Healthy eating. Not interested? Why give up salted caramel, creme brulee, spicy chorizo or triple-cooked potatoes in duck fat?
Nutrition science has moved on from the 99.9 per cent fat-free, fat-phobic era to a more moderate approach that includes a better understanding of nutrigenomics, or eating according to your genetic blueprint. This doesn't mean adopting the Palaeolithic diet - you don't have to go back that far. What it does mean is there is more than one way to have a healthy diet and there is a personal eating style that can keep you healthy, energetic and feeling great yet still include foods you love. The best news? You can make your eating healthier without really noticing.
Eat what you love
Some foods can elevate our mood by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, such as pasta and bread (comfort carbs); tryptophan-rich dairy milk, yoghurt and cheese; and chocolate, which lights up pleasure centres in the brain more than sex, some say. Accepting that there are no ''bad'' foods, and that it all comes down to how much and how often, helps create a healthy relationship with food. Feeling guilty after a night on the couch with a tub of Ben & Jerry's serves no purpose, and you are less likely to fall into the trap of emotional eating if you eat the foods you love, in the right quantities. It's about moderation, not deprivation.
Eat with all your senses
We eat with our eyes as much as with our nose and taste buds. Research shows the size of food packaging and crockery can affect the amount we eat and may encourage us to overeat. The director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, Dr Brian Wansink, is a leading researcher in the area of eating cues and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. His research estimates an oversize plate can cause you to pile on at least 20 per cent more food without knowing it. If you switch from a 30-centimetre plate to a 25-centimetre plate, you could lose more than eight kilos in a year.
Eat mindfully, slow down
You've probably heard you need time for your brain to catch up with your stomach. Sure, you may slow down at a long Sunday lunch, but how often do you eat on the run, in the car, ''aldesko'' or while using your iPhone? Establish a mealtime mantra - such as always sitting down to eat - and stick to it.
Make every mouthful count
Eating for health is not about skipping meals and going hungry. Blood-sugar levels drop, headaches start, tempers fray and fatigue sets in. It is then that we are likely to fall victim to a snack attack, lured to the high-fat, low-nutrition contents of the biscuit barrel or vending machine. Try not to put yourself in a position where your fuel tank runs empty, and eat regular meals. If a meal is delayed, make sure you have access to healthy, portable snacks such as fresh fruit, probiotic yoghurt, vegetable sticks with dip, or nuts and seeds that are raw or dry-roasted. Every mouthful counts - whatever you eat most of the time should give you some ''nutritional high'', whether it be energy, vitality, brain power, positive mood or super health.
Plan your meals from the ground up
Plant foods are the true health protectors but they are also a sneaky way to satisfaction. Vegetables in particular can be used to plump up the volume of food on your plate, to trick your mind and appetite that you're eating a satisfying serve size, with fewer total kilojoules.
Vegetables with high water content, such as leafy greens, zucchini, squash, snow peas, sprouts, green and yellow beans, cucumbers, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and mushrooms do this the best. However, the dietary fibre content of all vegetables helps you feel fuller for longer.
Drizzle on the good oils
Please don't think we dietitians eat our veg plain and steamed au natural. It is unfortunate the angst over bad fats means too many people forget about the need for good fats. Healthy eating is not about strict low-fat eating plans or low-fat foods. The trick is to make the switch from bad fats to good and to favour healthy oils over butter and duck fat that is high in saturated fat.
Reach for nutritious and delicious extra virgin olive, avocado, walnut or macadamia oils and seek out newcomers such as Moroccan argan oil. When you dress your salad or vegetables, you'll facilitate the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and bioactives.
Arouse the aromatics
How good is it when something that smells and tastes delicious is also beneficial for our health? Not only do herbs and spices add amazing flavours to our food, they are the new antioxidant superheroes.
We've known about the immunity-enhancing effect of garlic, the capsaicin in chilli that fires up metabolism, turmeric for brain health and cinnamon for blood-sugar control for some time. Adding a handful of fresh herbs, such as marjoram or oregano, to a salad can increase its antioxidant capacity by 200 per cent. Plus, herbs and spices can help us moderate the use of salt as a seasoning, helping to lower blood pressure and improve bone health.
Go with the grain
There is no longer a need to be carb-phobic. Research shows low-carb diets are not effective for long-term weight loss. Ancient wholegrains and seeds - amaranth, quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, chia, black rice - offer superior nutrition and can fuel positive moods and fitness as well as looking after your gut flora and improving bowel function, immunity and overall health.
We've become a little too focused on wheat as our main grain, so make sure you harness all the wholegrains on offer. Wake up to quinoa and yoghurt, bircher-style, for breakfast and roll up your rainbow salad and hot smoked salmon with a barley wrap.
Seek sustainable choices
Feeling good about your food choices is also good for your health as well as that of the planet. Explore the full range of protein options, including lean red meat, fish, poultry, pork and rabbit. Kangaroo is a lean meat high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, good for a healthy heart.
See an expert
You can become a ''nutritionist'' overnight with an online diploma and $100 but if you have a dietary intolerance, allergy or need a special diet for medical reasons, seek expert help from an accredited dietitian.
Many people are surprised to find they can enjoy more variety and their eating is liberalised after seeing a dietitian. Yes, we love food, too. Plus it's wonderful to see so many restaurants now catering for special diets, and training staff to help.
Karen Inge is a dietitian and owns the one-hat Terminus restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.
From: Good Living