Understanding the Health Star Rating

Since the health star rating was introduced in 2014 it has led to some confusion and controversy. This front of pack labelling was initiated to assist consumers in comparing similar packaged foods by rating the overall nutritional profile and giving a product a rating from ½ to 5 star. The rating is based on a 100g or 100ml serve to ensure an accurate comparison.

The number of stars is determined by using the Health Star Calculator which is specifically designed to assess ‘positive’ and ‘risk’ nutrients in food. Positive nutrients are considered good for health and risk nutrients have been linked to overweight/obesity, some cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  

It is the responsibility of the food manufacturers and retailers to ensure they accurately and correctly use the health star system as the numbers used in the calculator should be consistent with the Nutrition Information Panel and comply with all relevant legislation and regulations.

Ratings are calculated based on:

  • Total energy (kilojoules)
  •  Risk nutrients: saturated fat, sodium (salt) and sugar content.
  •  Positive nutrients: fibre, protein, fruit, vegetable, nut and legume content.

The health star rating can be found on over 10,300 packaged foods and as a general rule the higher the rating the ‘healthier’ it is. The rating does not take into account nutrients with claimed or potential health benefits and if you are trying to avoid certain sugars, fats, preservatives, the ingredients list should also be considered and don’t forget to use your own judgement. If you have always considered a product to be more refined and processed it probably is, however it still meets the criteria and therefore choose the less processed alternative.

If in doubt, check the ingredients list as this will show what type of sugars, fats and salt have been used and don’t forget to review the Nutrition Information Panel. If you need help with navigating labels make an appointment with our PPN dietitians to help you better understand how to read labels.

For more information on the health star rating go to:

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The truth about alcohol and your health

Alcohol is one of those things that most people enjoy but knows isn’t great for their health. A drink after work, a cheeky beer in the sun, celebratory champagne, a nice glass of red on a cold night, you name it, it’s been done.

What makes alcohol so bad?

Alcohol, when consumed in heavy amounts, can cause inflammation of the liver, scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver, cardiomyopathy, vitamin B deficiency (particularly folate) and different types of cancers, including breast, colon, prostate, mouth and oesophagus. Alcohol is also associated with increased violence, road fatalities, sleep disturbance and crimes.

Alcohol is full of empty calories, meaning that your body gets the calories, without the nutrition.  The average standard alcoholic beverage contains around 100 calories – that’s the equivalent of a thick slice of bread, a large banana or a small tub of yoghurt. The issue with alcohol consumption and weight is that the calories contained in the alcohol are very rarely factored into ones daily intake of food, i.e. Few people eat less during the day to account for the 300 calories they will consume with their 3 glasses of wine on a Friday night.

Along with the empty calories, mindless eating or munchies also goes hand in hand with drinking. This means that often, higher calorie, less nutritious foods are commonly overconsumed, such as chips, cheese and crackers, takeaway, etc.

Alcohol also dehydrates. As well as this, most people neglect to drink water or other hydrating beverages when drinking alcohol; this is often why headaches are experienced after drinking.

What is a standard drink?

This is where people can get caught out; you think they have only had 2 glasses of wine that has been poured into your oversized, trendy glass, when really you have probably consumed half a bottle in those 2 glasses. A standard drink is:

  • 30mls of a 40% spirit
  • ~100mls of a 12% wine
  • A pot (285mls) of 4.8% beer

Are there any benefits to alcohol?

Light to moderate alcohol consumption may be associated with a reduced risk of multiple cardiovascular issues.Studies have shown that 1-2 glasses of red wine per day can improve HDL ‘good’ cholesterol and decreases cardiometabolic risk. This is thought to be due to the polyphenols contained in red wine which prevent platelets from sticking together, reducing clot formation – similarly to how aspirin works.

The social and psychological benefits of alcohol may contribute to health and well-being. A drink before a meal can improve appetite or offer a soothing respite at the end of a stressful day; the occasional drink with friends can be a great social outlet. The important thing to remember is to aim for at least 2 alcohol free days per week, and keep drinks to 1-2 on the days you do drink.

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The Principles of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Runners

Endurance runnershave one thing in common… they all do large amounts of training to achieve their personal best!

