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Challenging the myths around dieting and weight from our Health for Women website

A few simple lifestyle changes can prevent kilo creep, without dieting. Learn more...

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Home Healthy living Healthy Eating Guidelines for healthy eating

Guidelines for healthy eating

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Dietary Guidelines have been developed by experts in nutrition and health, on behalf of the Austrailan Government, for all Australians to achieve the best possible health. The guidelines are reviewed regularly as new research highlights important issues to our health that could be improved by improving our diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Australians are your best guide to food, nutrition and health.

In addition to the guidelines it is important to eat a as many different foods each day as possible,  eat regular meals, prepare most of your meals at home, increase your knowledge on nutrition and your cooking skills by reading good quality books by  reputable authors and obtaining information from reliable and accurate websites. Don't forget to teach you children or grandchildren how to prepare healthy meals by allowing them to help in the kitchen as often as possible.

The Dietary Guidelines for Australian describe some simple guidelines for healthy eating for the whole population. Of course there may be variations required for some individuals, and those with health conditions should consult a health professional for individual advice.

In addition there are guidelines specific to children detailed below.

  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods

No one food is a super food that will supply all the nutrients we need each day. In addition some of us eat more of one type of food such as fatty or salty foods or sweet foods than is ideal for us. Eating a variety of foods - lots of fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, chicken, ensures we obtain the correct amounts of various nutrients. We may need to eat less of some foods we currently eat in order to make room to enjoy more healthy foods. For example cut back on snack foods and increase fruit and vegetables.

  • eat plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruit
  • eat plenty of  cereals (including breads, rice, pasta, and noodles) preferably wholegrain
  • include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives
  • include milks, yoghurt, cheeses and/or alternatives
  • drink plenty of water

What is a wholegrain?

The most nutritious cereal food is wholegrain. It contains all three parts of the grain; the germ which supplies many nutrients, the starch or carbohydrate for energy and the bran which supplies the fibre. Examples include wholemeal breads, rolled oats, wheat flakes or wheat biscuits, brown rice. These foods supply much of our fibre and B vitamins and should be included each day as part of a healthy diet.   

  • Take care to

  • limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake,
  • choose foods low in salt and limit alcohol if you choose to drink
  • limit you alcohol intake
  • consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods that contain added sugars  

Why do we worry about salt?

Salt is used to flavour many of our every day foods. A little salt used in home cooking is not so much of a problem. Sometimes a lot of salt is used to disguise processed foods that would be relatively tasteless and not enjoyable otherwise. If our diet includes a lot of processed foods, canned or packaged foods or foods eaten away from home, we may end up eating much more salt than we need. Plant foods have a natural supply of salt and there really is no reason to add further salt to our food. Also we tend to get used to high salt in our diet and find we start adding more and more. When we eat a lot of salt it tends to increase blood pressure. That in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.  

  • Prevent weight gain by being physically active and eating according to your energy needs.

All of us need to be careful of weight gain throughout our lives particularly at times when we change our diet and or decrease physical activity. Our weight will remain stable when we eat according to our energy needs.

  • Care for your food through preparing and storing it safely

Australia has one of the safest food systems in the world, yet there are many cases of food poisoning or infection transferred by food which occur in the home so care needs to be taken in the purchase, storage and preparation of food.

  • Encourage and support breastfeeding

This is an interesting guideline designed to encourage as many mums as possible to breastfeed their babies. It is hoped that all Australians will support and encourage a culture that is positive toward breastfeeding mothers. Breast milk is uniquely suited to the needs of infants and is all that is needed for the first 6 months. There are additional benefits in breastfeeding keeping the child healthy throughout life and that is why breastfeeding is considered so important to the health of Australians. This includes benefits to the mother in weight management at a time when many mothers gains weight.  

Children and adolescents

In addition to the adult guidelines, the following recommendations are made for children and adolescents:

  • sufficient nutritious food to grow and develop normally
  • growth should be checked regularly
  • physical activity is important for all children and adolescents

Further resources

To obtain a copy of Food for health go to NHMRC - Dietary Guidelines for all Australians.

Content updated December 7, 2009
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