What we eat plays an important role in preventing disease. Dr Sandro Demaio shares his advice on healthy, delicious family food.

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Why is diet so important for preventing health issues like obesity, diabetes and heart disease?

As a doctor, I know that an unhealthy diet is the single leading driver of disease among Australians. At the same time, around 95% of us don’t get our recommended daily servings of both fruit and vegetables.

50% of Aussies are now living with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease and almost two-thirds of adults are overweight and obese. Many of these issues are linked to the food we do or don’t eat.

Making small but informed changes to the types and amounts of foods we consume could bring about huge gains in our health, and in the health of our families.

Ensuring we can all access, afford, understand and eat a healthy, diverse diet – with loads of fresh fruit, veg, wholegrains, pulses and nuts – may help to reduce our risks of a whole host of health issues including heart disease, stroke, dementia, cancer (including breast and bowel cancer) and kidney disease. A healthy diet is also essential for brain, gut and skin health.

What’s your philosophy of healthy eating?

While the single most effective thing we can do to improve our health is to improve our diet, many of us are confused by what this means and where to start. I don’t believe in rules – healthy eating needs to be simple, delicious, flexible and affordable! There’s no point in setting unachievable goals or following strict and confusing diets.

Drawing on my Italian heritage, medical training and knowledge of nutrition, I’m all about cutting through the noise of conflicting dietary information. Instead, I believe in a humble, affordable and delicious way of eating that is backed by the best science but accessible to everyone.

It’s about eating ingredients and not products, starting every meal with veg, packing in a diverse range of fresh colours, and sharing great food with family and friends.

Portion control is something many of us struggle with. Can you share some advice?

First, use smaller plates. Sounds strange, but it works. There has been some fascinating research done that shows that eating food from a smaller plate actually makes us feel fuller.

Second, serve yourself less straight up but be okay to return for more. As we eat, it takes time for our brains to receive the messages from our stomachs that we are full. Giving yourself time to digest your food allows your body time to process if you are full. If you’re still feeling hungry, you can always return for a second serving.

Third, eat with friends and family. Eating with others makes us eat slower, eat less and also allows us to connect with those around us.

Finally, healthy proteins and oils – like olive oil – are essential ingredients in helping us feel full. Drizzling some olive oil over a winter soup or a summer pasta is a great way to pack in some healthy fats and will also slow digestion and keep you feeling satisfied between meals.

What are your tips for making healthy home cooking easier?

My number one tip is to start with vegetables! One of the most important things you can do for your health is to learn to love veggies, or at least a few. Make them the heroes of the dinner plate, with meat being an occasional garnish or guest. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Choose and cook with the fresh veggies that you love.

What are your favourite nourishing dishes to make for a family dinner?

I love to share my cooking, and nothing makes me happier than cooking dinner for my extended family. My current recipe staples are:

  • A simple pasta with fresh basil and rich tomatoes, or a classic risotto.
  • Mashed cauliflower packed with lemon, parsley and roasted hazelnuts.
  • Easy and endlessly giving roasted vegetable salad.

Dr Sandro Demaio's first book, The Doctor’s Diet, is available now from Pan Macmillan Australia, RRP $39.99.

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