Australian Dietary Guidelines, attainable or aspirational?
Eat your greens, lay off the doughnuts. The Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) have an important role in influencing government health policy and food manufacturers but can they be followed in real life? Published as part of the government’s strategic food plan earlier in 2013, the ADG are an update of the 2003 guidelines and serve as an evidence-based tool for optimal public health. Rather than dictating like a Nanny State what we should eat and vilifying those of us who eat badly, they gently suggest that there is very strong evidence for promoting their recommendations within a context that encourages and supports more nutritious food choices and healthy lifestyles.
Another set of guidelines, as if there wasn’t enough pressure coming from all types of media on what we should bet eating to be healthy. From Hollywood actresses with private chefs to faux Doctors telling us rich leafy greens will oxygenate the blood because they are full of chlorophyll it all needs to be relative to what we can actually afford and get hold of and what we actually like eating to have any lasting impact.
Bad Science and vanity aside, poor dietary choices cost governments money in the long run and it is certain that tax dollars will be used to treat chronic preventable diseases amongst a growing and aging population if someone doesn’t attempt to guide that population to an optimal health outcome through their dietary choices. However, the ADG are neither very overt nor very sexy and there are no gimmicks or quick-fixes of any kind on offer.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (of Australia) states that “The ADG use the best available scientific evidence to provide information on the types and amounts of foods, food groups and dietary patterns that aim to:
- promote health and wellbeing.
- reduce the risk of diet-related conditions.
- reduce the risk of chronic disease including cardiovascular and type two diabetes.
- The Guidelines are for use by health professionals, policy makers, educators, food manufacturers, food retailers and researchers.
The idea to test the guidelines against what is achievable in a regular lifestyle came from Dietician Professor Tim Crowe of Deaking University’s comments in The Conversation, in February 2013. “Research in 2004* found that only a third of middle-aged Australian women met at least half of the dietary guidelines, and form a total of 10,561 surveyed only two met all thirteen guidelines”
To be fair the ADG are not intended for first-hand use by Joanne Public. Yet I couldn’t help but wonder about those two women from the study who met all thirteen, how did they do it? OCD and super-keen with little else in their lives or were the rest just slack? Are we all better informed and more focused on health nine years on? How much would an ordinary woman, middle aged otherwise, need to turn around her eating habits without tumbling in to an abyss of obsession and boring smugness in order to achieve optimal health outcomes?
I am looking for volunteers among to let me see if they usually follow four of the ADG. I’ll be honest, left to my own devices I could go for days without a fresh vegetable. My Anglo Saxon genes mean I would, by default, choose white bread and butter sandwiches filled with cheddar cheese and pickle at every meal and wash them down with a bottle of pale ale. It is only self restraint and vanity that renders me not bad for for my age healthwise. I am not expecting perfection amongst any of my friends/volunteers as they all operate in the Real World with families, jobs and fun. And I really hope none turns out to be Homer Simpson, but I shall Not Judge.
This website http://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/ summarises five principal recommendations featured in the ADG. Each Guideline is considered to be equally important in terms of public health outcomes. These are just summaries of four of the principal recommendation relating to adult diets they are long and wordy and confusing even for an ex-caterer and Food Scientist, so we shall examine each of them in separate articles.
1: To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
2: Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
- Vegetables and legumes/beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives
And drink plenty of water.
3: Limit intakes of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
4: Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
(Awesome, well done ADG committee. Any of my friends/volunteers who do not follow this recommendation will be off the Crackling Christmas Card List. Harsh but fair and not at all scientific.)
5: Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
The ADG does, to its great credit, acknowledge that influences on dietary choices are complex, ranging from affordability and availability to social and physical isolation. It is also, really quite tactfully, acknowledges that ethnicity and education levels mean not all Australians are equally equipped to come close to following the guidelines. Tragically these factors often mean an increased likelihood of individuals developing chronic diseases related to diet.
I know very few people who identify as falling in to any of these categories so I am guessing my respondents will be at the top end of awareness, income and control over their food choices. As I said, this is not a very scientific experiment.
So if you would like to contribute to this survey of how these four principal recommendations fit in to a regular diet then please use the contact box on the side-bar. (anonymity guaranteed unless you are an attention seeker, and there is nothing wrong with that, in moderation).
* How well do Australian women comply with dietary guidelines? Kylie Ball, Gita D Mishra Christopher W Thane and Allison Hodge, Public Health Nutrition / Volume 7 / Issue 03 / May 2004, pp 443-452 Copyright © CAB International 2004
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1079/PHN2003538 (About DOI), Published online: 02 January 2007