Susie Burrell on idealistic views of dieting versus reality

Susie Burrell might not have the millions of Instagram followers watching her daily Insti Stories as she makes her breakfast shake or does her morning stretch, but you’d be wrong to assume this means she doesn’t have an incredibly influential voice when it comes to all things nutrition and eating well.

One of Australia’s leading nutritionists, Susie is currently the resident dietitian on Channel’s 7’s SUNRISE , has a weekly radio segment on the top-rating 2GB Afternoon Program with Chris Smith, writes a weekly column on news.com.au, and runs the online weight loss program – www.shapeme.com.au, plus is the consultant dietitian to Bellamy’s Organic, Zip Water, Australian Bananas and Helga’s.… We’re throwing it out there – Susie’s pretty influential when it comes to the health space.

After recently being sent an alarming report into how many of the popular wraps are hiding large amounts of salt and artificial preservatives, we thought it was a great time to chat to Susie about the findings [she’s an ambassador for Helga’s, a brand that works hard to ensure their wraps truly are healthy]. Kindly opening up her home to the Husskie team, Susie sat down with us to chat all things diet, eating well, and why some current health trends are just not realistic for the average person.

There are so many fad diets out there now. What is your opinion on these?
The irony is that any diet will work if people stick to them. Once you’ve worked in the industry a long time, you realise that diets come and go – but there’s no quick fix answer. It’s about people taking the information from any diet and getting it to work for them. The number one thing I ask my clients and readers is: “Is it sustainable? Is this diet, this lifestyle, sustainable for you?” For the average person, spending $500 dollars worth of groceries at a whole food market to shop organic, boiling their bones up to make their own bone broth, and spending 40 minutes making a smoothie in the morning and cutting up all the ingredients – it is just not realistic for the average person. There are idealistic views of dieting and then there is reality. There has to be a middle ground about what is sustainable.

Do you think there is a specific diet currently that will remain popular long-term?
All diets come and go. New data comes out, someone writes a guru book – and then all the other followers will write a version of that to take their cut. So it is money making and you can be a little bit cynical about it, but weight loss is such an interesting market because so many of us struggle with our weight. But it’s about sustainable simple strategies that will ultimately get health outcomes for people – such as eating more fresh food, eating fruits and vegetables and cutting back on the crap.

Is there a specific health direction or trend that is taking off in 2017?
There will always be health trends because it gets media attention, it sells. The thing about being online in modern life is that everyone wants something new and exciting, and that won’t change. We’ll continue to see more superfood ideas come out, new grains or vegetable products. We’ll keep seeing this high fat approach to dieting. I think we’ll see more about fasting and the benefits of doing that for our health. There’s growing evidence that if you can have longer periods of time without food and regular low calorie days, there’s major benefits for our metabolism – so I think we’ll continue to see that. And then there’ll be a couple of other cheeky diets that come out that that catch our eye because people just want them.

Do you think we should be steering clear of all “diets”?
It’s interesting because when you look at the dietician industry as a whole – they often go for an anti-diet message: “You shouldn’t diet at all”. The issue with that is the public wants to diet. They might not do it properly and it might not be so good for them, but they want it. So you have to hedge the balance between giving them what they want but also sending some strong messages. I think a diet is fine, we all follow a diet, if you stick to it. Just choose one that suits you rather than hopping between them. When you work out what style of eating suits you – then it becomes sustainable and that’s a good outcome.

With so much wellness information out there now, is the population getting healthier?
The irony is, despite having all these new diets, health bloggers and nutritionists – we’re less healthy than ever before. Recent data from an Australian survey showed women of our age are eating 17 serves of discretionary or junk food every week – that’s a lot of junk food. Wine, cakes, chocolate, muffins… so there’s this disparity in the sense that there is more information and yet we’re getting less healthy. There is a missing link of behavioural change and making this information user-friendly for the audience.

What are the key pieces of misinformation consumers are receiving?
I feel like there is a lot of misinformation out there with what’s considered healthy and what’s not. For example, wraps and cereal are considered healthy – but it’s not always the case… I think that it comes down to the fact that the information we’re often receiving is surface level information: bread is bad, wraps are better. But then you’ve got to take a closer look at that because nutrition is quite complicated. It involves a lot of different variables.

In the case of wraps, for example, a recent report conducted by the University of Newcastle found that a significant number of wraps in the market have sky high levels of salt. Now, for the average girl having a wrap like that, not only can it be packed with carbohydrate – so not keep you full for overly long and shoot your blood sugar levels and insulin through the roof – that amount of salt is also linked to fluid retention, it’s not good for heart disease risk long-term, blood pressure issues, and of course, like sugar, the more salt we have in our diet, the more we want. It comes back to reading the labels and having a quick look. A good reference point is to look at the sodium level – less than 450mg sodium per 100g is ideal… Helga’s have developed a whole range of low carb wraps that are significantly lower in sodium.

That’s kind of scary about wraps! I always thought they were the healthy option…
The popular wraps contain almost the entire upper daily limit of sodium just from a single serve. Turkish bread is another one. We often go to cafes or food courts and turkish bread is often available, which is packed full of salts. Huge amounts! There’s more than the entire upper daily limit of salt in one serving of Turkish toast. But you don’t think there’s anything wrong with a slice of toast. So there is a need for more in-depth nutrition understanding: You can see how easy it is to get confused. You might have a green smoothie on the weekend, but if you’re buying your lunch at a food court – you’re probably not doing so well.

What are your top three pieces of health advice?

  1. The main thing is if you can eat more veggies and salad each day you’ll be in the right place. With all the health evidence, it comes down to eating a lower calorie diet but really loading up on fresh fruit and veg. You’re looking at seven to 10 serves per day, which is massive.
  2. Eating times is probably one of the main things I see challenging busy people. We have a late breakfast, we snack and don’t eat a proper lunch, and then of course we get home tired and dinner is had late at night while sitting on the lounge. We’re seeing a shift of calories to the second half of the day. It’s not a technical diet, no one would buy a book “Just Change Your Eating Time”, but if you can try and have breakfast by 8am, lunch by 1pm, a little snack about 4pm, and then dinner by 7pm – it’s going to give you that good 10-12 hours overnight without food, which is really good for our metabolism.
  3. Limit the treats, because the treats tend to slip in. If you can limit treats to once or twice a week, that gives you that calorie control that we all need to stop that gradual creep up of weight that happens to most of us once we get into our late 20s.

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