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Dietary Patterns: The Bigger Picture

Tick Programme Dietitian, Sarah Goonan, discusses dietary patterns. Have you ever wondered whether there is one way to eat well?

There are many different ways we can choose to eat - low fat, reduced carb, Mediterranean style, vegetarian, paleo, vegan, just to name a few! Each of these dietary patterns is characterised by the quantity, variety or combination of different foods, drinks and nutrients. What and how we eat is largely based on culture, taste and family tradition, but one aspect that influences dietary patterns for many people is the impact on health.  

We all know that eating well is associated with health benefits such as increased life expectancy and reduced risk of chronic disease. But is there just one way to eat well?

‘Fat-free,’ ‘Low sodium,‘No Added Sugar’ - nutrition research often focuses on single foods or nutrients. Although this type of research is valuable as it allows us to understand how individual nutrients affect our health, it is also important we look at the bigger picture of dietary patterns. This is because foods and nutrients are not eaten on their own; most of the time they are consumed in a variety of combinations and interact with each other in complex ways.

Often we hear about the benefits or success of one diet over another. We become familiar with how they are different, but what about their similarities? Many dietary patterns share ideas or elements that are associated with healthy eating. For example, encouraging whole plant foods (including plenty of vegetables and fruit) and limiting refined grains, added sugar and processed foods.  If we focus on the consistent themes of healthy eating, we can each apply them in the way that suits us best, and without the need to go to extremes.

Here’s another example. To help reduce risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, it is recommended we consume a dietary pattern high in vegetables and fruits, intact whole grains, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, low-fat dairy, poultry, and fish. All these foods form the basis of a healthy eating pattern and there are many different ways we can incorporate them into our day without needing to stick to one specific diet.

The Heart Foundation’s Two Ticks can help you with this. Two Ticks is the newest member of the Tick family and allows you to identify core foods for a healthy diet. Two Ticks looks at the bigger picture by focusing on foods as a whole, rather than just specific nutrients. You will find Two Ticks in the following food categories:

- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Fruit and vegetables
- Lean meat, fish and poultry
- Legumes, nuts and seeds
- Plain low and reduced-fat dairy.

Keep an eye out for our new Two Tick products coming out this month.