It’s easy to make small changes to align your diet with Australia’s five dietary guidelines, no matter where you are starting from. If your current diet is quite different from the recommendations, try starting with one or two small changes at a time rather than changing everything all at once. Once these first changes have become the norm, add a few more. Remember, even a small step towards healthier eating is better than doing nothing!
If you don’t know where to start, you can break it down into two key messages:
- Add all five food groups in your diet.
- Cut down on “occasional” foods.
Add all five food groups in your diet
Healthy eating focuses on the five main food groups. The “Daily Serving” tables on our Healthy Eating page tell you how many servings you should eat from each of these groups each day.
It is not difficult to include foods from all five food groups in snacks and meals. Some suggestions include:
- vegetables and legumes or beans – raw or cooked vegetables can be used as a snack or as part of lunch and dinner. Salad vegetables can be used as a sandwich garnish. Vegetable soup can make a healthy lunch. Stir-fry, vegetable patties and vegetable curries make nutritious evening meals. Try raw vegetables like carrot and celery sticks for an “on-the-go” snack, or just keep a box of raw chopped veggies in the center of your fridge to grab your attention when you’re looking for an easy snack. These are great paired with bean-based dips such as hummus (made from chickpeas)
- fruit – fruit is easy to pack as a snack and can be included in most meals. Try a banana with your breakfast cereal, an apple for morning tea, and add berries to your curd for an afternoon snack. Fresh whole fruits are recommended rather than fruit juices and dried fruits
- grain-based foods (grains), mostly whole grains – add rice, pasta or noodles to protein servings (such as lean meat, fish, poultry, legumes, beans or tofu) and vegetables for a complete meal. There are many varieties to try. Whenever possible, choose whole grain breads and cereals as they will provide more nutrients and fiber, which will help keep your digestive system healthy. Check the fiber content by looking at the nutrition information panel on the back of a product – choose options that contain 3g or more of fiber per serving
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes or beans – all of these can provide protein. Try to add lean meat to your sandwich or have a handful of nuts for a snack. Legumes and beans can also be added to most meals (for example, soups or stews) or to lengthen the meat further (for example, when added to a bolognese sauce)
- milk, yogurt, cheese or alternatives (mostly reduced in fat) – try adding yogurt to breakfast cereal with milk, or use cottage cheese as a sandwich topping. Parmesan or cheddar shavings can be used to garnish steamed vegetables or a salad.
Cut down on occasional foods
In 2011-2012, occasional food provided represented just over a third (35%) of the total daily energy consumed by Australians. Think about your own diet. If you find that much of it is made up of foods listed as “occasional” in Australia’s Guide to Healthy Eating, this could be an area where you can try to improve yourself.
Restaurant meals and takeaway meals
Most Australians regularly prepare food and drink outside of the home. In 2015-2016, Australians were spending around half of their weekly food budget on food prepared outside the home (including restaurant meals, take out and coffee).
Foods sold through take-out outlets are often high in added salt, added sugars, (bad) saturated fat, and kilojoules. High consumption can contribute to obesity and chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
Think about how often you consume foods and drinks prepared outside the home. If you do this regularly, consider reducing your intake and focusing more on the top five food groups.
Here are some suggestions for reducing saturated fat in takeout:
- Try ordering a takeout without the fries.
- Choose bread-based options like wraps, kebabs, souvlaki or burgers.
- Avoid fried foods and pastries.
- Include additional vegetables and salad.
- Choose little portions or share with someone else and add a green salad to decrease the kilojoules of the meal.
- Limit sauces and fillings that are high in fat and salt like cheese, fatty meats, and mayonnaise – remember, you can ask for less.
- To drink a lot of water.
- Do not increase unless it is with a side salad.
Fast foods that have fairly low levels of saturated fat and added salt include:
- pizzas with less cheese and meat
- grilled chicken burgers or wraps
- lean grilled meat burgers, no added cheese or bacon
- grilled fish burgers.
Foods high in sugar
Foods and beverages like soft drinks, syrups, cookies, cakes, and sweets are high in added sugars and kilojoules. Sugar itself does not lead to diabetes. But added sugars can lead to weight gain, and being overweight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Sugary drinks are the biggest source of sugars in the Australian diet. There is strong evidence for an association between increased consumption of sugary drinks and the development of childhood obesity and tooth decay. Therefore, the consumption of foods and drinks with a high sugar content should be limited.
The sugar-free versions can sometimes be drunk, but carbonated drinks without sugar are always acidic, which can have a negative effect on bone and tooth health. Water is the healthiest drink – you can add a slice of lemon, lime, or orange for flavor.