The National Health and Medical Research Council released the draft of their Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) in December 2011 for public consultation.(1) The AGHE is a quick and simple pictorial guide to the types and amounts of foods that should be eaten in a healthy daily diet for all age groups.
It is believed the final document will be available towards the end of 2012.
The five basic food groups have been used to teach nutrition since the 1940s and consisted of (in this order):
- Bread/cereal group
- Vegetable/fruit group
- Meat group
- Milk group
- Butter/ table margarine group.
Then in the late 1990s the first AGHE was published displaying the five food groups as "wedges" or portions of a dinner plate.(2)
One of the biggest differences was the change in the five food groups:
- Breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles – reflected a change in the cuisines available
- Vegetables and legumes – separated from fruit and highlights legumes
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese
- Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes – no more "meat and meat alternatives"
Notice something missing?
- Yes the Fats group of butter/table margarine was removed from the five food groups and in the plate image demoted to the "naughty corner" with unhealthy "extra" foods such as biscuits, chips, pies, chocolate, ice cream and soft drinks (As a nutritinist, I don't agree with this downgrade as I believe a balanced diet needs to include some type of fat).
- Water was also first displayed as the most important drink near the plate.
So what's new in the 2011 draft?
The overall message to "Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods everyday" and to "Drink water" is the same.
The same five foods groups from the 1998 version are present. However the portion of the plate they occupy has slightly changed.
The images are now of real foods rather than cartoons or illustrations but these images are not true to life making some foods appear tiny compared to others.
Fats are back
Yes healthy fats are once again present, represented by cooking oils and margarines but are not part of the plate. Instead they are near the plate with a cautionary warning to only "Use small amounts". It's high time we stopped demonising fats as the root of all weight gain evil. Healthy fats are needed to regulate cholesterol and help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. (3)
You have to work hard and read the fine print in the text to find any information about the amount of fats to include:
- 4 serves (28-40g) per day for men under 70 years and
- 2 serves (14-20g) per day for women and men over 70 years.
Less carbs and more proteins
- The number of serves of cereal/grain foods and fruit has been reduced in favour of extra serves of dairy and the protein group made up of lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts/seeds and legumes/ beans.
- The large number of serves of grains (from 4 to 12 serves per day) was criticised in the earlier versions especially when a serve was considered double that of normal, namely two slices of bread OR 1 cup of cooked grains OR ½ cup of muesli. This is now reduced to 3 to 6 serves of grainy foods with just one slice of bread, ½ cup of cooked grains such as rice or pasta as a serve and a ¼ cup of muesli (this seems too little for breakfast though).
- "Mostly wholegrains" is now encouraged and a greater variety of grainy foods suggested including polenta, cous cous, oats, quinoa and barley. No mention is made of low glycemic index carbohydrates however which is a shame.
- Why fruit has been reduced is not known. Previously 2 to 5 serves of fruit were recommended depending on age, gender and life stage. Now, however it is two serves across the board from 9 years of age. Perhaps this was needed to allow extra serves of "protein foods".
- Dairy serves have increased to 2½ to 4 serves for adults while the meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes group serves have increased from 1 to 2 per day to 2 to 3½ serves. The name of this group is a mouthful in itself but it's important to list all the protein foods to increase variety rather than emphasize meat with "meat and meat alternatives".
- The dietary modelling document that underpins all the recommendations set out in the AGHE suggests a 30g serve of nuts every day which means Australians need to increase their nut consumption by 350%. The AGHE suggests this can be achieve either as one of the protein food serves and/or a healthy fats serve.
Alcohol and "extra" foods
The recommendations for extra foods has changed. They can now be made up of either extra serves of core foods from the five food groups or - as the image portrays - unnecessary "extras" such as chips, takeaways, soft drinks etc. Unhealthy extras can still be found in the naughty corner but for the first time are joined by alcohol which was missing from the 2003 AGHE image.
These foods and drinks should be consumed "only sometimes and in small amounts" due to their high kilojoule content. Alcohol is kilojoule-dense with 29kJ per gram compared to 37kJ per gram for fats and 16-17kJ per gram for carbs and protein. Given the health and social issues with binge drinking, recommendations to reduce alcohol consumption are a good idea.(4)
I'm pleased to still see tap water as the main drink of choice and the image of running water from a tap is made more obvious. Our tap water is safe and contains fluoride which is necessary for dental health and hygiene so there's no reason to buy expensive bottled water. What is missing from this document is advice on how much fluids we each need to drink across the age groups and there is no advice on other forms of fluids such as tea or juice.