Reading Time: 4 mins
You might think you’re pretty good at recognising what’s good or bad for your body. After all, it’s pretty simple – always aim for foods with as little processing as possible, aim for eating a few serves from each food group and, if you must, have the occasional treat.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating lists these treats as a ‘sometimes’ food, but it seems that the average Australian doesn’t know the meaning of ‘sometimes’.
Discretionary foods, also known as ‘junk food’, are energy-dense treats that we rarely recognise. Sure, everyone knows about chocolate bars, cakes and hot chips. But how many people remember to count gravy, margarine and wine?
In modelling the optimal diet, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) concluded that in order for sufficient amounts of all core nutrients to be presented in the diet, there was essentially no room for discretionary foods in the diet. This varied for individuals with high energy expenditure and hence the NHMRC eventually settled on a recommendation of 0-3 serves of discretionary foods per day, making up approximately 10% of total energy intake.
So where do we stand?
The latest nutritional survey of Australia was conducted in 1995 (yes, somewhat dated because Australia doesn’t really do nutritional surveys). Based on the findings of this survey, the average Australian consumes approximately 35% of their energy from discretionary foods, equivalent to 5-6 serves. This varies with age and gender, with males generally having more discretionary foods than females, reaching a peak of 46% of energy intake in the late teens.
Didn’t know you were eating that much junk? Here’s some foods to watch out for:
- High sugar cereals, muesli bars (>30g/100g or if it has added fruit, >35g/100g)
- Mixed cereal dishes (e.g. sushi, sandwiches, burgers, pizza) high in saturated fat (>5g/100g)
- Added sugar to tea and coffee
- High salt sauces and spreads like gravy and vegemite
- Honey and syrups
- High fat spreads like butter and margarine
Written by guest writer and dietetics student: Helen Ying