Alex Redman, founder of the well-known blog, The Dietitians Pantry is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. We are excited to have the opportunity to gain insight into her expert opinion on all things nutrition.
Can you please tell us a little bit about your background and about your current role as a dietitian?
I’m not one of those people that always knew they wanted to be a dietitian. However, I knew that I wanted to do something in the ‘health’ field so after high school I enrolled in the Bachelor of Health Science which allowed me to study a wide range of health subjects. By the end of the second year, I was loving all of the nutrition subjects I was doing and learning about how food can have such a big impact on health & disease. My absolute favourite subject was ‘diet & disease’. By the time I had finished my degree I knew I wanted to be a dietitian. Once I completed the Bachelor of Health Science I went on to do the Master of Dietetics.
Since graduating from the masters I have worked in private practice, health promotion/public health and now my current role in cardiac rehab, which I love!
What is your philosophy to eating and your diet?
When it comes to healthy eating I believe it comes down to ‘mainly plant based, minimally processed foods’, putting an emphasis on mainly. No need to ban any foods. You can still eat chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream etc. but just make them a small part of a nutritious, healthy diet. And I certainly follow that philosophy when it comes to my diet. I keep it pretty simple and basic. Most of my diet consists of minimally processed foods with heaps of veggies. I don’t have any rules or banned foods. My diet is pretty consistent during the week, eating similar things most days and on the weekend I love eating out and indulging a bit more.
What does a typical day following your diet look like?
During the week days I start with oats or sweet potato topped with Greek yoghurt, nuts/seeds, berries and cinnamon. Lunch is roast veggies with rice/quinoa, tofu and extra virgin olive oil dressing & dinner is veggies/salad with a form of protein (mainly tofu or fish) and a form of carbohydrate (rice, quinoa, bread etc). Morning tea is banana with Greek yoghurt, in the arvo I have a nut bar and after dinner I have berries and yoghurt. I’m not vegetarian but I don’t eat much meat, usually only when I eat out. On the weekends anything goes! I usually eat out at least once on the weekend whether it is brunch, lunch or dinner and I like to eat things that I don’t usually eat during the week.
While many people understand what a healthy diet consists of, many struggle with the willpower to stick to healthy eating. Why do you think that many people find it hard to align their actions with their goals and what are your strategies for helping people to overcome this?
A lot of the time people try and do too many things at once. They have the ‘diet starts Monday’ mentality. on Monday they only eat salad and do a huge workout at the gym and they keep it up for a few days but by the end of the week they are exhausted and hungry because their new ‘health kick’ is unsustainable. Change is hard, so if people need to make a lot of changes to their diet or lifestyle it’s important to make it as easy as possible. I encourage people to only make a few small changes at once and once those changes have become ‘the norm’ they work on another small change to make. For example it may be as simple as eating 2 fruits per day. During the first few days it may be difficult but if that’s all they have to focus on without worrying about making other changes they stick to it because that’s the only thing they need to do and by the end of 2 weeks eating 2 fruits per day is the ‘norm’ and they can work on something else. It may take a lot longer but it’s definitely more sustainable and more likely to last.
There is a lot of conflicting information about weight loss in the media. What are the three most important pieces of advice you would give to clients who are looking to lose weight?
1. Keep it simple. Many people overlook the basics and feel they need to do some extreme exercise and diet. Start with the basics – how many veggies do you eat every day, what are your portion sizes like, how often do you have ‘extra’ foods, how often and what type of exercise do you do?
2. Portion sizes. Often people are eating a healthy, nutritious diet but just eating too much or in the wrong portion sizes. Many people have a large portion of protein and carbohydrates and a small amount of veggies or salad. Sometimes it’s just about switching things around so the veggies/salad is the main part of the meal and the protein and carbs take up about ¼ each.
3. Look beyond the scales. Don’t just put all the focus on reducing the numbers of the scales. Focus on the nutritious foods you are eating, the amount of veggies you have each day, how you are feeling, how much sleep you get and your activity levels. If you focus on having a healthy lifestyle weight loss often results as a side effect.
What is your opinion on buying organic produce in favour of regular produce (I.e. meats, vegetables, eggs etc.)? Does buying organic produce improve our health?
I haven’t come across any research that has convinced me that organic is definitely the way to go. However saying that I do try and buy organic meats when I can. My recommendation to others is to buy organic when they can and if they want to but it’s definitely not a necessity. I wouldn’t say organic produce results in health benefits above and beyond ‘regular’ produce.
What is your opinion on red meat? There is an increasing trend to avoid red meat, as many people fear that it will cause a variety of diseases such as cancer. Do you believe this is true?
There is definitely strong evidence that links meat (especially processed meat) with a higher risk of some cancers (such as bowel and stomach). Processed meats such as ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs should be considered ‘discretionary’ foods and only eaten occasionally. Red meat such as beef, lamb and pork doesn’t need to be reduced as much but certainly shouldn’t be overconsumed. It is recommended to have no more than 455g cooked red meat per week.
Here in Australia we tend to have a meat eating culture, especially when it comes to males. It’s not uncommon to get a 300g steak at a restaurant. I really encourage people to watch their portion sizes of red meat and reduce their frequency of eating it, even adopting some meat free days. Meat free days is a great way for people to experiment with foods they may not be used to (such as tofu, beans & lentils, tempeh) and to eat more vegetables.
What is your opinion on dairy consumption? There is also an emerging trend to avoid drinking milk in favour of alternatives such as almond milk as many now believe milk is full of hormones and antibiotics and isn’t as healthy as we are lead to believe. Do you believe that our new found fear of dairy is warranted?
No not at all. Dairy is very nutritious, full of a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. I don’t think people MUST have dairy in their diet if they choose not to but it definitely can be included in a well-balanced diet and many of the claims around dairy are just not true and are unjustified. There is the theory that humans ‘originally’ didn’t drink milk after weaning but we ‘originally’ didn’t eat any of the other food that we eat today either! Or the theory that humans are the only animals that drink the milk of another species but humans are the only species to eat and drink many things! It’s a great evolutionary process that humans have adapted to be able to drink milk lifelong. However, some people are truly lactose intolerant as they don’t have the enzyme that breaks down the milk sugar – lactose.
Many of the alternative milks such as the nuts milks contain few vitamins and minerals compared to milk and if you look at the ingredients list often have many additives which I think really contradicts the idea of them as being more ‘natural’.
Australia has VERY strict testing for antibiotic residues in milk. Any milk produced by a cow that has been on antibiotics for an infection cannot be used for human consumption.
Finally, what is your all-time favourite recipe to cook and why?
I must confess I rarely follow recipes!!! I’m not a huge fan of cooking so I love to do quick and easy meals. I just throw things together and hope for the best!
If you would like to know more about Alex, you can follow her at:
Alana Willis is passionate about all things health and nutrition. You can usually find her at the beach, with a smoothie in one hand and a good book in the other, soaking up that great Aussie sun. She is currently completing the Bachelor of Science and Master of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Sydney and foresees herself one day running her own dietetics practice. With a major in psychology, Alana is fascinated by the relationship between food and our mental state, and how our psychology can be used to implement healthy eating behaviours.
Alana’s keen interest in health and nutrition is reflected by her writing. With her scientific background, Alana critically analyses everything she hears and reads, ensuring that her writing is current and evidence based. You can see more of her writing featured in the Dietitian Connection Newsletter and the Feel Great Challenge founded by biggest loser host, Hayley Lewis.