- Plenty of vegetables, of 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
And drink plenty of water
The key to eating well is to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from each of the Five Food Groups. These Five Food Groups make up the central ‘plate’ (or main circle) on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
Foods are grouped by their type and their contribution of nutrients to Australian diets.Within each group, healthy choices are those that are lowest in saturated fats, added sugars and salt.
Choosing a variety of nutritious foods, both from the five different groups and within each group, over the week and seasonally increases the likelihood of obtaining sufficient intake of all nutrients. Eating a variety of nutritious foods can protect our bodies from chronic disease and may also increase quality of life and longevity
Tuck into vegetables and fruit
Vegetables, legumes/beans and fruit provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and many hundreds of phytonutrients (nutrients naturally present in plants). Most vegetables, legumes/beans and fruit are low in energy (kilojoules) relative to many other foods, and may help ‘fill us up’ to avoid excessive weight gain too. Dietary patterns high in vegetables, legumes/beans and fruit can help protect us against chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers. They may also prevent excessive weight gain. The scientific evidence of the health benefits of eating vegetables and fruit has been reported for decades and continues to strengthen. Different vegetables can help protect the body in different ways, so it’s important to choose a variety of colours, particularly:
- green (such as broccoli, spinach)
- orange (such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes)
- yellow and red (such as capsicum, tomatoes).
It is also important to include different types of vegetables, for example from the leaves and roots of plants, and legumes such as dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried varieties of vegetables and fruit are all suitable foods. Check the ingredients list and choose varieties of canned vegetables without added salt and canned fruit in natural juice, not syrup.
Vegetables and fruit to limit
Fruit juices provides energy (kilojoules) but most lack dietary fibre. They are acidic and frequent consumption may contribute to an increased risk of dental erosion. Dried fruit can also stick to the teeth and increase the risk of tooth decay. For these reasons, fruit juice and dried fruit should be consumed only occasionally and in small amounts. Fruit juice should not be given to infants less than 12 months of age. The intake of some salted, dried, fermented or pickled vegetables has been associated with an increased risk of some cancers, so intake of these foods should be limited. Also limit intake of fried vegetables such as potato and vegetable chips and crisps, which add extra kilojoules and salt. Chips and crisps are included in ‘discretionary choices’ (see pages 27 and 34).
How much should we eat from the vegetable group?
Most Australians eat only about half the recommended quantity of vegetables. Try to choose different types and colours of vegetables to make sure you have enough of all necessary nutrients. The minimum recommended intake of vegetables for younger children ranges from 2½ serves a day for 2–3 year olds to 4½ serves a day in 4–8 year olds.
This increases to 5–5½ serves a day for older children and adolescents, 5–6 serves a day for adults including pregnant women and more than 7 serves a day for breastfeeding women
How much fruit should we eat?
Most Australians eat only about half the recommended quantity of fruit. However many of us drink far too much fruit juice – whole fruit is preferable to juice.
The minimum recommended intake of fruit ranges from 1 serve a day for 2–3 year olds to 1½ serves a day for 4–8 year olds, and at least 2 serves a day for older children, adolescents and adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women.
Go for wholegrains
The grain (cereal) group includes breads, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, bulgur, oats, quinoa and barley. These foods are made from grains such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa and corn. Wholemeal or wholegrain varieties are preferable because they provide more dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals than refined grain (cereal) foods. Eating grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, can help protect us against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and excessive weight gain and may help reduce risk of some cancers. Grain (cereal) foods which have high amounts of added saturated fats, added sugars and/or salt such as most cakes, muffins, pies, pastries and biscuits are not included in this group but are classified under ‘discretionary choices’
How much grain (cereal) foods should we eat?
Most Australians consume less than half the recommended quantity of wholegrain foods, but eat too much refined grain (cereal) foods. At least two-thirds of our choices should be wholegrain varieties. Recommended intake of grain (cereal) food for children ranges from 4 serves a day for 2–8 year olds to 7 serves a day for older adolescents. For women, recommended intake ranges from 3 serves a day for those over the age of 70, to 6 serves a day for women less than 50 years of age. Recommended intake of grain (cereal) food for pregnant and breastfeeding women is 8½ serves a day. For men, recommended intake ranges from 4½ serves a day for those over the age of 70 years to 6 serves a day for younger men. These amounts may seem generous, but the serve sizes are often small compared to the actual amount eaten. For example, 2 slices of bread is equal to 2 serves. The recommended quantities of these foods, like those in each of the other four food groups, should be consumed in preference to discretionary choices.
