The Australian guidelines for healthy eating aim to promote the health and wellbeing of Australians and apply to all healthy Australians, as well as those with common health conditions such as being overweight. The recommendations outlined in the guidelines aim to help in reducing in the risk of diet-related conditions (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity) and also chronic diseases (such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.)
The 5 guidelines are:
- To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs
- Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the Five Food Groups every day and drink plenty of water
- Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
- Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding
- Care for your food; prepare and store it safely
Understanding the Guidelines
The 5 food groups have moved away from the traditional food pyramid and has been updated to segments to represent how each food group should be distributed within the diet. This means we should be aiming to get majority of our diet from the largest portions of the circle.
The 2 largest segments include vegetables, legumes, beans and also grain foods preferably that are wholegrain, for example Brown rice, oats and quinoa. Eating a variety of vegetables will also provide us with micronutrients including vitamins, minerals and fibre that are essential to the human diet.
Foods that are in the moderate/smaller sized portions include proteins (lean meats, fish, eggs), fruit and dairy products. These foods should be eaten in moderate amounts to provide us with adequate protein and also B vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium.
The foods in these 5 food groups will be the most nutrient dense and we should be aiming to meet our energy needs through these types of foods. This will ensure that you are meeting not only your energy requirements but also your micronutrient intake and fibre.
Outside the circle are the foods we consider ‘discretionary foods’ and should be only be eaten in small amounts, as they don’t provide many nutrients or contribute to good health. These foods tend to be quick energy and generally don’t provide a beneficial contribution to our nutrient or micronutrient intake. Whilst smaller amounts of these types of foods are acceptable, over consumption of these energy dense foods can lead to weight gain.
Things to consider
The advice focuses on dietary patterns that promote health and wellbeing rather than recommending specific foods. Due to the large discrepancies in kilojoules between foods from the same food group, these guidelines are only a recommendation and should be used as a resource to help assist in choosing foods for a healthier diet. It provides great advice on what foods fall under each food group, however it’s also important to remember that the guidelines do not address the individual’s needs. The amount of food you will need from each segment will vary depending on your age, gender, height, weight, body composition, goals and physical activity levels. Also, whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. For example, a man and a woman of the same age will have different energy requirements as would someone who is very physically active compared to someone who is predominately sedentary.
How to incorporate the guidelines into your current dietary patterns?
- Use the segments to assist in choosing foods for a healthier diet
- Choose a variety of types and colours of fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season
- If you struggle with incorporating vegetables into your diet, try various cooking methods like roasting, baking, barbequing and stir-frying.
- Limit discretionary foods, particularly foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugars and salt. By doing so, you will also cut down on kilojoules. Try swapping them with foods from the Five Food Groups instead.
- Understand what a serving size is. Many food labels will have more than one serving size so you can be eating more than you think, contributing to additional kilojoules.
- Adjust your requirements for your energy needs/activity levels. If you are sedentary, you will not require as many kilojoules as someone who is highly active.
- Replace soft drinks with water. These are full of added sugars.
- Be prepared. Planning your food ahead of time will help you to avoid unplanned eating and grabbing food that is convenient which generally falls under discretionary foods.
- Avoid fad diets/quick fix options. Incorporate healthier options into your dietary patterns over time and it will become a lifestyle, rather than a quick fix or a yo-yo diet. You can read more about Fad diets and supplements in our short workshop on Supplement and Fad Diet Facts.
If you want more information about the Australian Dietary Guidelines, visit: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/about-australian-dietary-guidelines.