According to this nutritionist, coconut oil is the most over-rated food

Five minutes with Dietician Dr Joanna McMillan (article from

What are your three ‘must’ rules with nutrition?

Eat real food (not heavily processed junk) including lots of plant food. Eat with joy! Eat to Hara Hachi Bu (80% full).

What question do you get asked most frequently?

What is Karl Stefanovic like?! All the time, honestly. But on nutrition, things like: should I be cutting carbs? Is butter OK? How do you eat? Should I cut out dairy and wheat?

What things do people seem most confused about re their nutrition?

Dairy and grains seem to be the foods with most confusion attached, but also people get hung up on singular aspects such as sugar or gluten, and fail to see the bigger picture. Cutting out traditional staple foods, such as bread, isn’t the answer to solving dietary issues. We have to step back at look holistically at a food and at our diets, and stop fixating on one thing to blame.

What are the worst diet fads at the moment?

The propensity to push people back to eating lots of bacon, butter and fatty meats high in saturated fats, while pointing the blame at grains. While saturated fat may have been unfairly demonised, and replacing it with refined carbs can certainly make matters worse, this does not mean they are suddenly good for us. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats from healthy wholefoods such as nuts, extra virgin olive oil, seeds and avocado, has huge potential to improve the health of Australia.

The most over-rated ‘health’ food?

Coconut oil. It is not high in the medium chain triglycerides that are metabolised differently to the longer chain saturated fats. It is primarily lauric acid which is long chain and no evidence that it is burned differently. It also has very few antioxidants and practically no vitamins or minerals. It just doesn’t have a patch on extra virgin olive oil.

What are the perfect nutritional breakfast, lunch and dinner?

There are way too many options to list just three meals, but if they are put together using my Dr Joanna Plate you are on track. This is half the plate vegies (or can be fruit at breakfast), a quarter of the plate a protein-rich food, a little under a quarter a smart carb (generally low GI, high fibre, nutrient-dense), and finally a good fat. We could then also layer over aspects such as sustainability of foods, environmental footprints and so on. These are modern aspects of food choice that our ancestors did not have to deal with, but we absolutely must.

Do you agree with the ‘quit sugar’ movement?

I agree with reducing, or for the more dedicated, cutting out added sugars in your diet. But I find the whole movement takes it too far demonising certain foods, not recognising the difference between foods that naturally contain sugar and those with little nutritional value with added refined sugars. I am also increasingly concerned with recipes being posted, and food products produced that have alternative sources of sugar sold as healthy (e.g. coconut sugar, brown rice syrup etc) when they are just more sugar and much more expensive than regular table sugar. Then there are those that may have no added sugar but are full of the wrong fats, processed protein and so on. Ignoring all the other aspects of nutrition is potentially very damaging.

What are your three favourite foods/ingredients?

Almonds – use them in my muesli mix, as a mid-afternoon snack, or crushed and sprinkled in my salads.

Fresh herbs – they are packed with antioxidants and they can turn a simple meal into something really fresh and delicious.

Spinach – I love pretty much all vegies, but I probably have spinach every day. I wilt it to have with my eggs, I toss in salads, I fold through casseroles or hot dishes at the last moment and add to my green smoothies.

How often do you consume alcohol?

I always try to ensure I have two alcohol free days in my week, but do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

It’s 3.30pm and we’re craving a treat – what would you suggest?

Break the habit! Often cravings are actually just habit – if you always have something sweet mid-afternoon then that’s exactly what you will crave. Ask yourself if you are really hungry, and if you are have a handful of nuts, a piece of fruit and perhaps a few pieces of dark chocolate.

Can we ever eat pasta?

Yes of course! In our demonising of carbs pasta has lost out, just as during the low fat era traditional foods such as olive oil were out. Pasta is in fact low GI and is relatively high in protein. I do prefer to buy wholegrain pasta and then you also get the fibre. It’s then just about portion size and what you have with it. If you use my Dr Joanna Plate you get a balanced meal with reduced carbs.