So what makes one runner better than another if they are all just as fit, disciplined and motivated? Their nutrition! Long distance runners literally are what they eat in combination with of how hard, but more importantly, how efficiently they train, including how well they recover between training sessions.  Performance enhancing shoes, clothing and sporting equipment can all be bought at a price, but overall health, energy and performance outcomes can only be impacted by nutrition.  Achieving the most suitable body composition can also bring many advantages to an individual’s performance and this again can be manipulated by diet. It is essential that all runners understand the importance of nutrition as well as hydration and put just as much effort into their diet as they do into their training.

Pre-Competition Nutrition

Carbohydrate loading is a well-known practise believed to enhance sports performance.  There are many proposed theories about the best way to carbohydrate load and this has changed significantly over the years since it was discovered that muscles could actually store more carbohydrates by overloading without having to deplete their stores first.  The importance of consuming sufficient carbohydrates prior to competition is to ensure the muscles are primed for energy release and also have sufficient energy stores to continue to function at an optimal level until they are re-fuelled.

Many studies has examined the effect of combining carbohydrates with protein during the pre-competition phase for enhanced performance although this theory has proven ineffective at improving competition performance beyond what can be achieved when comparing the effect of supplementing carbohydrates alone.  Alternatively, some studies have shown that a combined carbohydrate and protein intake during this pre-competition phase may enhance muscle recovery by having protein more readily available in the muscle.

The optimal amount of carbohydrate recommended pre-competition varies according to the distance of the race. For marathon runners, around 7-8 grams per kilogram of body weight is recommended per day for 24-48 hours prior to competition with a tapered training load to ensure maximal storage in the muscle.  It is important that the triathlete seeks individual dietary advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) if they are struggling with achieving optimal body composition and weight management rather than just reducing carbohydrates and energy intake to compensate.  Insufficient energy intake may result in persistent fatigue, poor health and immunity, delayed recovery plus increased risk of injury.

On the day of competition, it is advised to consume 1-2 grams carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight within 1-4 hours of competition and this may either be low or high GI foods depending on the athletes rate of digestion (in combination with nerves) as they may experience stomach upsets so ensure these foods are low in fat and fibre. 

Nutrition during Competition     

It is important to re-fuel the muscles during a marathon to prevent ‘hitting the wall’ and this is most easily achieved by using a combination of sports drinks and gels. The amount of carbohydrate required will vary between 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. A Dietitian can help you to plan your race nutrition plan effectively before you event so you can assess your tolerance to food and drinks and still ensure to meet your carbohydrate and fluid requirements.

Nutrition for Recovery

Immediately post-exercise, there is a ‘window of opportunity’ for enhanced recovery by consuming 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight in combination with 15-25 grams of high quality protein within one hour of completing exercise.  This is when the rates of glycogen and protein resynthesis are greatest although this process may continue for 24-48 hours post-exercise.  The types and forms of foods consumed during recovery will depend on athlete’s tolerance, food availability and accessibility as well as the athlete’s overall daily energy requirements. Recovery nutrition provides benefits such as allowing greater body adaptations to training to become fitter, stronger and faster, plus refuelling the muscle and liver glycogen stores, repairing muscles, enhancing immune response and replacing fluid and electrolyte losses.  Long distance runners should aim to consume 125-150% of their estimated fluid losses (as determined by weight loss on scales) within 4-6 hours post-competition and include around 50-80mmol/l of sodium to enhance rehydration.  

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The health benefits of eating fish

Fish is a high protein food that is often forgotten in our diets. Fish should ideally be consumed 2-3 times per week, but is often pushed to the side by chicken and meat due to its prevalence and ease of cooking.

Fish is a low calorie food that contains Vitamin D and is one of the best sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of ‘good’ fat that are essential to our bodies, especially for brain function. They have antioxidant properties and are linked to reduced risk of disease, including childhood asthma, cardiovascular diseases and prostate cancer.

Oily fish, such as salmon, tuna, trout, sardines and cod, are the ‘best’ type of fish as they are more nutrient dense than the others. The skin of fish such as salmon contains most of the good fats, so should be consumed wherever possible.

Fish doesn’t need to be fresh. Tinned fish and sardines are just as nutrient dense as fresh fish. They are cheaper, easier to prepare and more versatile. Frozen fish is also a great alternative that can be kept on hand, ready to use and is still super fresh.

