Australia’s dietary guidelines now emphasise the need to eat mostly plant-based foods. We take a look at the new nutrition
‘EAT FOOD. NOT TOO MUCH. Mostly plants,’ said US food writer Michael Pollan. He hit the nail on the head – and around 55,000 peer-reviewed research papers agree, as the latest Australian Healthy Eating Pyramid, below, illustrates.
Nutrition Australia has been taking the government’s nutritional guidelines and turning them into ‘at-a-glance’ visuals for 35 years as the Healthy Eating Pyramid. Now, in the first update for 15 years, the pyramid largely mirrors the UK’s Eatwell plate, with plant-based foods making up 70% of the diet.
What do UK experts make of it?
‘The revised Healthy Eating Pyramid for Australia is actually very similar to the Eatwell Plate (see below), which we currently use in the UK for helping people to understand what constitutes a healthy, balanced diet, in that around two-thirds of our diets are based on plant foods,’ says HFG nutrition consultant Juliette Kellow.
‘The Eatwell Plate is divided into five sections. Fruit and veg make up a third of the plate, while starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta and rice make up another third. In other words, the Eatwell Plate recommends that around two-thirds of our diet is plant based – exactly like the new Australian Healthy Eating Pyramid.’
Senior nutritionist for Nutrition Australia Aloysa Hourigan says: ‘We’ve put extra emphasis on the importance of vegetables, legumes and fruit – especially vegetables – by putting them in the very base of the pyramid.’ She adds that the recommended serving size for grains has ‘virtually halved’, to six servings a day. (One serving is equal to one slice of bread or half a cup of cooked rice/pasta/quinoa.)
What has changed?
In line with the 2013 Australian dietary guidelines:
• The five core food groups now have clearly defined layers and areas in the pyramid: vegetables and fruit; wholegrains; dairy and alternatives; meat and alternatives; healthy fats.
• Refined carbohydrates, high-fat and high-salt foods have been altogether removed. Aloysa says these so-called ‘discretionary foods’ are not part of what is required in the diet.
• Sugar now joins the salt shaker outside the pyramid to show the importance of limiting sugar intake.
• The tip of the pyramid shows only healthy unsaturated fats, when previous pyramids referred to all fats, including butter.
• Using herbs and spices for flavour is included to encourage Australians to cook more and discover new flavours.
Are we set to follow?
‘I like the fact that the Australian model includes water as part of the pyramid and also clearly highlights the need to limit salt and sugar,’ says Juliette. ‘The final segment of the Eatwell Plate is a small slither for foods containing fat and sugar. The focus is on ‘treat’ foods, with the emphasis on limiting these. At the moment, Public Health England is in the process of reviewing the UK’s current Eatwell Plate, so we may see some revisions in the future.’