Today marks the release of the revised Australian Dietary Guidelines. So what has changed since the last update in 2003? Very little in the way of the main recommendations, but the evidence base for the guidelines has grown stronger.
The revised dietary guidelines represent a potent set of recommendations targeted at promoting health, reducing obesity, and protecting against the major chronic disease killers of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
The revised guidelines have a greater focus on foods and food groups rather than nutrients and this is a good step forward. People eat food, not nutrients, so it makes sense to describe more of the foods that people should eat more of and those to eat less of.
While nutritionists may spend endless hours debating the wording of each recommendation, the methods and evidence that informed them, and where they believe the emphasis should lie, are these guidelines really stating anything new? Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, choose mostly unprocessed grains and cereals, cut back on salt, fat and sugar, and get more active. Hardly controversial stuff.
The guidelines have an important role to play in informing government health policy, and for use by food manufacturers and health professionals which is why so much time was invested into revising them and taking all views on board.
But what about for the average Australian: what do these guidelines mean for them? Having the most perfect set of guidelines in the world amounts to little if people don’t follow them and this is the real elephant in the room, not debating over wording. Research from 2003 found that only a third of middle-aged Australian women met at least half of the dietary guidelines, and from a total of 10,561 women surveyed, just two (yes, two) met all 13 guidelines.
For what amounts to such basic common sense advice that your grandmother would give, it shows that dietary guidelines currently are more aspirational, than attainable for most people. Dealing with this gap is the greatest future challenge for nutritionists.