5 ways to include more fish in your diet:

  1. Add a tin of tuna or salmon to a roast vegetable or green salad at lunch.
  • Combine fresh fish with thai flavours such as lemongrass, ginger, lime, chilli and garlic and make some fish cakes (see recipe below).
  • Combine your favourite pasta with some tuna, roast vegetables, cheese and some natural yoghurt and cook as a pasta bake.
  • Cook a fillet of salmon, skin side down with the lid on until just pink in the middle. Serve with a green salad and some oven baked sweet potato chips.
  • Lightly crumb fillets of salmon and bake or fry in a small amount of oil. Serve with homemade tartare sauce – natural yoghurt, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, gherkin and capers.
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Plant based milks for optimal nutrition

No doubt you have noticed an increase in plant-based milks on the supermarket shelf over the last few years and you may be considering making the switch from cow’s milk thinking that it is a healthier alternative. Plant based milks are a great alternative if you have a dairy allergy or are following a plant-based diet however they do not contain the same nutritional profile as cow’s milk and are generally lower in calcium and protein. Other than calcium and protein milk is also a good source of B12, iodine, riboflavin, phosphorous and potassium.

When making the switch it is important to note that not all plant-based milks are created equal and it is worth checking the ingredients list. Read the label and opt for calcium fortified, unsweetened varieties.

Below is a summary of the most popular alternative milks to help you decide which one is best for you.

Soy Milk

The original alternative plant based milk which has the closest nutritional profile to cow’s milk as all soy milks are calcium fortified and made with either soy protein or the whole soy bean. Double check the ingredients list to ensure additional sugar has not been added.

Almond Milk

One of the most popular alternative milks on the market. Almond milk is great when trying to lose weight as it is low in calories and fat. To get the most out of your almond milk check the percentage of almond in the ingredients list. Majority of the cheaper brands might only contain 2-3% almonds and the remainder of the formulation is filtered water. Look for at least 8-10% almonds to maximise the nutritional value and ensure it is calcium fortified.

Coconut Milk

Another popular milk and a regular inclusion on a low carb/keto diet due to its low carbohydrate content. Coconut milk is predominantly saturated fat. Saturated fat is linked to raising blood cholesterol levels. It is also low in protein which may lead to decreased satiety if not combined with higher protein foods.

Rice Milk

Made from milled rice and water it is higher in carbohydrate and sugar than almond and coconut milk and provides similar amount of calories to cow’s milk. Just like coconut milk, it is low in protein. Due its higher carbohydrate content it may not be a suitable option for managing diabetes or if you are following a low carb diet.

Oat Milk

Slightly higher in fibre than other milk alternatives. However it is also high in carbohydrates just like rice milk. May not be suitable for diabetes management however could be an alternative for individuals with a nut or soy allergy.

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Nutrition for Women during Menopause

Do you feel like no matter what you do to lose weight, your body is working against you? Well, this might be partially true if you are going through menopause. Women from the age of 40-55 years, experience dynamic changes within their bodies as their hormone levels change.  These hormonal changes can affect how your body’s metabolism works.

What most women do know is that with these changes in Oestrogen levels may cause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, lethargy and a decreased sex drive.  But what they might not know is that menopause increases their risks of osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.  A healthy diet and regular exercise can help to improve menopausal symptoms and prevent weight gain which may reduce the risks of developing these chronic diseases.

When oestrogen levels decrease during menopause, the bones lose calcium and other minerals at an accelerated rate resulting in a bone loss of approximately 2% per year.  Certain conditions and medications may further accelerate bone loss such as Corticosteroids used to treat osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions as well as asthma.  Osteoporosis is often called the ‘silent disease’ as it goes undiagnosed unless a person suffers a fall and subsequent fracture.  Osteoporosis affects around 1 in 3 women.  In order to prevent Osteoporosis, a combination of increased dietary intake of Calcium of 1300mg/day in women over 50 years of age, normal Vitamin D levels and specific weight-bearing exercise is required.  Sources of dietary Calcium include; 3 -4 serves of dairy products per day such as 250ml milk, 200g tub yoghurt, 40g cheese, plus fish with bones including salmon and sardines, broccoli, almonds, bok choy and chickpeas.

Vitamin D is also essential for bone health as it increases the absorption of Calcium in the intestines, regulates levels of Calcium in the blood and supports growth and maintenance of the skeleton.  Vitamin D comes from exposing your skin to the sun for 7-30 minutes per day depending on the season and a person’s skin colour. Dietary sources of vitamin D alone are not adequate to meet daily requirements although this may come from oily fish such as mackerel and herring, liver, eggs and some fortified food products. Interestingly, mushrooms, if put out in the sun can also harvest Vitamin D and may be beneficial to increasing dietary intake. 

