Thursday, June 2, 2016

New ABS Data: How the Australian Diet Compares with the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the Consumption of Added Sugars

Using data collected as part of the most recent National Nutrition Survey (2011-12) the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has published a comprehensive comparison of Australians usual food intakes and the Australian Dietary Guidelines, as well as an analysis of the source of added sugars in Australians diets.

Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines
On the 12 May the ABS published the first ever comparison of the National Nutrition Survey with the Australian Dietary Guidelines(1).

The majority of Australians fell short of their grain food serve recommendations, consuming on average 4.5 serves of grain foods per day, with 18.3% coming from nutrient poor discretionary choices (i.e. cakes, muffins, pizza and pies). Of particular concern is that only 8.5% of women aged 19-30 years met the recommended number of serves of core grain foods a day, which means that women in this age group are not eating enough whole grain and high fibre grain foods for good health and nutrition.

The data also shows that only 34% of grain food consumption was from whole grain or high fibre grain foods. No age group met the recommendation for two thirds of grains as whole grain or high fibre grain foods. These results are concerning as the scientific evidence shows that people who eat at least three serves a day of whole grain and high fibre grain foods are at a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, as well as being less likely to gain weight(2).

With all the messages in the media about what constitutes a healthy diet, people may be confused about grains, which could be contributing to intakes falling short of recommendations. What is even more concerning is that the GLNC Consumption and Attitudinal Study(3) shows that between 2011 and 2014 Australians reduced their core grain food intakes by approximately 30%, based on belief that these foods do not contribute important nutrition or health benefits. In contrast to this misconception, the National Nutrition Survey demonstrated that grain foods are the leading contributors of key essential nutrients in the Australian diet including fibre, B vitamins, iron, magnesium and iodine(4).

GLNC is concerned that Australians are not meeting the recommendations for a balanced diet. Australians should be encouraged to choose core grain foods over discretionary options, with a preference for whole grain and high fibre grain foods most of the time.

Consumption of Added Sugars
On the 27 April the ABS published their first ever an analysis of the intakes of added sugar in the Australian diet(5). With all the attention around added sugar in the media of late, this analysis adds a weight of evidence to the discussion.

An estimated one in two Australians exceeding the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that free sugars contribute to less than 10% total energy intake(5). The largest source of free sugars in the Australian diet comes from discretionary (or ‘treat’) foods and drinks (81%), such as cakes, muffins, confectionery, sweetened drinks. Core grain foods (breakfast cereals, breads, pasta, other cereal grains) were shown to only contribute a small percentage of the total proportion of free sugars (3.4%), with breakfast cereals only contributing 3%, fruit/nut/seed bars 0.1% and muesli or cereal style bars 0.8%.

Australians should not cut down on nutrient-rich core foods, which may contain naturally occurring sugars or low levels of added sugars. These core foods are an important part of a balanced diet that provides nutrients essential to health and wellbeing. Instead, people should focus on reducing their intake of discretionary foods and drinks, which is likely the most effective way to reduce intake of added sugars. 

Note: Free sugars include sugars added during food and beverage processing and preparation, as well as those naturally present in honey, dried fruit and fruit juice.

1.            ABS. 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey: Consumption of food groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011–12 — Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016.
2.            NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
3.            GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
4.            ABS. National Health Survey: First Results, 2014-15. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014-15.
5.            ABS. Australian Health Survey: Consumption of added sugars, 2011-12  Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016.