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The 5 questions Nutritionist Dr Joanna McMillan gets asked the most.

"You shouldn’t need to pop many pills" (Image via iStock).

When I go out for dinner or meet new people, inevitably they find out what I do or they recognise me and we fall into a conversation about diet and lifestyle. Many of the questions I get asked are the same and it occurred to me that many of you probably want to know the answers too.

So here are five of the questions I’m most frequently asked about.

1. What’s your favourite quick and easy, healthy dinner?

This changes based on what I have in the fridge! But I do try to incorporate as many vegetables as I can into whatever meal I’m making. If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen me post a picture of a delicious soup I made the other day from all the leftover veggies I had in the fridge.

I served it up for an easy week night dinner with dark, crusty bread and a chunk of mature cheddar cheese. I also love a stirfry filled with lots of veggies and a protein-rich food such as chicken, meat or tofu, served with brown rice. It’s really easy, nutritious and healthy.

Other nights I might just have a simple fillet steak with a big interesting salad, always dressed with a flavour packed dresssing based on extra virgin olive oil, and a smart carb of some sort like quinoa, baked sweet potato or corn cobs.

Plus, I can’t go past a frittata – they are so versatile and you can fill them with anything you’ve got in the fridge – tomato, pumpkin, eggplant. Serve it hot or cold with a big salad (I eat a lot of salad!).

2. How bad is alcohol for me… really?

Ok, here’s where the rubber meets the road. If truth be told, even though alcohol (particularly red wine) has been shown to have some health benefits in relation to heart health, in general alcohol does more harm than good. If you don’t drink, definitely don’t start!

Regular drinking can damage your liver, raise your blood pressure, raise blood triglyceride levels and increase your risk of certain cancers. Our Australian recommendations are:

“For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime. Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.”

If you do like to have a drink I suggest aiming for at least two or three alcohol free days (AFDs) each week. On the other nights try to stick to the recommended one or two glasses. You can slow yourself down by alternating an alcoholic drink with a sparkling water, putting your glass down when at a social function and organising catch-ups with friends that doesn’t always involve having a drink.

If you’re having a big night out (a wedding or birthday for instance), you may go over the two glass limit, but do your best to reign it in. I try to drink as much water throughout the night as I can. The next day again drink plenty of water to ensure you are properly hydrated. (Post continues after gallery.)

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3. Should I be taking supplements?

This is a complicated one as everyone is individual and has different needs and risk factors. However, if you’re otherwise healthy, I’m a big believer that if you’re eating a healthy diet full of a variety of foods and fruit and vegetables, you shouldn’t need to pop many pills.

Which health supplements actually work?
"You shouldn’t need to pop many pills" (Image via iStock).

However, having said all that, of course there are a few that are beneficial and it can be hard to ensure you get enough through diet alone. For instance:

Fish Oils: 

Omega-3 fatty acids have pretty solid evidence showing them to be good for your heart health, your brain, reducing inflammation throughout the body and more. My suggestion is to buy a good quality fish oil and store it in the fridge to protect the fragile fats from oxidation. This is the one supplement I do take every day. Unless you're an avid oily fish fan and eat it several times a week, taking a fish oil supplement at least a few times a week will be beneficial. I also give my kids an omega-3 supplement to ensure they have these essential fats for their brain development.

Vitamin D: 

During the summer we probably get enough vitamin D from the sun just by virtue of being outside - all you need is about 15 to 20 mins with sun exposure to your arms and legs. However, if you always cover up and use sunscreen, then you might well be low in Vitamin D. Particularly during winter when you would need a lot more time in the sun to produce adequate vitamin D and you likely find you spend more time indoors, you may struggle to keep your vitamin D levels up.

"During the summer we probably get enough vitamin D from the sun just by virtue of being outside" (Image via iStock).
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Vitamin D is important for strong bones, muscular and overall health. Your GP can check your blood levels of vitamin D and rates of deficiency seem to be on the rise in Australia. If you're low you certainly need a supplement to pick you back up, but the rest of us may also consider supplementing ourselves through the winter months. For those of you living in the northern hemisphere far from the equator, a supplement year round may be required.

