Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults 2003

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 02 March 2009.

Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults 2003

THESE DIETARY GUIDELINES ARE UNDER REVIEW AS AT DEC 2011.   Dietary guidelines are designed to give consumers a set of "eating rules" to plan their eating and improve their daily diet. If you eat according to the 13 guidelines that follow, your daily diet will be a healthy one that's likely to minimise your chances of diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, gall bladder disease and dental caries.

Background to the 2003 edition

  • The original guidelines were published way back in 1979 and later reviewed and updated by an expert panel reporting to the National Health and Medical Research Council in 1992.
  • They were updated to reflect changes in our knowledge about nutrition e.g. evidence of the link between saturated fat and heart disease, deficiencies of iron and calcium in the population, the importance of antioxidants and phyto-chemicals in plant foods, etc.
  • The 1992 guidelines were also rearranged into an order of priority that was meant to reflect their relative importance to the Australian community.
  • Two new guidelines were added to address two specific nutrients (iron and calcium). These were aimed at people with greater nutritional needs or who have a higher risk of developing deficiency than the general population
  • These 2003 guidelines began their most recent revision in 2000. This process involved collaboration between the community and public health experts and a set of draft guidelines were circulated for public consultation in 2001.
  • Officialy they were launched in June 2003. Compared with past editions, they had a greater focus on food groups and lifestyle with specific reference to our national food selection guide the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
  • There was no specific order of importance. Instead each guideline dealt with an issue that plays a significant role in attaining optimum health.


Individual Dietary Guidelines for 2003

the dietary guidelines for australiansThere were 13 specific guidelines arranged in 4 categories:

1. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods

A variety of foods will:

  • ensure we obtain the range of nutrients essential for health and growth.
  • lessen the consumption of potentially toxic substances

Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits

These foods not only provide many essential nutrients but also protect the body from the wear and tear of aging by keeping blood pressure down, preventing the arteries from clogging with cholesterol, guarding against cataracts and keeping many types of cancers at bay.
Enjoy at least five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit a day (see my article for easy ways to eat more vegetables)

Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain

Cereals form the foundation of our meals and provide around half the energy and protein in the daily diets of most adults. Cereals play a vital role in meeting the body's needs for B group vitamins and also contribute to vitamin E, essential fatty acid and mineral intakes. Cereals also provide valuable dietary fibre.
Eat at least four to five serves of cereal foods a day.

Include lean meat, fish, poultry and/or alternatives

These foods are excellent sources of protein and a major source of iron in our diet. Iron deficiency a significant problem for many Australians. This group of foods are also rich in zinc and vitamin B12 with fish being one of the best sources of omega 3 fats.
Choose lean red meat three or four times a week and try to eat fish once or twice a week.

Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives

Dairy foods are good sources of protein and vitamin A and the best dietary source of calcium. Calcium helps to keep bones strong throughout the lifecycle.
Chose two or more serves of low fat dairy foods each day

Drink plenty of water

Essential for life water is necessary for the absorption of food, its transport around the body and flushing away waste. Increasing fluid intake can protect against kidney stones and cancer of the bladder, prostate and kidney.
Choose water as a drink whenever you can.

And take care to ...

Limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake

All fats are high in kilojoules and to maintain a healthy weight their intake should be moderated. Limit unhealthy saturated fats that increase the risk of heart disease and choose healthier poly- and mono-unsaturated fats when you do need to use fat.

Choose foods low in salt

Populations with the greatest amount of sodium (salt) in their diets have the highest prevalence of high blood pressure. By using less salt the risk of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease can be reduced.
Choose low, reduced or no-added salt products, and limit the use of salt at the table and in cooking
Download my free handout showing where the salt comes from and 7 steps to cutting down

Limit your alcohol intake if you choose to drink

Heavy intakes of alcohol can cause many health related problems including liver damage, cancer of the mouth, throat and oesophagus, increased blood pressure and overweight. Read up on my article giving the pros and cons of alcohol. 
Limit your alcohol if you choose to drink

Consume only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugars

Sugar from commercial food products (soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits, etc) is the major contributor to our sugar intake compared to sugar we use at home. This guideline looks at the difference between foods containing added sugar and those that naturally contain sugar. Download my free handout on sugar, where it comes from, how to understand food labels and how to cut back.


2. Prevent weight gain: be physically active and eat according to your energy needs

With the dramatic increases in overweight and obesity amongst Australian adults and children over the past 20 years this guideline is of particular importance. Of note is the inclusion of physical activity which highlights the fact that both physical activity and diet need to be balanced in order to prevent weight gain. Read my summary of how much exercise do you need to stay healthy.

The range of body weights right for your height is what we refer to as the healthy weight range. Weights within this range are associated with better health. The most widely used measure of healthy weight for adults is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Optimum range for BMI is between 20 and 25kg/m2.


3. Care for your food: prepare and store it safely

Food systems in Australia are among the safest in the world yet many thousands of cases of food poisoning occur each year - due largely to poor food safety in the home. This guideline outlines the importance of keeping food safe and the key factors to doing so.


4. Encourage and support breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the most appropriate method for feeding infants. An environment which encourages and optimises breastfeeding is the responsibility of the whole community.


Need more information?

the dietary guidelines for australians Download our handy one-page summary of the 2003 Guidelines at  pdf Dietary Guidelines for Adults 2003.

Materials (books, posters, backgrounder) are available for both students as well as health professionals and teachers to promote good nutrition by calling the Australian Govt Dept of Health and Aging toll free on 1800 020 103 and asking for Ext 8654  or  emailing: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

adobe pdf smallThe 2003 Dietary Guidelines document is also available in PDF format and in Word format at the web site of the National Health and Medical Research Council at
or  enter through their main page at


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