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Australian Dietary Guidelines: What They Mean For Healthy Eating Advice

Australian Dietary Guidelines: What They Mean For Healthy Eating Advice

The Dietary Guidelines 461, released by the NHMRC in early 2013, are designed to guide Australians on what their diets should look like for health and wellbeing. They provide information about the types and amounts of foods, food groups and dietary patterns that aim to:

  • Promote health and wellbeing;
  • Reduce the risk of diet-related conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity; and
  • Reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.

They’re based on an analysis of more than 55,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers and supported by comprehensive dietary modelling 462 to determine which foods should be included in a healthy diet. These Guidelines may not be suitable for everyone; for example, the elderly and the malnourished.

There are five Guidelines in total; Guidelines 2 and 3 specifically mention the types of foods and drinks to choose, and those to watch, and these are discussed here. The other three guidelines cover healthy weight (Guideline 1), breastfeeding (Guideline 4) and food safety (Guideline 5).

Foods to choose

So what foods should you encourage your clients to focus on? No real surprises here; the five food groups are still front and centre, with top-billing going to vegetables and legumes.

Guideline 2 summary

    • Eat a wide variety of foods from the five food groups:
    • Plenty of vegetables and legumes
    • Fruits
    • Grain foods, mostly wholegrain and high-fibre
    • Protein foods including lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes
    • Dairy products and alternatives, mostly reduced-fat

The Guidelines dietary modelling papers 462 compared the ideal foundation diet with the most recent dietary survey of what Australians eat (this data is from the 1995 dietary survey; new survey data is due for release later in 2013). This analysis found that Australians:

  • Eat less vegetables than they should
  • Need to increase their legume intake by 470%
  • Need to increase nut and seed intake by 350%
  • Need to increase fruit by 110%
  • Need to increase wholegrains by 160% but 30% less low-fibre, refined grains
  • Need to eat 20% less red meat (for men)
  • Need to eat 54% less high fat dairy foods and 460% more low-fat dairy.

There is now an upper limit for red meat of 455g per week. 461 While a serve of red meat is defined as 65g, many people would eat more than this small serve in one meal, and some, particularly men, may eat in excess of 455g in one meal. Encourage a variety of protein sources throughout the week, including some legume-based meals and review red meat intake.

Foods to limit

There are really no prizes for guessing which foods Guideline 3 says we should limit: those containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.

Guideline 3 summary

    • Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
    • Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.
    • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt.
    • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.
    • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

What’s new?

At last there has been a paradigm shift regarding healthy fats. While the previous 2003 Guidelines not only encouraged you to limit saturated fat, they also advocated moderating total fat. 463 The 2013 Guideline recommend saturated fat reduction but they advise in Guideline 3 to replace foods high in saturated fat such as butter with foods rich in healthy mono and polyunsaturated fats such as avocado rather than avoiding all fats:

Replace high fat foods which contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado. 461

While avocado is considered botanically a fruit, it can be used as a 'vegetable' in meals and also replace unhealthy fats. In any case, avocado is one of those foods to eat more of. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGTHE) is a visual guide to understanding the Dietary Guidelines to both, foods to eat more of, and those less of. The plate model helps to visualise the proportion of food that make up a healthy balanced diet. Its companion documents include information on how many serves of food from each food group is recommended for different ages, genders and activity levels.

For instance

  • A vegetable serve is 75g so half an avocado could be equivalent to about 2 vegetable serves
  • A healthy fats serve is 10g and we can have about two serves of healthy fats a day or about 1 tablespoon of avocado for a spread.

What materials are available?

The Dietary Guidelines website offers a whole range of information including meal plans for download as well as a number of useful documents for download or order:


Author: Lisa Yates, Consultant Dietitian Adv APD
Lisa Yates is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian with 16 years experience in nutrition, communications, clinical practice, as well as strategy development and implementation.

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