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Cheap fast food and home delivery services have proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for budget-conscious, time-poor Australians who are looking to reduce their takeaway consumption, Princess Alexandra Hospital Research Dietitian Dr Hannah Mayr said making the switch to a healthful diet need not be expensive or onerous.
Dr Mayr (pictured), who is a subject matter expert in the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet), said she was encouraging more Australians to start the process of taking control of their wellbeing by making healthier dietary choices during National Nutrition Week, 11-18 October.
“There is significant evidence that a Mediterranean style diet helps to prevent and manage chronic disease, and boosts mental health and general wellbeing,” Dr Mayr said.
“Cost analysis has been done and shows that following the MedDiet isn’t more expensive, and in some instances it costs less. What’s interesting is before people start following this eating pattern, they think it will cost more than their usual diet, and this can be an initial barrier to adoption.”
Dr Mayr said the Mediterranean Diet was largely plant based and included fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, fish and seafood, and limited the intake of red meat, processed foods, and sugary drinks.
“The key related factor is ingredients. If you put the effort into buying healthy foods in bulk and eat more plant-based proteins like legumes instead of meat, it shouldn’t be more expensive.”
Dr Mayr said the MD was food inclusion focused, and emphasised social eating and vitality, which made staying with it more realistic than other diets.
“The diets that work and can be followed long-term are not about restricting a certain nutrient or food group or being strict on calories; they combine healthy foods together,” Dr Mayr said.
“The trick is identifying unhealthy foods and adjusting current eating patterns to include more healthy foods instead. It’s about making small changes over time. I always encourage inclusion rather than exclusion.”
Dr Mayr said convenience was also a factor that made Aussies think twice about adopting the MD but that preparing healthy recipes needn’t be time-consuming.
“From studies in Australian settings, we realised most people aren’t going to cook MD dishes that will take two hours, so the key is to focus on simplified recipes with the same core ingredients.”
Dr Mayr said an ideal starting point for people wanting to adopt the MD was with tasty and easy to prepare dishes available on Oldways website which has ‘Mediterranean’, ‘Quick & Easy’ and ‘Affordable’ search functions.
“There is a great collection of healthy open access recipes on there that won’t cost the earth or eat into too much of people’s discretionary time,” she said.
“When you factor in the health benefits, the real cost of adopting the diet is much less than many people think.”
To celebrate National Nutrition Week, PA Hospital’s Cafeteria is selling Mediterranean Diet-approved dishes (PDF, 3.38 MB) for hospital staff, patients and visitors. Enjoy Mediterranean Vegetable and Persian Fetta Salad and 600ml Nu Water for only $10, or Mediterranean Chicken with Tomato and Vegetable Sauce on Couscous and 600ml Nu Water for just $10.50.