Eat less Fat or Carbohydrate for Good Health? The Crucial piece of the Diet puzzle

Important findings from nutrition research in the last few years has turned 20 years of dietary advice for heart disease and weight loss on its head. The new findings have been difficult to digest by many who are have been trained to think a certain way – that carbohydrate is GOOD and saturated fat is BAD. In this blog post, I hope to dispel some of the outdated recommendations for heart disease that are still very common and discuss some recent guidelines that are backed up by strong research and being endorsed by health organisations around the world as we speak.

The latest evidence from a Meta Analysis (1) tells us that the risks for coronary heart disease associated with saturated fat and carbohydrate are the same. In other words, if you take carbohydrate (for eg. rice) and exchange half the calories for saturated fat (for eg. as in cake), there is no detriment or benefit. This isn’t saying that cake is better than we thought; it’s that rice is worse.

In fact, it is particularly challenging to accept based on the evidence that high GI carbohydrate may actually lead to greater coronary risk than saturated fat. (2)

This is not to say that saturated fat is not a problematic nutrient. It most definitely is. What needs to happen is that saturated fat in the diet should be replaced by unsaturated fats, not carbohydrate. Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, have been shown in numerous studies to lower LDL cholesterol and increase HDL. As a consequence, healthy diets should be moderate in fat, not low in fat.

But how do we know which carbohydrate foods to cut out and which to keep?

Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Two things that will affect the quality of carbohydrates are its GI and its nutrient density. Low GI carbohydrates are digested slowly and released slowly into the blood stream allowing insulin to do its work steadily. High GI foods (where the carbohydrate is broken down very quickly causing a huge spike in the bloodstream) will require large amounts of insulin to clear up. It is therefore best to choose low GI carbohydrates are whenever possible.

Another factor that will determine which carbohydrates we need to choose is its nutrient density. Nutrient density is important because at the end of the day, the fundamental nutritional role of food is to provide the body with essential nutrients.

Both nutrient density and glycaemic index are important criteria to determine whether or not the carbohydrate is a ‘good’ one.  Both of these were used in a new model published a few months ago in the journal of Nutrition and dietetics to assess the quality of carbohydrate-rich foods. (For detailed information on the new model and recommendations, please go here:

The model brought to light some surprising issues while confirming some familiar trends. To simplify the results, I separated them into two distinct groups, those of high quality and those of poor quality.

Carbohydrate foods of high nutritional quality – have more often

  • Legumes (eg. kidney beans, soya beans, baked beans, split peas)
  • Milk (skim milk better than full fat or flavoured milk)
  • Yoghurts (low fat yoghurt better than the full fat alternatives)
  • Vegetables (carrots, peas were better than starchy vegetables like potato)
  • Fruits (top rated fruits include orange, nectarine, mango, banana and peach)
  • Cereals like All bran, special K and sustain

Carbohydrate foods with very poor nutritional quality – have only sometimes/in small amounts

  • White rice
  • Polenta
  • Couscous
  • Biscuits
  • Donut
  • Croissant
  • Sugary drinks (cordial, soft drinks, even apple juice!)
  • Chocolate (like mars and snickers)

So how will this new model translate into how we eat on a day to day basis? It really comes down to these guidelines:

1) Decrease saturated fat intake.

Ways to do this include choosing reduced fat dairy like skim and low fat milk. When cooking meats, make sure you trim the fat. Replace butter with soft, plant based margarines.

2) Decrease carbohydrate intake 

Cut out the unnecessary carbs found in the limit list. They have very poor nutrition and are simply empty calories. If you are someone who has a lot of rice, choose the rice variety with the lowest GI, basmati rice, and have LESS of it. 1/2 – 1 cup of cooked rice is plenty.

3) Replace what you have cut back on by having more unsaturated fats.

Add unsaturated oils (such as canola, sun flower or olive oil) when cooking. Add olive oil to salads and when baking or roasting. Have a small handful of nuts everyday. Choose more fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and tuna. For a good list of unsaturated fats, go here:

Do keep in mind that the goal is to REPLACE the saturated fats with the unsaturated, not to go overboard on oils.

In conclusion, strong evidence suggests that such a diet that is MODERATE in fat, LOW in carbohydrate, and moderate-high in protein would assist in improving your lipid profile, preventing chronic diseases like CHD and diabetes, assist in good sugar control and no doubt an ideal way to go for weight loss.


1) Mozaffarian D. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.

2) Jakobsen MU et al. Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycemic index. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;91(6):1764-8.)


How to Lose Weight this Ramadan

Are you overweight and tired of trying to lose weight? Tried many different diets, only to fail and gain it all back on?

