How Have Australian Dietary Guidelines Changed?

How Have Australian Dietary Guidelines Changed?

New draft versions of the Australian Dietary Guidelines have been released by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). How do these differ from previous versions? We’ve highlighted the key differences (start throwing out those soft drink cans now).

Picture by Martin Cathrae

Two points to make up front. Firstly, these are only draft guidelines which have been opened for public comment. The final versions won’t appear until next year.

The second point is that the full guidelines are very detailed, running to nearly 300 pages and covering lots of specific weight and nutritional recommendations. We’ll look at the most significant of those when the guidelines are finalised. Today, we’ll examine the big-picture differences between the outline versions, which provide overall guidance but not specific quantity recommendations.

These are the current dietary guidelines:

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
  • Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat varieties should be chosen, where possible
  • Drink plenty of water.

and take care to

  • Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
  • Choose foods low in salt
  • Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink
  • Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars.

Prevent weight gain: be physically active and eat according to your energy needs

Care for your food: prepare and store it safely

Encourage and support breastfeeding

And these are the suggested draft guidelines that will replace them:

Guideline 1

Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:

  • plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years).

And drink water.

Guideline 2
Limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats, added salt,
added sugars and alcohol.

a. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats
* Include small amounts of foods that contain unsaturated fats
* Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants.

b. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt
* Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods.
* Do not add salt to foods.

* Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars. In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.

d. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake.

Guideline 3
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight you should be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.

  • Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly.
  • Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.

Guideline 4
Encourage and support breastfeeding.

Guideline 5
Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.

In broad terms, these recommendations are similar. Here are the significant comparison points:

  • The guidelines recommending breastfeeding and careful food storage and handling are identical.
  • Many of the recommendations are adjusted to note that low-fat options aren’t suitable for infants.
  • The general instruction to “Prevent weight gain” has been replaced with more specific guidance about “maintaining and achieving a healthy weight”, with notes for children and the elderly. That extra detail is welcome, but with obesity so often highlighted as a problem I’m a little surprised the new recommendation isn’t more blunt.
  • Recommended foodstuffs have been sorted into five broad groups (vegetables, fruit, grain, protein and dairy) each of which should be consumed daily, with more specific examples of each. The earlier version didn’t specify that all five groups had to be consumed every day. It’s more vegetarian-friendly: the earlier version listed legumes alongside vegetables and highlighted meat along with “alternatives” for protein.
  • New specific prohibitions include not drinking “sugar-sweetened drinks” (that’s soft drink for most of you”); not adding salt to food (tough luck Jamie Oliver); and avoiding trans fats.

A lot of this might seem like “common sense”, but the statistics suggest common sense is not that common: poor nutrition is implicated in 56 per cent of all deaths in Australia. It will be interesting to see if these recommendations change significantly before getting finalised. Any thoughts on how you’d change or expand them?


  • “New specific prohibitions include not drinking “sugar-sweetened drinks” (that’s soft drink for most of you”); ”

    Actually just about any drink you buy in bottled or canned form is sugar-sweetened.. even the “iced tea” drinks that are supposed to be just tea have a decidedly sweet taste to them.

    I always find it amazing how much junk food we have in this country and a lot of it is hidden behind the mask of supposedly “good and healthy”. Whenever I come back from overseas (Asian countries), after eating healthy for a month.. I try to stick to that healthy food but it is just too easy to get unhealthy again. The amount of healthy food available in those other countries makes it MORE convenient to eat healthy than it is to eat unhealthy, it’s just the opposite here. This is not the fault of the health agencies.. it’s just our culture; within hours of returning to the country you get bombarded by unhealthy food distractions…

  • Isn’t all this information common knowledge? Actually now that I think about it, it can’t be otherwise we wouldn’t have so many obese people wandering around…

    A few rules of thumb that I use to determine if something is good for me or not are:
    – buy stuff that only has 1 ingredient
    – if it has more than 1 ingredient and I can’t pronounce all the ingredients, it’s no good for me

    I didn’t come up with those rules btw, I heard about them a while ago and they make a whole lot of sense to me

    • Just because its common knowledge doesn’t mean people will actually follow it.