Bones become stronger with exercise and weight-bearing exercise has the greatest effect on bone mineral density. Increasing overall body strength and balance is also important for falls prevention due to increased fracture risk with the gradual loss of bone mass with age.  Similarly, exercise is important in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and avoiding excess weight gain.   Several other dietary changes can be made for reducing the risk of Cardiovascular disease including reduced intake of saturated and trans fats and replacing these with mono-unsaturated fats as well as an increased intake of dietary fibre and anti-oxidants from whole-grains, fruit and vegetables.  Cardiovascular disease is the greatest killer of women over the age of 60 years and the prevention of weight gain in itself is cardio-protective. 

So if you feel that you are approaching menopause and that your hormones are affecting your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, come and chat to one of our experienced Dietitians to get an individualised eating program.

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Nutrients to consider on plant-based diets

There is a general misconception that following a plant based diet will automatically result in deficiencies. A plant based diet can be quite healthy and deficiencies can be avoided when following a well-balanced diet that incorporates a range of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds to ensure that the minimum nutritional requirements will be met. When making the decision to cut out animal based products it is really important to consider how the diet can be supplemented with plant based foods to ensure adequate amounts iron, B12. calcium and omega 3s.


Iron deficiency can be avoided when following a vegetarian/vegan diet by including plant foods like:

  • legumes,
  • tofu,
  • nuts and seeds,
  • wholegrains (especially amaranth and quinoa),
  • dried fruits and.
  • dark green leafy vegetables.

The iron found in plant based foods is classified as non-haem iron and is not as readily absorbed as haem iron present in animal sources. To enhance the absorption of iron include vitamin C with meals including, citrus fruit, berries, kiwi fruit, capsicum, tomato, broccoli and limit tea and coffee to 30 minutes before and after meals as they can inhibit iron absorption.

Vitamin B12:

Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products. In order to get B12 through the diet include B12 fortified products such as soy milks or vegetarian/vegan meat alternatives.

Due to the limited availability of B12 in plant based foods, supplementation may be required. Speak with your doctor about the best option for you.


Vegetarians that include dairy can get adequate calcium however the vegan diet excludes dairy and it becomes more important to include a range of plant based foods that are rich in calcium. These include:

  • calcium-fortified plant based milks,
  • calcium fortified tofu,
  • almonds,
  • unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste) and,
  • green leafy vegetables like kale and Asian greens (e.g. bok choy, Chinese broccoli).

Omega 3:

Our body can’t make omega-3 fats itself, so it’s important to get them through food.  Plant sources of omega-3 fats include:

  • linseeds/flaxseeds,
  • walnuts, chia seeds,
  • soy bean oil and,
  • canola oil.

For individualised advice make an appointment with our dietitians to ensure you are meeting your requirements to prevent deficiencies.

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Handy tips to living a healthy lifestyle

Make a plan and get organised – organisation is the key to healthy eating. Think about what happens when you get home late from work tired, hungry and can’t be bothered cooking or there’s no food in the house because you haven’t done the grocery shopping. Try and set aside time eat week to plan your meals, prioritise grocery shopping, practise meal prepping in advance so you don’t have to rely on takeaway foods or have some frozen meals stocked away as plan B. Plus it will save you a fortune!

Avoid refined sugars – Eating foods high in sugar such as lollies, cakes, biscuits and soft drinks, causes a release of dopamine, a chemical that activates the pleasure/reward center in the brain. This is the same chemical that gets released when we listen to music, laugh with friends, have sex and consume drugs and alcohol. Activation of this dopamine system in the brain leads to intense feelings of reward which makes you want to carry out the behaviour again (because it feels so good), consequently resulting in cravings and addiction. When we consume these sugary foods on a regular basis we are continuously activating this dopamine reward system and the brain responds by down-regulating the dopamine receptors to prevent overstimulation. This means the next time you eat your favourite donut at smoko you’re going to need a second one to achieve the same sense of happiness. In other words, the more sugar you eat the more sugar you crave!

Choose low GI carbohydrate sources – in order to prevent peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels and energy throughout the day, it may be helpful to adopt a lower-moderate total carbohydrate intake, particularly tradesmen who are not doing a significant amount of high intensity physical work. When choosing carbohydrates, reach for low GI (glycaemic index) sources for a more sustained release of energy such as sweet potato, brown rice, wholegrain breads, legumes, fruit and low fat dairy products.

