Here are some quick tips to help keep your diet healthy.
By following the National Health and Medical Research Council's updated Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults (2003) and Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes (2006), your diet should be healthy and balanced against your level of daily physical activity.
1. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods.
2. Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit.
3. Eat plenty of cereals (preferably wholegrain), including breads, pasta, rice and noodles.
4. Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives.
5. Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses (and/or alternatives), preferably reduced-fat varieties.
6. Drink plenty of water.
7. Limit saturated fat, and moderate your total fat intake.
8. Choose low-salt foods.
9. If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to no more than 2 standard drinks per day.
10. Eat only a moderate amount of sugars and foods containing added sugars.
11. Maintain a healthy body weight by being physically active and eating according to your energy needs.
12. Care for your food: prepare and store it safely.
13. For infants, the NHMRC encourages and supports breast feeding for a healthy nutritional intake.
The NHMRC recommend that adults eat a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables and 2 serves of fruit every day.
Examples of a serve of vegetables are: half a cup (75 g) of cooked vegetables or green leafy vegetables such as spinach or broccoli, one cup of salad vegetables or one medium potato.
A sample serve of fruit would be a medium apple, banana, orange or pear, a cup of diced pieces of fruit or canned fruit, or 4 dried apricots.
In the NHMRC dietary guidelines, cereals include grains like rice, oats and corn, breads, breakfast cereals, pasta, noodles and flour. Their recommendation is that women eat 4-9 serves of cereals a day, and that men eat 4-12 serves a day. Select a number of serves of cereals that is balanced against your level of physical activity.
One serve of cereals can be 2 slices of bread, 1 cup of porridge or breakfast cereal, 1 medium bread roll or 1 cup of cooked pasta, rice or noodles. To achieve the suggested intake of cereals, you might consider having some bread with every meal, eating breakfast cereal everyday, adding wholegrain cereal to extend soups and casseroles, and serving rice or pasta to accompany hot dishes.
Most Australians have a diet that is relatively high in fat compared to world standards. Too much fat can make us fat, especially if combined with a low level of physical activity. Eating too much of certain types of fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats, can increase our risk of heart disease and a number of other diseases.
Total fat (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) accounts for around one-third of the total food energy intake of Australian adults.
The NHMRC recommends that anyone who is overweight should reduce the total fat in their diet so that it makes up only 20-25 per cent of their total food energy intake.
In Australia, our current intake of saturated fat is about 12.5 per cent of total energy intake, higher than the recommended maximum level of 10 per cent. It is slightly higher in children. Among the major sources of saturated fat in the adult diet are cheese, butter, cream, meat, chocolate and potato chips.
Trans fatty acids are naturally present in some animal fats and can also be produced industrially. The major source of trans fats in the Australian diet is animal fats from dairy foods and meats, followed by baked products such as biscuits, cakes and pastries. These foods are also high in saturated fats. Trans fats are an even worse risk for heart disease than saturated fats, because not only do they raise our levels of ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol, but they also lower our levels of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. Fortunately, intakes of trans fats in Australia are quite low.
Excess energy intake in any form, including excess sugar, can result in weight gain or obesity, especially when combined with low levels of physical activity.
Sugars in food can improve the way a food tastes, so are often added to various foods. However, foods with high levels of refined sugars are very energy dense and often have lower levels of other nutrients. Eating a lot of food that is high in sugar can ‘displace’ more nutritious foods from your diet. The NHMRC guidelines suggest that you be watchful of the amount of sugars and sugary foods that you eat, aiming to have no more than a moderate level in your diet.
Milk and foods produced from milk — cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream and some custards — are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet.
Calcium is a mineral that is important for healthy bones throughout life. Adequate calcium in the diet is also important for helping to avoid excessive thinning of bone in later life.
The Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes, 2006 have increased the amount of calcium recommended for most people. These recommendations are given below.
|Recommended dietary intake of calcium|
|Adults||Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for calcium|
|Women: 19–50 years||1000 mg/day|
|Women: 51 years and over||1300 mg/day|
|Men: 19–70 years||1000 mg/day|
|Men: Over 70 years||1300 mg/day|
|Source: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and NHMRC. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, including Recommended Dietary Intakes, 2006. Endorsed 9 September 2005.|
Examples of portions of these foods which would provide roughly 300 mg of calcium include one cup (250 mL) of milk, 200 g of yoghurt, and 40 g of hard cheese. Whenever possible, select reduced-fat varieties of these foods.
Alternative, non-dairy sources of calcium that provide 300 mg of calcium include 150 g of almonds, 150 g of pink salmon with bones or 1 cup (250 mL) of calcium-fortified soy drink.
The NHMRC Dietary Guidelines for Adult Australians describe a low intake of iron as common in Australia. This is particularly an issue in some groups of the population such as girls, women and vegetarians. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue and listlessness, and can sometimes lead to anaemia.
Australians are advised by the NHMRC to consume lean red meat — the best source of dietary iron — 3-4 times every week.
A key message of the NHMRC dietary guidelines is to prevent weight gain by eating according to your energy needs. General health benefits for adults can be gained from a daily total of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, or preferably all, days of the week.
The NHMRC advises that you can achieve this by taking simple steps to incorporate more activity into your daily routine, for example, by reducing the amount of time you spend being physically inactive — watching TV, working on a computer, driving a car — and replace this with any form of physical activity that suits your lifestyle, even active household chores can contribute. You don't need to go to the gym or play an organised sport to increase your level of physical activity.
It’s all about combining a healthy diet with an active lifestyle. Working in a sedentary (non-physically active) job means balancing your day by being physically active in your non-work time, and always aiming to moderate your food energy intake to meet your energy needs.
Last Reviewed: 30 September 2009