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The major causes of death, illness and disability in which diet and nutrition play an important role include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, some forms of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental caries, gall bladder disease and nutritional anaemias.

How is diet associated with health?

Ill health generally cannot be attributed to any one dietary component alone. Diseases associated with diet are also associated with environmental, behavioural, biological and genetic factors. The complex relationship between diet and other risk factors and disease make it difficult to assess the contribution of diet to ill health.

In an optimal diet, the supply of required nutrients is adequate for tissue maintenance, repair and growth. The vitamins, minerals and proteins required to maintain the human body in good health can be met only through the intake of a well-balanced, wide variety of food.

More information on diet, nutrition and health can be found at the
Strategic Inter-Governmental Nutrition Alliance (SIGNAL) website.

What should Australians eat?

The dietary guidelines for Australians, developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), recommend consumption of a wide variety of nutritious food. Essential nutrients for good health are found in varying amount throughout many different food groups. Variety in a diet maximises the possibility of obtaining enough of these essential nutrients.

The dietary guidelines recommend that adults, adolescents and children:

  • eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit
  • eat plenty of cereal, preferably wholegrain
  • limit saturated fat and moderate total fat intake
  • choose foods low in salt
  • drink plenty of water 

For more information on the amounts and kinds of food that you need each day to get enough nutrients essential for good health go to the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults.

What do Australians eat?

The 1995 National Nutrition Survey indicates that:

  • more than 90% of Australians consume foods from the 'cereal and grains' and 'milk product' food groups;
  • over half the males aged 12-44 years and approximately one-third of children aged 4-11 years had not eaten fruit on the day before the interview;
  • total fat (including saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) accounts for about 33% of the total energy intake of Australian adults;
  • saturated fat accounts for around 13% of total energy intake of Australian adults;
  • no national data exists on salt consumption - however, one study in Hobart indicates only 6% of men and 36% of women are below the recommend maximum 100 mmol/day.

Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI)

The RDI is a level of consumption for each nutrient considered to be adequate to maintain good health and prevent deficiency diseases. These have been developed by the NHMRC.

  • the 1995 National Nutrition Survey indicates Australia's mean nutrient intake from food and beverages was very close to or exceeded the RDI for most vitamins and minerals;
  • exceptions included calcium for females in most age groups and for boys 12-15 years, zinc for females aged over 12 years and magnesium for girls aged 16-18 years.

Calcium is important for bone and tooth development and insufficient dietary calcium increases the risk of developing low bone density and osteoporosis. Zinc and magnesium are important for immune function, wound healing and muscle growth.