Eating well

Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods is important to good health and wellbeing. Find out what foods you should eat or avoid and the effects of not getting the nutrients your body needs.

Getting what you need

The 5 food groups

To stay healthy, you should drink plenty of water and eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from the 5 food groups every day. This includes:

These recommended serves are for adults. They vary for children or pregnant or breastfeeding women.

You don’t need to eat from each food group at every meal – just over the course of the day.

Use the average number of serves calculator to work out what’s right for you.

Nutrients

Nutrients are essential to our growth and good health. They include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water, fibres, vitamins and minerals.

Different foods provide different amounts and types of nutrients, so it’s important to vary the foods we eat from each food group.

Use the nutrients calculator to estimate how much of each nutrient you need each day, or find detailed information about individual nutrients.

Kilojoules

Everything you eat and drink provides you with energy – through fats, carbohydrates and proteins. This energy fuels your body, and you use it up through physical activity. We measure this energy in kilojoules.

The amount of energy (kilojoules) you consume has a direct impact on your weight:

  • If you eat and drink and use equal amounts of kilojoules, you maintain your weight.
  • If you eat and drink fewer kilojoules than you use, you lose weight.
  • If you eat and drink more kilojoules than you use, you gain weight.

The number of kilojoules you should have each day depends on many things, including your:

  • age
  • gender
  • weight and height
  • activity level.

Read about how much you need to eat each day, or use the energy requirements calculator to estimate what’s right for you.

Health risks from a deficient diet

Eating a diet that doesn’t give you all the nutrients you need can have a big impact on your health.

A diet lacking…

Can cause…

nutrients

malnutrition

iodine

goitre or thyroid issues

iron

anaemia

calcium

osteoporosis

omega 3

worsening of macular degeneration

folate (while pregnant)

neural tube defect and spina bifida in unborn babies – women should take a folic acid supplement during pregnancy

Limiting what you don't need

Many of the foods and drinks available are high in added sugars, salt and saturated fat, but provide few nutrients.

These ‘discretionary’ foods and drinks include:

  • fried and fatty takeaway foods, like chips and hamburgers
  • baked products, like pastries, cakes and biscuits
  • savoury snacks, like chips
  • sugar-sweetened drinks, like lemonade and cola
  • alcohol, which is a form of energy and contributes to kilojoule intake without providing nutritional value.

Your body doesn’t need these foods, and they usually have a high energy content, leading to weight gain. Eating small amounts on occasions is fine, but they should form only a very small part of your diet. 

Health risks from too much added sugars, salt, fat and alcohol

Eating foods that contain too much added sugars, salt and saturated fat, or drinking alcohol, causes many health problems, including chronic conditions. This includes:

Read about our work with industry to reduce harmful ingredients from processed and manufactured foods.

Australian Dietary Guidelines

The Australian Dietary Guidelines are Australia’s standard for healthy eating. Based on the latest scientific evidence, these guidelines provide recommendations on the types and amounts of foods to consume for good health and wellbeing.  

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a useful image shaped like a plate to demonstrate the types and amounts of the 5 food groups you should eat every day. You should also drink plenty of water throughout the day.

You can access printable version of the guidelines, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and other related resources like posters and brochures.

We’re also working with the food industry to promote healthy eating and reduce the risk of disease, through the Healthy Food Partnership’s Reformulation Program. This program aims to reduce the amount of sugar, sodium and saturated fat in processed and manufactured foods.

Eating for health at every age

It’s important to eat healthy food at any age. But your body needs different amounts of nutrients, depending on your age and circumstances. For example:

  • children and young people need foods that help their body grow and give them extra energy, as they are more active
  • pregnant or breastfeeding women need foods that have a lot of nutrients, but not a lot of extra kilojoules
  • older people often need fewer kilojoules, but still need plenty of nutrients.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines outline the recommended serves for the 5 food groups for life stages.

Health workers can also access the Infant Feeding Guidelines, which provide consistent advice about breastfeeding and infant feeding.

Eating disorders

About 1 million Australians have an eating disorder, and 1 in 7 Australians will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime.

An eating disorder is a mental health condition involving an unhealthy concern about eating, exercise or body shape. Eating disorders can cause major health issues and need treatment as early as possible.

Read about eating disorders, including recognising the symptoms, getting treatment and finding help.

Last updated: 
22 June 2021

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