Choosing nutritious foods

Everyday we have lots of choices about what to eat and drink. Discretionary foods are higher in saturated fat, added salt, added sugar and kilojoules. The Australian Dietary Guidelines, recommend that we choose widely from the Five Food Groups and limit discretionary foods that are higher in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars.

Discretionary foods have become easier, cheaper and more attractive choices than ever before. Recent surveys of Australian eating patterns tell us that we are choosing discretionary foods and drinks too often and this means we are also getting too many kilojoules and missing out on getting enough nutritious foods from the Five Food Groups. 

An image of someone shopping to illustrate content about choosing nutritious foods.

Where are you now?

The first step to ensuring a balanced healthy diet and to control your weight, is to take a look at how you’re going now. Use the tables above to find out how many serves you need from the five food groups for your age and sex.

The ‘Are you eating for health?’ quiz in the Dietary Guidelines Summary book will also give you useful clues about where to direct your efforts for best effect.

Too many discretionary foods and drinks

Swap discretionary snacks for snacks from the five food groups.

Choose desserts based on fruit and low fat milk or yogurts.

Instead of takeaway or instant meals for lunch take leftovers from dinner either the night before or out of the freezer.

How to limit foods and drinks high in saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that we limit how much saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol we eat and drink.

Swapping discretionary foods for foods from the Five Food Groups will reduce how much saturated fat, added salt and added sugars you eat and give you more fibre. It will also help you limit your kilojoules and lose weight.

Reading labels to compare products is also a great way to limit saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and kilojoules.

It can also be useful to plan ahead for eating out.

Another strategy to limit discretionary foods and drinks and avoid extra kilojoules when you’re trying to lose weight is to be selective, focus on smaller portion sizes and eat more ‘mindfully’.

Most people have their favourites amongst discretionary foods and drinks. Some people have a sweet tooth and might love chocolate, others prefer savoury. Some people enjoy a glass of good wine more than anything else. This first step to reducing discretionary foods is to be selective, only have the discretionary choices you enjoy most and buy the best quality you can afford.

Secondly, think about how small a portion we could have and still enjoy it. It’s the first few mouthfuls that are the best and our enjoyment starts to decline after that. So often we don’t need a large portion. We still enjoy a smaller portion. Sometimes just a taste is all we need. Being able to have small tastes of more discretionary foods, more often can be better than a large serve only very occasionally.

But the key to enjoying smaller portions is to eat ‘mindfully’. This means removing other distractions or waiting until they go away, focussing on just eating and using all your senses to enjoy the food. Eat slowly, thinking about how a food looks, smells, tastes and feels in our mouth.