This Ramadan, why not get committed to making yourself healthier? There is no better time to take control of your nafs and becoming closer to God with a healthier mind and body. This simple, but delicious meal plan with make sure you lose about 2 to 5kg with this diet, depending on how committed you are and when you start. It is balanced and full of nutrition to ensure you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need – even during Ramadan.



• Protein – 250g meat or chicken or fish (cook it the way you like!)
• 2 Bowls of Vegetable OR noodle soup
• 3 cups of Salad (tabouli/fatoush/garden/Caesar salad)
• Choose one of these carbs: ½ cup rice or 1 cup pasta OR 1 medium potato OR 1 slice bread or ½ Lebanese bread
• At least 500ml of Water throughout the meal

For desert, try to have fresh fruit. If you are offered other sweets, (e.g. cake or arab/Indian sweet), have some! But try to have a piece as big as your 2 fingers only. Its all about moderation!

If u r still hungry, have more water, salad or soup.



• Low fat yoghurt (choose any flavour you like, but check the back to make sure its not high in added sugar).
• 2 pieces of toast with low fat cheese OR egg OR jam/vegemite
• Water/ tea

• 1 piece of toast with low fat cheese OR egg OR jam/vegemite
• I cup of cereal with light milk
• Water/tea

• Fresh fruit
• Uncle Toby’s crunchy muesli bar
• Water/tea

And finally, get moving!
Go for a walk for 20 mins – or longer everyday. Park your car 10 mins away from the mosque and walk to prayer. 20 mins is really not that long. You can spread it throughout the day into 5 min blocks -as long you do it!

On this eating/exercise plan, you should easily lose ½ to 1kh per week iA. The meals can be very delicious depending on how you cook them. Spice it up with different types of soups and lots of flavours. Vary your options each day and why not make it a lot more fun by getting a family member or friend to do it with you?

For those who just cannot follow a meal plan or dislike the simplicity of the above, I would highly recommend that you read this article by muslim matters which is funny, interesting and an effective step by step guide to Ramadan weight loss.

All the best! 🙂 And Ramadan Mubarak!


The ABCD of Healthy Eating

With a myriad of information on the internet and all sorts of nutritional advice hitting you left, right and centre, it can be really confusing knowing what to eat, and how much.  To make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need for optimal health, and reduce the number of trips to your GP now, and 10 years from now, do the best for your health by making the right choices Now! Eating healthy is not hard at all and it doesn’t mean you have to say good bye to all your favourite guilty pleasures. SMALL changes here and there can make a BIG difference.

1) Firstly, why should you worry about healthy eating?

Healthy eating will help you get the right balance of vitaminsminerals, and other nutrients. Besides the obvious advantages of looking and feeling your best, healthy eating is one of the best things you do to prevent and control many health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, to name a few. They weren’t joking when they said ‘an apple a day, keeps the doctor away’.

Furthermore, poor nutrition and overeating is the main reason behind our current obesity and diabetes epidemic. Poor nutrition is associated with serious health risks such as  impaired wound healing, higher risk of infection & impaired mental and physical function.

2) What is the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE)?

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is the national food selection guide prepared by the Australian government to provide consumers, health and education professionals and the food industry with information about the amounts and types of food that need to be eaten each day to get enough of the nutrients essential for good health and well-being.

Just a word of warning, these guidelines are OK for most healthy people to follow. However,  if you are suffering from any health conditions like renal disease or diabetes, make sure you speak to a specialised Accredited Practising Dietitian to provide you with individualised nutrition advice.

3) What are the major food groups and why should I make sure to eat from all of them?

There are five food groups, namely:

1)       Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles

2)      Vegetables, legumes

3)      Fruit

4)      Milk, yoghurt, cheese

5)      Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes

Each of these foods plays a role and different foods provide more of some nutrients than others. It is therefore important that you are consuming a variety of foods from each food group.

4) Tell me more about these groups and how I can include more in my diet?

a) Breads and Cereal:

›      The breads and cereal group includes wheat, maize (corn), rice, barley, sorghum, oats, rye and millet.

This group contain carbohydrate, dietary fibre and some important vitamins and minerals.

›      Most nutritious cereal foods are wholegrain. Examples of wholegrain foods are high fibre breakfast cereals, whole meal breads and pasta, crispbreads, oatmeal and brown rice

Healthy Tips to get you started!

  • Switch from white bread to multigrain bread
  • Eat wholegrain cereal for breakfast.
  • Have 5-7 serves a day.
What is a serve?
1 slice of bread 1 medium bread roll 1 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles
1 cup porridge 1 cup breakfast cereal flakes Or ½ cup muesli






b) Vegetables and  legumes

  • These are excellent source of essential vitamins, minerals, as well as dietary fibre & carbohydrates.
  •  The goodness of vegetables may be lessened or increased by cooking.
  • Stir-frying, microwaving or steaming are ideal ways to cook vegetables.
  •  The word legumes includes lentils, beans and peas.