Avoid caffeine after midday and get a good night’s sleep – Caffeine has a half life of 6hrs (this is the amount of time is takes for 50% of the drug to be cleared from your system). Because of this, it is recommended to stop drinking caffeine after midday. Even if you think you can get away with drinking coffee right before bed, studies have shown that individuals who consumed one standard dose of coffee in the evening, had a 20% reduction in the amount of deep sleep they received. When you’re sleep deprived, levels of Leptin (the hormone which signals to your brain that you are full) is impaired so you lose that satiety signal to your brain and Ghrelin (the hormone that signals to your brain that you’re hungry and want to eat more) actually increases. Lack of sleep and disruption in these hunger hormones can affect your appetite, causing you to overeat.

Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – these foods are fantastic sources of essential vitamins and minerals needed for our bodies to function optimally. They are important sources of dietary fibre which helps slow digestion, stabilises blood sugar levels and creates a greater sense of fullness to help combat over eating. Certain fruits and vegetables are also beneficial prebiotics: the food your healthy gut bacteria needs to survive. Ensuring a healthy gut is crucial with studies now suggesting there may be a link between our gut microbiome and our body weight. 

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Staying healthy throughout winter

With the days getting shorter and colder, the easy thing to do is to head straight home from work and curl up on the couch with a nice glass of red wine and hibernate until you have to face the elements tomorrow… but stop! This is not a healthy habit to get into this early into winter.

The 3 main ways to staying healthy throughout winter:

  1. Lose a small amount of weight or maintain a healthy weight
  2. Exercise and move more
  3. Modify your diet and eating habits

If you have worked hard all summer at your diet and exercise and you are finally at a place where you are feeling good, don’t stop now! Imagine how much easier it will be going out for your walk or run in spring if you keep up your exercise habits over winter. Think of how good you feel after exercising. Try and find at least 30-40 minutes three times per week to help maintain your fitness levels and keep you strong and healthy throughout winter.

You don’t like exercising in the dark? Easy, go for a walk or run at lunch time, start work early a few days a week so you can leave early when it’s still light, join a gym, exercise on the weekends. There are so many options; it’s just a matter of choosing one that is best suited to your lifestyle.

Winter meals can be hearty and full of stodgy carbohydrates which often contributed to weight gain however, this doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some tips to help you to keep your weight down over winter:

  1. Cook using high fibre wholegrains – wholegrain pasta, brown rice, beans, legumes, and lentils.
  2. Make sure you have sufficient high protein food sources in your meals which helps with satiety and fullness in between meals
  3. Bulk out meals out with plenty of vegetables – layer vegetables in a lasagne or grate vegetables in a Bolognese, double the amount of pumpkin in a risotto
  4. Portion control carbohydrates – ½ cup cooked rice, 2/3 cup cooked pasta, 1 medium potato
  5. Start the day with a filling, low GI breakfast, such as porridge or 2 eggs on 1 slice of toast.
  6. If you’re having a hearty soup, don’t be tempted by the bread, the soup will be filling enough.
  7. If needed include a healthy morning and afternoon tea to prevent over eating at main meals.
  8. Drink herbal teas if you are finding that water isn’t going down so well when it’s cold.
  9. Limit processed foods.
  10. Use natural yoghurt in place of creams and butters in rich, hearty dishes such as beef stroganoff.
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Grams of carbohydrate for low carb and keto diets

Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient for quick energy production. They are split into 2 categories.

  1. Simple carbohydrates: refined and processed foods that are high in sugar and should be limited.
  2. Complex carbohydrates: high in fibre, vitamins and minerals and found in wholegrain breads, cereal, grains, fruit, legumes and starchy vegetables.

There has been a shift toward lower carbohydrate and keto diets to manage weight and a range of other health conditions like diabetes, PCOS, insulin resistance. With so many diet variations there is no consensus of how many grams of carbohydrates should be consumed when commencing a low carbohydrate or keto diet.

The classification of carbohydrate quantities according to the CSIRO team are as follows:

  • Very low carb or keto: 20-50g
  • Low carb: 50-130g
  • Moderate carb: 130-230g
  • High carb: 230g

If you are planning on implementing a low carb/keto diet as part of your daily intake and are unsure of how to put it all into place make an appointment with one of our dietitians to help you better understand carbohydrate quantities to ensure you reach your health goals without the unnecessary restriction.

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