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Nutrition and eating for good health

Eating healthy food can help reduce your risk of health problems. It can also improve your mental health.

Research shows that eating a healthy diet including coloured vegetables, whole fruits, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, seafood and lean meats can help protect against many chronic diseases. It’s also important to limit saturated fats, sugars and salt.

Small changes to your eating habits over time, combined with increased physical activity, can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing.

Learn more about good nutrition, healthy eating, responsible drinking and maintaining a healthy weight.

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Why is good nutrition important?

Good nutrition means your body gets all the carbohydrates, fat and protein (macronutrients), vitamins, minerals and energy it needs to work well.

Healthy food improves your overall health and wellbeing, which helps you feel energised and alert. But poor food choices can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These can lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

It’s important to know that all foods are part of a healthy, balanced diet, but some should be eaten regularly while others should be enjoyed less often.

Australian Dietary Guidelines

The Australian Dietary Guidelines have been developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to show people how to eat for health and wellbeing.

The guidelines aim to promote good health and reduce the risk of health conditions and chronic diseases. They have general information about the types of food to include in a healthy diet, including suggested serving sizes.

The information is for everyone except people who have medical conditions and older people who have special dietary needs. If you have specific dietary needs, talk to a dietitian or other qualified health professional.

The guidelines recommend you eat a variety of nutritious foods from the following five food groups every day:

  • vegetables – different types and colours, including lentils (red or brown) and legumes (e.g. kidney beans, chickpeas)
  • fruit
  • grain foods – mostly wholegrain and high-fibre cereals (e.g. breads and cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley)
  • proteins (e.g. lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, legumes and beans)
  • dairy – mostly reduced-fat varieties of milk, yoghurt and cheese (or their alternatives).

You should also drink plenty of water.

Visit the Australian Government eat for health website to see a picture of the five food groups and learn how much of these you should eat each day.

Tips for healthy eating

It can be hard to know what ‘healthy eating’ looks like. Try these healthy eating tips or see an accredited dietitian for a personalised eating plan.

Eat a variety of foods

It’s important to eat different foods to get a variety of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Try making meals with at least three food groups. For example, for breakfast, add fruit to your wholegrain cereal and serve it with reduced-fat milk or yoghurt, topped with nuts and seeds. For dinner, choose a protein and serve it with a variety of cooked vegetables and a grain such as rice or quinoa.

Eat regularly

Eating three main meals and up to three snacks per day gives your body the nutrients it needs and helps maintain your energy. Eating regularly can improve your heart health.

It’s recommended you choose wholefood snacks like fruit and vegetables to maintain a healthy weight.

Eat fibre

Fibre is found in all plant foods such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.

Fibre keeps your bowels healthy by helping good bacteria to grow and thrive. A diverse gut helps reduce your risk of bowel cancer and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It also helps your metabolism and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia. Fibre also help you to feel fuller for longer.

Choose wholegrains

Wholegrains are an important source of dietary fibre. They have all parts of the grain, which is where most of the fibre and nutrients are found. Their high fibre content helps you manage your weight, control your blood sugars and cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease and bowel cancer.

Eat fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables contain many important nutrients that help keep you healthy and protect you from illness by boosting your immune system. They contain fibre, vitamin C, folate, potassium, vitamin A and other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Aim to eat fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables where possible. Frozen and canned fruits (in natural juice) and vegetables are also healthy choices.

Eat a low GI diet

Glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of how a carbohydrate food affects your blood glucose level.

High GI foods can cause your blood glucose level to increase quickly. High GI diets are associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

It’s recommended you eat mostly low GI foods (e.g. lentils and legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meats and fish, fruit and vegetables). This can help you to maintain a healthy weight, reduce cholesterol and manage type 2 and gestational diabetes.

Eat mostly unsaturated fats

There are different types of fats, and some are healthier than others. Unsaturated fats (e.g. fats from olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and fish) are good for your health. Eating mostly unsaturated fats in small amounts will help protect you from conditions such as dementia and cardiovascular disease .

All unsaturated fats contain the same amount of energy (calories), so eating them in moderate amounts will help maintain your weight.

Avoid trans and saturated fats

Trans fats are oils that have the same chemical structure as saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in foods like butter, cream and meat. Most trans fats are found in processed foods (e.g. biscuits and cakes). It’s recommended you limit trans fats in your diet. Check food labels and choose products with lower trans fats.

Eat less salt

It’s okay to have some salt in your diet but too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. Check salt (sodium) levels on the label of packaged foods and try to choose foods that have less than 400 mg of sodium per 100 g.

Eat less sugar

Sugar that occurs naturally in wholefoods like fruit, milk and vegetables is not harmful to your health when eaten in small amounts. But sugar added to processed foods such as biscuits and cereals can increase your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Eating less sugar will also help reduce your risk of tooth decay.

Drink water

Make water your choice of drink. Your body needs water to work properly. It improves digestion and helps to keep your skin and teeth healthy. Aim to drink about 2.5 litres of fluid each day, including water and milk.

Limit alcohol

It’s also important to limit alcohol as it’s high in kilojoules and has many potential health risks. The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend you drink no more than 10 standard alcoholic drinks a week and not more than four drinks on any one day.

Check food labels

The nutrition information on food labels helps you to make healthy choices. Read the Nutrition Australia food label reading guide.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

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Last updated: 
21 February 2024
 | 
Last reviewed: 
23 January 2024

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