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?

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