus a milk smoothie. There are a number of possibilities. Michelle Minehan Sports Dietitian, AIS Department of Sports Nutrition Top up your carbohydrate levels with a snack about 11.30am. Try fruit, yogurt, cereal bars or a sandwich with spread. Remember to include some fluid with your meal and snack. Sports drink, water, cordial and juice are suitable choices before the game.


Q: I really enjoy spaghetti but now I have read that pasta should be avoided when trying to lose weight.

A: There is no need to avoid pasta when trying to lose weight. However, you do need to consider how much pasta you eat and what you eat with the pasta. To lose weight you need to reduce the amount of kilojoules you consume and increase the amount of activity you do. The most successful way to reduce your kilojoule intake is to target excess energy-dense foods such as those high in fat, alcohol and sugar. Instead, base meals on foods which provide carbohydrate, moderate amounts of protein and a good range of vitamins and minerals. At times, it may also be necessary to reduce the amount of food consumed in total. However, you should not avoid any particular food altogether. Pasta is high in carbohydrate, low GI and low in fat. It is a good choice when combined with a sauce which includes lean meats and vegetables. Like any food, it is possible to eat too much pasta and some people may need to reduce the quantity they consume. Sauces containing cream, oils, cheese and high-fat meats often make pasta meals high in kilojoules. Use light varieties, such as tomato based or 'cream' varieties made with CARNATION Light & Creamy Evaporated Milk, where possible.


Q: It's challenging to make sure my family has healthy choices – what should I look for in an evening meal?

A: When planning an evening meal, start with a carbohydrate base. This could be pasta, rice, noodles, couscous, bread or potato. Include a source of protein such as lean meat, skin-free poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, beans or lentils. Add a colourful mix of vegetables and/or fruit to provide fibre, vitamins and minerals. The evening meal can be an opportunity to make up for a poor intake of particular nutrients. For example, if family members struggle with getting adequate calcium, make a pasta sauce or curry based on CARNATION Light & Creamy Evaporated Milk. If iron absorption is a problem, combine lean red meat with vegetables rich in vitamin C. If your family members are reluctant vegetable eaters, hide grated carrot and zucchini in spaghetti bolognese or slice some raw vegetable sticks as appetisers. Serve a wide variety of foods and your family will receive all the nutrients they require.


Q: My kids are all very active and by the time we get them home after school activities, they are starving. How can I feed them quickly without sacrificing taste and nutrition?

A: There are a few strategies to use. The first is to plan ahead, keep the fridge and pantry well-stocked and master a few quick recipes such as stir-fries, risottos, pasta sauces and curries. Use time-saving products such as tinned tomatoes, minced herbs, bottled pasta sauce, flavour bases and frozen vegetables. Supplement these with fresh ingredients to create quick, tasty and nutritious meals. Another option is to double-up when cooking meals. A bolognese sauce can be turned into a lasagne, chilli con carne or canneloni for another night. A final option is to give the kids a quick snack to take the edge off their hunger - a bowl of soup, a milkshake, sandwich or muffin are good examples of easy, nutritious snack choices.


Q: I hear that Omega-3 is good for growing children but my children don't like eating fish, how can I get more Omega-3 into their diet?

A: Omega-3 fats are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. Essential means that they cannot be produced in the body and therefore must be obtained from food. Omega 3 fats are needed to ensure the integrity of cell membranes and to help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Food sources of Omega 3 fats are eggs, beef, canola oil, linseed oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds and walnuts so some of these foods could be incorporated into their meals.


Q: I am a 30-year-old female. I exercise twice a day – a combination of aerobics and running. I eat three good meals a day but find I am constantly tired. What can I eat to improve my energy levels?

A: There are a number of factors which contribute to fatigue and tiredness. The first thing to consider is your carbohydrate intake. An inadequate carbohydrate intake will contribute to fatigue. Most active people find it difficult to consume sufficient carbohydrate in three meals a day. You may need to increase your intake by adding snacks such as fruit, yogurt, flavoured milk, sandwiches or cereal bars between meals.

Another thing to consider is the timing of your food intake. You will find you get more out of your workouts if you eat before and after exercise. Aim to consume a meal or snack 1-3 hours before exercise and within 30-60 minutes after exercise. Dehydration can also contribute to fatigue. Drink during your workouts and regularly throughout the day.

Iron deficiency can also cause fatigue. Have your iron levels checked by a doctor. If you are iron deficient you will need a course of supplements along with some changes to your diet. A consultation with a sports dietician is recommended if you are found to be iron deficient.

Another consideration is that you may be over-exercising. Your body needs time to recover from exercise. Perhaps you need to schedule a day off once a week or vary your workouts so that you have a combination of light and heavy sessions.


Q: What are the best drinks to put in my child's lunchbox?

A: Water and reduced-fat milk are the best drinks for children to drink most of the time. They can be frozen to help keep foods in the lunch box cool. A small tetra pack or bottle (125 mL) of fruit juice is also OK. Sweet drinks such as cordials and soft drinks are high in sugar. It's best to keep these drinks as special treats.