Our Dietary Guidelines Don't Need A Health Kick, We Do

We just aren't following the recommendations.

26/05/2016 5:46 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST
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The evidence as it stands is clear. We can't go blaming the dietary guidelines for our fondness for junk food.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines, revised in 2013, inform us about the kinds and amount of food required to sustain a healthy weight and to reduce the risk of lifestyle-related disease. There's so much confusion around what constitutes a healthy diet; it's clear that we need some guidance about what to eat.

With over 60 percent of Aussie adults and 25 percent of children battling the bulge, the guidelines aim to assist us to make food choices that will help us to stay healthy. The guidelines are clear in their recommendations to reduce our intake of discretionary foods such as cake, chocolate, sweet biscuits etc., and to reduce our consumption of saturated fat, added sugar and salt.

In fact, over 55,000 peer-reviewed scientific research papers are behind the guidelines. That's a whole lot of scientific evidence. The guidelines recommend that we eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups -- fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meat and protein alternatives (e.g. eggs, nuts, seeds and tofu), as well as wholegrains. Going Paleo, fasting for a couple of days a week, adding lashings of butter to coffee or consuming bucketloads of fat in general, excluding whole food groups or avoiding fructose, carbs and gluten are not included in the guidelines. Funny that.

Nevertheless, the questions that warrant our attention are: If the guidelines are designed to keep us fit and healthy, then why are our waistlines expanding? And why are we now at an even higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease than ever before?

The answer to both questions is simple: we just aren't following the recommendations.

Here are the facts: According to the latest National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, the average Aussie consumes 35 percent of their daily energy from discretionary foods. That statistic alone is staggering. That means that more than a third of our food intake is derived from things such as chips, lollies, chocolate, fruit juice, soft drinks, cordials, booze, cakes, pastries, fast food and sugary snack foods. Wow. Also, only seven percent of those surveyed met their recommended daily intake of vegetables. And just over half of the respondents reported meeting their recommended daily intake of fruit. The stats are damning. No wonder the CSIRO recently graded our diets a measly C.

The evidence as it stands is clear. We can't go blaming the dietary guidelines for our fondness for junk food. Perhaps if we gravitated towards the fruit bowl and veggie crisper more often than raiding the biscuit tin we could reduce the alarming rates of obesity and lifestyle-related diseases. We could also do with slashing our intake of booze and sugary drinks.

So rather than demonising the dietary guidelines and blaming them for our health woes, it's time to adhere to the recommendations. They go something like this: eat more fruit, vegetables, lean meat, low-fat dairy and wholegrains, and consume less calorie-dense, nutritionally poor, non-core foods and drinks. It's hardly earth-shattering advice. It's the kind of advice your grandmother would give. And I bet you wouldn't argue with her.

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