Bet­ter science means a re­build for healthy foods pyra­mid

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

WHEN asked what to eat for good health, most di­eti­tians and other health pro­fes­sion­als turn to the Aus­tralian Guide to Healthy Eat­ing (AGHE), the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s food se­lec­tion model, to out­line the amounts and types of foods needed daily to meet nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments.

Re­leased in 1998, the AGHE rep­re­sented an up­date to the old five food groups which had been Aus­tralia’s food se­lec­tion guide since the 1940s. While pre­sent­ing it­self as a sim­ple graphic, de­vel­op­ment of the AGHE was based on ex­ten­sive di­etary modelling needed to en­sure the right amount and types of foods from the var­i­ous core food groups were rep­re­sented.

Fol­low­ing the rec­om­men­da­tions made by the AGHE to eat breads and ce­re­als, veg­eta­bles, fruits, dairy, meat and al­ter­na­tives daily while lim­it­ing pies, cakes, bis­cuits and soft drinks, meant the av­er­age per­son should meet at least 70 per cent of their daily re­quire­ments for key nu­tri­ents.

While serv­ing its pur­pose for a brief pe­riod of time, nu­tri­tion re­search has moved on sig­nif­i­cantly over the past 10 years, and the AGHE is now in need of a se­ri­ous over­haul. It’s wel­come news, there­fore, that in the re­cent fed­eral bud­get, fund­ing was al­lo­cated for a re­view and up­date of the AGHE to bring it in line with re­cent sci­en­tific ev­i­dence re­gard­ing the types and amounts of foods needed for op­ti­mal health and well­be­ing.

There are many lim­i­ta­tions of the AGHE that will re­quire ad­dress­ing dur­ing the re­view process. Firstly, qual­ity choices within each of the food groups need to be dis­tin­guished. The food pic­tures cur­rently used in the AGHE give the im­pres­sion that white rice and corn­flakes are nu­tri­tion­ally equiv­a­lent to wholegrain bread and rolled oats, and clearly this is not the case.

The con­cept of nu­tri­ent den­sity, that is, how many nu­tri­ents a food pro­vides rel­a­tive to its kilo­joule value, there­fore needs to be con­sid­ered to dis­tin­guish health­ier choices within each of the food groups, mak­ing it eas­ier for peo­ple to meet nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments with­out over­do­ing the kilo­joules.

An­other is­sue re­quir­ing at­ten­tion is the fact that healthy fats, such as those from veg­etable and seed oils, are con­sid­ered ‘‘ ex­tras’’ in the diet, and lumped to­gether with bis­cuits, pies and choco­lates as foods to eat only oc­ca­sion­ally. Re­search shows that with­out adding sources of healthy fats to the diet, it is very dif­fi­cult to meet daily re­quire­ments for some of the fat-sol­u­ble vi­ta­mins such as vi­ta­min D and E, and to meet re­quire­ments for es­sen­tial fatty acids.

With to­day’s obe­sity epi­demic, the con­cept of kilo­joule con­trol is also an ex­tremely im­por­tant one to get across in any pop­u­la­tion healthy eat­ing guide. The AGHE cur­rently lists serv­ing sizes of foods that vary in their kilo­joule value by up to three-fold, mak­ing ap­pli­ca­tion of the guide to weight con­trol very lim­ited.

In­cor­po­rat­ing other as­pects of a per­son’s lifestyle that im­pact on their abil­ity to eat well would also be de­sir­able.

Deal­ing with clients through our clinic, it’s clear the ex­tremely im­por­tant role that a pos­i­tive mind, a bal­anced lifestyle, sup­port­ive friends and fam­ily and a healthy so­cial life all play on a per­son’s abil­ity to eat well.

Sim­i­larly, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity is a ma­jor fac­tors need­ing con­sid­er­a­tion when de­ter­min­ing how much a per­son should eat daily.

Ideally, all of th­ese con­cepts will be taken into ac­count when the AGHE is re­viewed and the fi­nal model will not only be re­flec­tive of cur­rent nu­tri­tion science, but will recog­nise fac­tors of im­por­tance to in­di­vid­u­als and pop­u­la­tions when it comes to ac­tu­ally putting the rec­om­men­da­tions into prac­tice. Sharon Na­toli is an ac­cred­ited di­eti­tian and di­rec­tor of Food & Nu­tri­tion Aus­tralia.­

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