The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

You know the one! The big plate that is divided into different portions for each of the food groups. This post will be taking a deeper look into the rAGHE.jpgealm of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, or AGHE for short!

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a healthy food selection guide that is based on the latest scientific evidence, which includes over 55,000 peer reviewed scientific papers. The AGHE has been designed to encourage specific dietary patterns that promote health and wellbeing, as well as reduce the risk of chronic disease. As nutrition science is constantly evolving, the AGHE is regularly updated.

So why is it getting such a bad name by some of the public?

Nutrition is one of those areas of science that is very controversial. Everyone eats, so a lot of people are interested in food… because it affects us all! As a result, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet. In particular, I most regularly witness unqualified people (such as celebrity chefs or models) giving advice based on their own personal experiences and views. This has the potential to be very dangerous… however that is an argument for another post!

The main argument I hear against the AGHE is: “If the AGHE is truly a healthy food guide, then why are the rates of chronic disease in Australia increasing?”

And that’s not a bad question to ask… the reason why this is the case is that most Australians are NOT following the core principles of the AGHE! In particular, our fruit and vegetable consumption is very low and our discretionary food consumption is high!

The following are some statistics from the 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey that demonstrate this:

  • 54% of the population met their daily intake of fruit
  • 8% of the population met their daily intake of vegetables
  • Over one third of the average Australians total energy intake was from discretionary foods- that is foods that are have very little nutrition value, are often high in saturated fat, sugar, salt and/or alcohol.

All data from this survey is self reported, meaning there is likely to be bias in the results as people often over-report fruit and vegetable intake, and under-report discretionary food intake. Therefore these statistics are likely to be worse than this!!

So let’s take a deeper look into the AGHE…

There are 5 key food groups that provide us with a variety of important nutrients:

Food group Foods in this group Nutrients from this group
Vegetables All vegetables Fibre, vitamins (A,B,C), carbohydrates, minerals (potassium, magnesium and iron)
Fruit All fruit, occasionally including dried fruit and some types of fruit juice Fibre, Vitamins (A,B,C), carbohydrates, potassium and folate
Grains Bread, roll, flatbread, rice, pasta, noodles, porridge, all grain types, muesli, crispbreads, English muffins, crumpets. Carbohydrates, fibre, protein, iron, thiamine, folate, iodine
Meat and meat alternatives Lean red meat, lean poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, nut butters or seed pastes Zinc, iron, fats (include omega 3’s), vitamin B12
Dairy Milk (including fortified soy), cheese, yoghurt, almonds, sardines, canned pink salmon with bones, firm tofu Calcium, protein, vitamin B, phosphate, carbohydrates, fats

What is a serve in each of the food groups:

If you are curious as to how big a serve is, click here and you will be directed to the “Eat for Health” government website that describes what a serving size actually is for all different types of food.

 How much of each serve does the guide recommend to have:

Again, the “Eat for Health” government website has an easy to read table outlining this, click here if you are interested.

My view on the AGHE:

As a Nutrition and Dietetics student who has slaved away searching through literature for assignments and extra reading, I appreciate and understand the importance of having an evidence based food guide such as the AGHE in Australia.

The AGHE provides Aussies with a pretty basic message; to eat a balanced diet which includes a variety of food groups as these different food groups contain different nutrients essential for our bodies. I think a lot of the confusion comes from the fact that many people are unaware of what a serving size of each food group actually is- therefore they become overwhelmed (or perhaps underwhelmed in some instances) with the amount of food the guide recommends they eat. That’s why knowing roughly what 1 serve of each food group equates to can be really handy!

Also remember that the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is literally that, a guide. It is not a specific diet recommended for everybody and it’s not saying you must eat 6 serves of grains or 2.5 serves of meat to be healthy. It instead is a conclusion that has come about from analysing the latest evidence and can help to guide your diet if you desire. In saying that, it has been designed to be rather flexible, with many food options in each of the food groups, therefore helping to adjust to individual needs whilst still ensuring you obtain adequate nutrition. If you want a more personalised approach to healthy eating that may be tailored exactly to your needs- that’s where a Dietitian can come into play!

So what does it all mean?

When you look at the basic principles of the AGHE, they are pretty much as follows:

  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables
  • Choose wholegrain’s over refined grains
  • Limit processed foods high in sugar, saturated fat and salt
  • Choose lean meats, and avoid eating too much red meat
  • Eat Dairy to help strengthen the bones

… It’s pretty basic stuff- but it’s the foundation for good health. These recommendations may not be as exciting as the latest fad diet, but they are real and they have shown to work (over 55,000 times actually).

-Your Student Dietitian, Simone Abley


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