The Australian Dietary Guidelines: Eating for Health?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines. You either hate them, or you hate them. Well that’s the vibe I get from the online health gurus. No one actually follows them but they still get the blame for the increasing rates of obesity, diabetes & cardiovascular disease (try and figure that one out?!?). Some even point the finger at them for causing ADHD, autoimmune diseases &  autism.

So what’s the deal, should we be following them?  To be honest I think that most people don’t actually fully understand the guidelines which is fair enough because they can be a bit ambiguous. So what does it actually mean to follow the guidelines? What does it look like and is it the best way to eat for health?

Well let’s start with the basics….

What exactly are the guidelines? 

That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked. ‘The Australian Dietary Guidelines give advice on eating for health and wellbeing. They’re called dietary guidelines because it’s your usual diet that influences your health. Based on the latest scientific evidence, they describe the best approach to eating for a long and healthy life.’

The Australian Dietary Guidelines have 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.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines apply to all healthy Australians however not to people who need special dietary advice for a medical condition, or to the frail elderly.

AKA: The guidelines provide advice on eating for health and wellbeing for all Australians, excluding those with special dietary needs, medical conditions and the frail elderly. 

The ADG are written guidelines (there are 5 written guidelines which we will go through later). The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a VISUAL representation of the guidelines. It is meant to be used to accompany the guidelines. It visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day. It looks like this:

An image of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating food plate poster


Ok so these guidelines sound pretty good but who made them? Was it my favourite food instagrammer (I mean she looks super healthy and her food looks really nutritious) or real health experts?

Ah great question! The guidelines are developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council and were funded by the Australian Government. NHMRC recognises the need for dietary advice to be based on the best available scientific evidence (notice the word scientific evidence, NOT pseudoscience or thoughts, feelings & opinions from celebrities or health gurus). Over 55,000 scientific journal articles were retrieved by a team of nutrition and medical experts.  This evidence was turned into practical dietary advice that reflects best practice standards in health guideline development.

AKA: A group of very intelligent health experts went through HEAPS AND HEAPS AND HEAPS of SCIENTIFIC research papers to develop the guidelines based on EVIDENCE of what dietary patterns and foods contribute to health and wellbeing.

So lets remember there are 16 million people living in Australia. Are the guidelines recommending each one of these 16 million people have exactly the same diet? Errr no. They are simply guiding the Australian population on what foods contribute to health and wellbeing. They are not saying you must eat this food in this exact quantity to be healthy, they are saying a combination of these foods in these sort of quantities promote health and wellbeing.

So let’s get to the ACTUAL guidelines…

Guideline 1

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, 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.

AKA: Be active and eat nutritious foods. Don’t eat too much and don’t eat too little, eat the right amount for you.

Guideline 2

Eat a wide variety of foods from these 5 food groups every day

  • Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)
  • And drink plenty of water.

Note: Within these 5 food groups there are recommendations on how many serves you should be having each day.

AKA: eat mainly from these 5 core foods groups.

Guideline 3

Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

a. 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.

  • 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.
  • Low fat diets are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years.

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 in cooking or at the table.

c. 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.

d. 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.

AKA: Don’t eat too much food high in saturated fat, sugar or salt. No need to ban them from your diet but just don’t eat too much of them. And drink alcohol responsibly.

Guideline 4

Encourage, support & promote breastfeeding

AKA: breastfeeding is awesome. Lets encourage, support & promote it as much as we can. Lets be really supportive in encouraging women to do so. Lets make it socially acceptable to breastfeed anywehere at anytime.

Guideline 5

Care for your food; prepare & store it safely

AKA: the 5 second rule isn’t really legit. Don’t be a badass by drinking milk a week out of date.

So these are the 5 guidelines. While they may seem a bit vague and ambiguous there is actually a 210 page document that goes into much more detail. Its available to everyone here, it makes for great bedtime reading (not really it’s long and boring that’s why it’s been summarised).

Soooooo it’s all well and good to read about the guidelines but how would you put them in practice?

Wow you are full of great questions, and here’s something I prepared earlier to give you an idea. Let’s have a look at a basic diet and see how it fits in with the guidelines….



Oats (1 cup cooked) = 2 serve

Low fat milk (1/2 cup) = 0.5 servefullsizerender-3

Berries (1/2 cup) = 0.5 serve

Nuts and seeds (1 tablesoon) = 0.5 serve

Yoghurt (50g) = 0.25 serve


Coffee (latte) = 1 serve



Banana = 1 serve

Yoghurt = 0.75 serve



2.5 cups salad = 2.5 servesfullsizerender-4

100g chicken = 1.25 serves

1 slice rye bread = 1 serve

Extra virgin olive oil



2 wholegrian crackers = 0.5 serve

30g nuts = 1 serve



1.5 cup cooked vegetables = 3 servesfullsizerender-5

100g tofu = 0.6 serves

1/2 cup rice = 1 serve



Fun size chocolate = 1 servefullsizerender-6




Let’s see how this diet stacks up against the guideline’s recommendations for a woman aged 19-50.

Food Group                                                    Recommended Serves                     Actual Serves

Vegetables                                                                  5                                                5.5

Fruit                                                                            2                                                 1.5

Grain foods                                                                 6                                                 5

Meat, fish , poultry, nuts, beans & legumes            2.5                                              3.3

Milk, cheese, yogurt & alternatives                          2.5                                              2.5

Discretionary foods                                                   0-2.5                                           1


So how dose this diet rate? Well it’s not spot on according to the guidelines but it’s not too far off.  But remember the guidelines are there to GUIDE food choices not give strict rules, so I think this diet is looking pretty good! And as we all know we don’t eat the exact same foods day in and day out, so while on this day some food groups are slightly above or below it will change slightly on other days and may even out by the end of the week.

Considering that in Australia 35% of total daily energy comes from discretionary foods, only 4% of people are eating the recommended serves of vegetables and only 31% eat the recommended 2 serves of fruit per day most people would benefit from aligning their diet more closely to the guidelines.

And it’s not just Australia promoting these guidelines, the same advice is given all around the world. So its not just our experts and the 55,000 studies they reviewed its the experts from all around the world that agree this is the way to eat for health.

So trust the guidelines. They are there to GUIDE you to a healthy diet. No strict rules but a GUIDE to help you understand the amounts and types of foods to eat for health and well being. Use the basic principles of the guidelines and make some adjustments so they suit you, your preferences and your way of life so you too can eat for health.




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