The food and beverages we eat and drink (our diet) play an important role in our overall health and wellbeing. Diets that provide insufficient or excessive amounts of energy, nutrients and other components can result in ill health.
Health conditions that are often affected by our diet include overweight and obesity, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some forms of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
A healthy diet is an important factor in maintaining our health and wellbeing. As well as being a key component of weight management, a healthy diet assists in preventing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Health conditions associated with diet can also be influenced by environmental, behavioural, biological, societal and genetic factors.
Australia has national guidelines that recommend the amount and types of foods we should eat to promote health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of chronic disease. The Australian Dietary Guidelines were developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council and are based on scientific evidence and expert opinion (NHMRC 2013). The guidelines recommend:
- being physically active and choosing amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet energy needs
- enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups (and drinking plenty of water) every day:
- vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- 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)
- limiting intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
- encouraging, supporting and promoting breastfeeding
- caring for food by preparing and storing it safely.
Australia also has a set of Nutrient Reference Values that provide recommended levels of intake of specific nutrients to meet the needs of healthy individuals (NHMRC 2006). The Nutrient Reference Values include Estimated Average Requirements, which can be used to estimate the prevalence of inadequate intakes in the population, and Upper Levels of Intake, which can be used to estimate the proportion of the population at risk of adverse effects from excessive intake.
For more information on the adequacy of the Australian diet across different age groups and population groups, please see the report Nutrition across the life stages.
NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
NHMRC 2006. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand including Recommended Dietary Intakes. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
Monitoring food and nutrition is important, however data are collected infrequently
Novel sources of data for food and nutrition monitoring have not been collected or extensively used for those purposes
3 to 8 serves of discretionary foods were consumed by children per day in 2011–12
7.1% of children aged 2–17 consumed sugar sweetened drinks daily in 2017–18
Nearly all Australians (99%) aged 2–18, and 9 in 10 adults aged 19 and over do not eat enough vegetables
Although fruit intake is closest to the recommendations, nearly 4 in 5 adults (77%) aged 19–50 do not eat enough