      Take me for example, i know whats in meat pies/hotdogs/dim sims but i eat them anyway, i know coke and softdrink isnt good for me but i drink it anyway. I have lots of dairy (thick margerine on my sandwiches, lots in mash potato), i eat the fat on a slab of meat, i eat too much meat (and don’t eat salads).

      I’m not overweight yet, but i know if i dont change i soon(im 30 in 24 days) i may start heading that way.

  • Too simplistic. DIfferent people have different needs.

    Also apparently no link between carbs and obesity?! Pasta and breads still encouraged.

    I can’t see this changing anyones behaviour. Dangeous in it’s pointlessness.

    Minor good points regarding soft drinks and salt, but dahhh… already new that.

    Looks like it compiled by leading food industry “experts” and breastfeeding nazis.

  • Sigh… I ate “healthy” by those guidelines for years & never lost any fat. In fact, I gained about 30kg over 5 years. Now I eat high fat, low carb, adequate protein and I’ve lost ~30kg in 9 months. I never feel hungry because of the fat & protein, and despite eating so much fatty red meat (and salty nuts, yum), my cholesterol & blood pressure has dropped back to normal. In your face, NHMRC. Ketogenic & low carb diets are the healthy way to eat. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, and there’s no looking back.

    I can’t provide citations, but I even remember hearing that a study somewhere found that a high fat low carb diet inhibited the growth of cancer cells, whereas a typical “American” diet (high carb, low fat) promoted cancer cell growth.

    • Danielle, same experience here. Lean meats ONLY, lots of rice and veggies stir fries with a minimum of sauce, NO sugared drinks at all. And the weight kept piling on, 5kg/yr.

      Switched to a ketogenic diet after a friend of mine who’s into martial arts told me what it did for his girlfriend, and instead of putting on half a kilo per month, I would lose two kilos a month. Now granted, that’s only about HALF of your results, but it sure beats adding kilos.

      That aside, this is not a magic bullet for everyone. However, I’m proof that if you haven’t tried it, you should, because NOTHING was working for me and this does. People were STUNNED at how strict my diet is, and how little weight I actually lose doing it. But they all agreed that I was looking better, so I’m going to guess that the added protein is helping convert fat to muscle and leaving me weighing nearly the same but still being noticeably smaller. I still don’t care for red meat. I virtually live on canned tuna, the cheapest prawns I can find, and salmon I cook in a batch once a week… augmented by greens, capsicums, canned beans without sauce and various olives. Once a month or so I will cheat and have a bowl of chips, but that is IT for me and starchy carbs. If you’ve got 2-3 hours a week, you can spend an afternoon grilling up a week or two of salmon, and then plating it with veggies, wrapping each plate with plastic wrap, and tossing it in your freezer to make your own frozen dinners! I do not plan on doing this for the rest of my life, just for a couple years, as my family has a history of liver and kidney issues that make a permanent ketogenic diet a questionable idea. I plan to phase some whole grain back in after I’ve hit the 25 kilo mark and am looking like the “after” picture of Jennifer Hudson rather than the “before”.

  • It’s great that the guidelines have been ‘improved’ upon. But our nation is still mostly obese; a result of poor food choices and reduced physical activity.
    We need better education for children in schools and for the parents and adults that are responsible for feeding our children. A generational change has to start now.

    • i agree about education for children. Interval Training should be taught more but its not, it was actively discouraged at my school. Can’t run the oval anymore? too bad, keep running. ( which just makes fat kids hate exercise even more, because who wants to do something that you are bad at and which apparently you can’t improve with some level of comfort ).

  • The guidleines mention nothing about limiting your intake of pencil shavings or used tissues. When will government organizations like the NHMRC stop protecting companies like Kleenex and Faber Castle, and start telling the truth about these cellulose rich snacks?

  • Regarding people still making bad choices…. the guidelines should specify “meats that are not crumbed or battered”. People often eat reasonably enough, but then they eat deep-fried, bread-covered meat, at least in Queensland.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!