Choose lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs and/or plant-based alternatives
Eating a variety of foods from the group containing lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans provides many nutrients, including protein, iron, zinc and other minerals and vitamins, particularly those of the vitamin B group. Vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal-based products. Lean red meat is high in iron and can be an important food, especially for some groups including infants, children, women (particularly when pregnant) and athletes. However, regular consumption of larger quantities of red meat may be associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer. Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon and tuna, can be a valuable source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Small quantities of these fatty acids are also found in lean grass-fed red meat, poultry and some eggs. Regular consumption of fish may help reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia in older adults and macular degeneration in the eyes. Fresh, frozen and canned varieties of meats, poultry or fish are all suitable, but choose varieties that are low in salt and saturated fat. Processed meats such as salami, mettwurst, bacon and ham are not part of this food group. They are classified as discretionary choices because they are high in saturated fat and/or salt. Consuming processed meat may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Eggs provide a low cost, easy-to-prepare source of protein and other nutrients.
Alternatives to animal foods include nuts, seeds, legumes, beans and tofu. For all Australians, these foods increase dietary variety and can provide a valuable, affordable source of protein and other nutrients found in meats. These foods are also particularly important for those who follow vegetarian or vegan dietary patterns. Australians following a vegetarian diet can still meet nutrient requirements if energy needs are met and the appropriate number and variety of serves from the Five Food Groups are eaten throughout the day. For those eating a vegan diet, supplementation of B12 is recommended. For further information seek the advice of an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
How much lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds,
and legumes/beans should we eat?
The Guidelines recommend that you eat 1–3 serves of these foods each day, depending on age. During pregnancy, 3½ serves a day are recommended. See the next page for examples of how much is a serve. Looking at the individual types of food consumed over a week, a maximum of 455g of lean, cooked, red meat per week is recommended. Many adults eat meat, poultry or fish in larger portion sizes than the standard serve sizes outlined on the next page. This is not a problem if you compensate for a large serving by consuming the food less often. For example, instead of having 100g cooked weight of fish twice per week you could have 200g cooked weight once per week; or instead of having 65g of red meat every day, you could have twice as much on every second day. Some population groups such as children and young women may need to increase their intake of lean red meat, but most Australian men eat more red meat than is recommended and would benefit from reducing their intake. For older children and adult Australians who eat foods from animal sources, around 2 serves of fish per week is recommended. For children less than 8 years of age, up to around 1–1½ serves per week is recommended. Whole nuts and seeds are not recommended for children aged 3 years or under because of potential choking problems – nut butters or nut pastes can be used instead.
Include milk, yoghurt and cheese and/or alternatives—mostly reduced fat
Milk, yoghurt and cheese are rich sources of calcium and other minerals, protein, and vitamins, including B12. Consumption of milk, yoghurt and cheese can protect us against heart disease and stroke, can reduce our risk of high blood pressure and some cancers, may reduce our risk of Type 2 diabetes and may contribute to stronger bones. However, choosing mostly full fat varieties can increase the saturated fat and energy (kilojoule) content in the diet. A wide range of milk products of varying fat levels are now available in Australia. Milk can be fresh, powdered, evaporated or UHT long life. There are cheeses available that have reduced levels of fat and/or salt. Some other milk products, such as ice-cream, can be relatively high in saturated fat and added sugars, so are classified under discretionary choices, together with cream and butter. Infants under the age of 12 months should not be given cow’s milk as the main milk drink, but this can be served in small quantities on cereal or as part of custards with no added sugars. Breastmilk or specially prepared infant formula should be given to infants under 12 months of age as the main milk source. Children under two years of age have relatively high energy requirements and are growing rapidly, so full cream milks, yoghurts and cheeses are recommended for them. Over two years of age, the preferred choices are reduced fat milks, yoghurts and cheeses or calciumenriched alternatives. Milk products and calcium-enriched alternatives are particularly important foods for growing children and adolescents.
Alternative dairy options
For those who prefer to avoid dairy products, choose alternative products that have added calcium, such as calcium-enriched soy or rice drinks. Check the nutrition information panel on the label of these products to ensure they contain at least 100 mg of calcium per 100ml. Fish with bones (such as sardines or salmon), almonds or tofu can be rich sources of calcium. Seafood (especially mussels, oysters and prawns) and many plant foods (especially seeds, grain-based foods, and green leafy vegetables) contain some calcium too. Some people choose to follow a dairy-free or milk-free diet because of allergies, intolerances to lactose (the natural sugar in milk), or because they believe that milk increases mucus. However there is no scientific evidence of any link between dairy products and mucus production. Dietary patterns that restrict intake of foods from any of the Five Food Groups can be less than ideal for nutritional status. Allergies and intolerances should always be diagnosed by a doctor. If an allergy is diagnosed, an Accredited Practising Dietitian can advise about alternative foods.
How much milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives should we eat every day?
Most Australians consume only about half the recommended quantity of milk products or alternatives, but consume too many full fat varieties of these foods and should increase their intake of reduced fat varieties. Full fat cheeses should be limited to 2–3 serves per week, and varieties which are lower in salt are preferable. The minimum recommended amount of milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives ranges from 1½-2 serves a day for children up to 8 years old to 2½-3½ serves a day for older children and adolescents; 2½ serves a day for younger adults, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and from 3½-4 serves a day for older adults, particularly women.