Food Variety and a Healthy Diet

Food variety means eating a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups, in the amounts recommended. Eating many different foods helps maintain a healthy and interesting diet which provides a range of different nutrients to the body. Eating a variety of foods promotes good health and can help reduce the risk of disease.

Five major food groups

The five food groups are:

  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.

Foods are grouped together because they provide similar amounts of key nutrients. For example, key nutrients of the milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives group include calcium and protein, while the fruit group is a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin C. These food groups make up the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

Choose a variety of foods

Eating a varied, well-balanced diet means eating a variety of foods from each food groups daily, in the recommended amounts. It is also important to choose a variety of foods from within each food group because different foods provide different types and amounts of key nutrients. Choosing a variety of foods will help to make your meals interesting, so that you don’t get bored with your diet.

Occasional foods

Some foods do not fit into the five food groups because they are not necessary for a healthy diet. These foods are called ‘discretionary choices’ and they should only be eaten occasionally. They tend to be too high in either energy (kilojoules), saturated fat, added sugars, added salt or alcohol, and have low levels of important nutrients like fibre.

Examples of ‘discretionary choices’ or occasional foods are:

  • sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries
  • processed meats and fattier/salty sausages, savoury pastries and pies, commercial burgers with a high fat and/or salt content
  • sweetened condensed milk
  • ice cream and other ice confections
  • confectionary and chocolate
  • commercially fried foods
  • potato chips, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods including some savoury biscuits
  • cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats
  • sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports and energy drinks and alcoholic drinks.

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