Healthy Tips!

  •  Enjoy a variety of vegetables everyday. Include dark green vegetables like spinach and broccoli, orange vegetables like pumpkin and carrots and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.
  •  Buy vegetables in season
  •  Use frozen and canned vegetables as an alternative to fresh
  •  Eat some vegetables raw or slightly cooked for maximum nutrition
  •  Have five serves a day
What is a serve?
1 cup salad vegetables
½ cup cooked vegetables

c) Fruit

  • ›      Fruits are a good source of vitamins, including vitamin C and folate.
  • ›      Fibre is found in the skin of fruits so juices contain much lower fibre than fruit juice. Eating the fruit is therefore much better than having just the juice.
  • ›      Dried fruit also belong to this group.

Healthy Tips!

  • Eat a wide variety of fruit each week. Include apples and pears, citrus fruits, melons and berries
  • Buy fruit in season, as this is best value for money
  • Use canned fruit as a nutritious replacement
  • Dried fruit is nutritious and adds variety, but can cause tooth decay
  • Enjoy at least two serves of fruit
  •  Try to limit fruit juice to one serve
What is a serve?
1 medium size fruit eg apple, pear, orange
½ cup fruit juice
Dried fruit eg 5 apricot pieces

d) Milk, Yoghurt and Cheese

  • ›      Excellent source of calcium, very few other foods contain as much of this
  •       Good for stronger bones and teeth
  • ›       Milk can be fresh, fried, evaporated or long-life
  • ›      The fat content of your diet can be increased if you choose full cream products
  • ›      For most people, five years and older, best choices are low fat

Healthy Tips!

  • Soft cheeses like cottage cheese and ricotta are too low in calcium so cannot be counted as a serve
  • Choose reduced fat varieties
  • If you don’t like drinking milk or eating yoghurt or cheese, try adding it to foods when cooking
  • Can also have fortified soy milk, almonds, sardines or pink salmon with bones
  • Have two to three serves each day
What is a serve?
250ml milk
2 slices of cheese
1 tub of yoghurt (200g)
250ml custard

e) Meat, fish and poulty

  • ›      Beef, lamb, fish, poultry, eggs, shellfish, nuts and legumes are included in this group.
  • ›      All are excellent sources of protein, iron, niacin and vitamin B12
  • ›      Best sources of iron are beef and lamb
  • ›      Enjoy lean red meat three or four times a week.

Healthy tips!

  • Have 1 serve of meat a day.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat rather than sausages and processed meat
  • Try to eat one or two fish meals a week.
What is a serve?
Meat – the size of your palm
2 small eggs
½ cup cooked lentils
Water – drink up!
  • Water is the best drink to quench your thirst.
  • ›For good health, make sure you are drinking at least 8 glasses of water everyday.
  • ›You will need more during physical activity and in hot weather.
  • ›All fluids contribute to this requirement (except for alcoholic drinks).
 4) How about foods that do not fit into the five groups?

These foods are called extra foods and are foods that do not fit into the five groups

  • ›      They are not essential to provide the nutrients the body needs
  • ›      Some contain too much added fat, salt and sugars & contribute large amounts of energy
  • ›      Can be added to the enjoyment of eating a healthy diet!


5) Where can I download the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating booklet?

Right here!

7) How do I know how well I am doing and where I need to improve? 

To assess your current diet and where you need to improve, take this quick quiz produced by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) to find out!

That’s healthy eating in a nutshell. Now that you have all the right information, there is no need to wait longer. Make the switch today. Start with small changes that you can make to your diet and build up gradually.

What are 3 changes you can make most easily to eat in a healthier way?

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Make this Ramadan your healthiest one yet!

Ramadan is the most spiritual month during the year for every muslim. In order to obtain the maximum spiritual and physical effects from Ramadan, it is essential that you eat well during the non fasting hours. As explained in my previous post, the fast of Ramadan can improve a person’s health but if the correct diet is not followed, it can possibly worsen it! The deciding factor is not the fast itself but rather what is consumed in the non-fasting hours.

Overeating can not only the harm the body but it is also thought to interfere with a person’s spiritual growth during the month. A diet that has less than a normal amount of food, but is sufficiently balanced will keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.

So what should the ideal ramadan diet look like? The diet should be simple and not differ too much from one’s normal everyday diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups as shown in the plate model below.