Folate:

This is essential if you’re trying to get pregnant and through at least the first 3 months of pregnancy to ensure the healthy growth and development of the foetus. Adequate folate has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spinabifida. Folate is also of interest throughout life as it plays an essential role in protecting DNA from damage as we age. However eating a folate-rich diet is more prudent than popping supplements since these foods also offer a broad array of potentially beneficial phytochemicals.

Probiotics: 

If you’ve taken a course of antibiotics, supplementing with probiotics is beneficial to your gut health. I advise taking them along with and for at least a few weeks after your antibiotics. Others may consider taking probiotics on a regular basis, particularly if you have any kind of gut problems. I also like to take them while travelling overseas. As an everyday measure you may also like to consider eating plenty of probiotic containing foods such as fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, natural yoghurt, kefir or other probiotic drinks.

4. How do I get my kids to eat more veggies?

This old chestnut! As a mother to two boys I know how hard it is to get kids to eat (and enjoy) veggies. My advice here is just to keep offering them – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re creating habits to last a lifetime, not just today. So, even if they don’t eat everything you put in front of them, you’re teaching them what a healthy, balanced meal looks like so they know what they should strive to eat.

Whether or not they eat it, I suggest you continue to put a few veggies on their plate. We have always had a rule in our house that you have to try everything on your plate, but I never force them to finish the plate - I've spent enough time undoing that bad habit in adults! I also suggest you make veggies an integral part of the meal and not just a side event. They may well pick them out, but eventually they'll probably try them.

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Whether or not they eat it, I suggest you continue to put a few veggies on their plate. (Image via iStock)

Encourage your child to try them (pick them up, smell them, feel them), but don’t turn dinner into an argument. Food should be enjoyable, not a battleground. Depending on your child’s age, make sure you tell your kids about the food they’re eating and how it’s good for them. Look up the information together if your child is older and needs more details. Remember, kids like practical advice they can grasp. For instance, “dairy food contains calcium which strengthens your bones so you can jump and climb in the playground”. Or “this fish contains omega-3s, which are really good for your brain so you can read and do puzzles.”

If you’re doing all of this and your child still refuses to touch anything green or orange, you can sneak it into a few meals. I’m sure mums have been sneaking pureed vegetables into pasta sauce, soups and casseroles for generations! Why stop now?

Most importantly, when it comes to cooking for your child, introduce them to real, whole foods keeping the packaged processed stuff to a minimum. Just because they won't eat broccoli is not an excuse to give in to a packet of chips when they're hungry later.

5. Do I have to say goodbye to bread and potatoes?

The quick answer: no. I don’t believe we should say goodbye to any one 'real' food – it’s too unrealistic to maintain for the long term. Besides we have been eating bread and potatoes for thousands of years and we have only gotten fat in the last few decades. Are we really going to blame these traditional foods?

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Instead, my advice is focused around quality and quantity. When it comes to choosing bread, pick a dark, nutty loaf made from wholegrains rather than a processed white loaf. Instead of eating four slices, eat two and load it up with healthy fats, lean protein and greens or other veggies.

Grainy breads are a terrific source of fibre and can help you to eat less later. Bottom line is that people who eat wholegrains tend to be leaner and have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic disease. Let's not put them in the same basket as highly refined rubbish modern carb-rich foods.

I don’t believe we should say goodbye to any one 'real' food – it’s too unrealistic to maintain for the long term. (Image via Naturis Bakery)

As for potatoes, you can quickly up the nutritional value by baking or boiling them with their skin on. Combine your white roasted potatoes with some sweet potato and pumpkin, too. If you have to make mash (let’s face it, it perfectly accompanies some meals), keep an eye on your portion size or try mixing it with other veggies - I love a white veggie mix of potato, cauliflower and parsnip. Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and plenty of black pepper.

Another idea is to cook and cool potatoes, eating them cold in a potato salad (minus the swimming of commercial mayo) or simply tossed through a tuna nicoise. This results in some of the carbohydrate being converted to resistant starch. This lowers the glycaemic load and increases the fibre. Win-win.

This article has been republished with full permission from DrJoanna.com.au. You can read the original article here. For more nutritional advice, follow Dr. Joanna McMillan on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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