Many of the foods which are mentioned and encouraged are in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah also correspond to modern guidelines on a healthy diet. These will help to maintain balanced, healthy meals in ramadan.

The most commonly consumed foods by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were milk, dates, lamb/mutton and oats. Healthy foods mentioned in the Holy Quran are fruit and vegetables like olives, figs, onion, cucumber, dates, grapes as well as pulses such as lentils. Fish is also encouraged as the Islamic law spares fish from any specific slaughter requirements, making it easy to incorporate fish in our diet.

That’s all easier said than done you say! Here are some practical tips and recipes that you can use to make your next Ramadan a more healthful one.

  • For suhoor time, make sure you include some complex carbohydrates which are found in foods like barley,wheat, oats, millets, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, basmati rice, etc. Complex Carbohydrates are foods that will help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting.
  • Fibre-rich foods are also excellent for suhoor time as they are also digested slowly. Examples of fibre rich foods include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin, vegetables such as green beans and almost all fruit including apricots, prunes, figs, etc
  • For iftaar time, nothing beats dates to break the fast. Dates provide a refreshing burst of energy and are of course an important tradition of the Prophet (pbuh). Fruit juices and milk drinks (like sherbet/faluda) will also have a similar, revitalising effect and are much more nutritious than sodas and cordials. Fruit salads, low fat yoghurt and ice cream are also ideal snacks. Don’t have to say no to the delicious fried snacks by try not to go crazy on them either. Consider alternate ways of cooking them like baking instead of deep frying. Keep in mind that the meal should remain a meal and not become a feast! (See table below for more tips for Iftar time).


Table: Courtesy of NHS CIA guide

  • Overeating during iftaar time will leave you sluggish and unable to concentrate in prayers at night.
  • During the night, limit caffeinated drinks like coke which can dehydrate you causing headaches the next day. If you are a regular tea or coffee drinker, having them at suhoor time can prevent withdrawal headaches during the day. Or even better, use this opportunity to un-addict yourself by gradually reducing the number of cups of tea or coffee you have.
  • Lastly, make sure you drink plenty of water to ensure you are adequately hydrated during the day.

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All the best with Ramadan this year!


Fasting, Ramadan and Nutrition

Not yet time for Ramadan, but it will come around before you know it! .

Definition of Fasting: Fasting is complete abstinence from food and drink between dawn and dusk. All those ill or frail, pregnant and menstruating women, breast feeding mothers and travellers are exempted. They are required to make the number of days missed at a later date or give a fixed sum in charity.


As there are numerous health concerns raised regarding the Islamic fasting in Ramadan, with many wondering whether it is really good or bad for your health, I thought maybe it would be good to think about what really happens to the body when we fast.

The changes that occur in the body in response to fasting actually depend on the length of the continuous fast. The body enters into a fasting state eight hours or so after the last meal, when the gut has finished absorbing nutrients from the food. In the normal (or fed) state, the body uses glucose which is stored in the liver and muscles as the main source of energy. During a fast, this store of glucose is the first to provide energy and the first to be depleted. Once these stores have run out, the body starts using fat stores to provide energy. Small amounts of glucose are also produced through other mechanisms in the liver.

Only with a prolonged fast of many days to weeks, does the body eventually turn to protein for energy. This is known as starvation response and is the body’s way of keeping you alive for as long as possible. It involves protein being released from muscle breakdown and can cause people who starve to become very weak and wasted. As the Ramadan fast only extends from dawn till dusk there is plenty of opportunity for the faster to replenish energy stores at pre-dawn and dusk meals. During this time there is a gentle transition from using glucose to fat as the main source of energy and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein. Usage of fat for energy aids weight loss, minimal effects on the muscle and in the long term can reduce your cholesterol levels. Weight loss also results in better control of blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to utilise insulin.

After a few days of the fast, higher levels of endorphins or ‘happy hormones’ appear in the blood resulting in a better level of alertness and an overall feeing of general mental well-being.

However, in order to receive maximum physical and spiritual benefit from fasting it is essential that there is balanced food and fluid intake between fasts. The kidney is very efficient at maintaining the body’s water and salts, such as sodium and potassium, however these can be lost through sweating and have to be replaced. Also to prevent muscle break down, meals must contain adequate levels of energy foods such as carbohydrates and some fats. Hence a balanced diet with adequate quantities of nutrients, salts and water is vital.

Unfortunately, many Muslims find that they are lazy and lethargic during Ramadan and some actually put on weight! This is predominantly due to unhealthy cultural eating practices at the iftaar (dusk meal) and suhoor (dawn meal). In order to find out what you really should be eating to stay healthy and maintain your energy throughout the day and maintain (or lose) weight, stay tuned to my next post! 😀


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