Dietary guidelines

The food and beverages we eat and drink (our diet) play an important role in our overall health and wellbeing. Food provides energy, nutrients and other components that, if provided in insufficient or excess amounts can result in ill health. The conditions often affected by our diet include coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, some forms of cancer, type 2 diabetes, dental caries, gall bladder disease and nutritional anaemias.

For more information see Food & nutrition.

How is food associated with health?

Ill health generally cannot be attributed to any one food component alone. Diseases associated with diet are also associated with environmental, behavioural, biological, societal and genetic factors. The complex interplay between food 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 energy and nutrients is adequate for tissue maintenance, repair and growth. The proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals required to maintain the human body in good health are met by eating a wide variety of nutritious foods.

In 2015, 7.3% of the total burden of disease in Australia was due to poor diet (1.6% to a diet low in whole grains and high fibre cereal, 1.4% to a diet low in fruits and 1.2% to a diet low in vegetables) (AIHW 2019) (see Burden of disease).

More information on diet, nutrition and health can be found at the Eat for Health website.

What should Australians eat?

The Australian Dietary Guidelines (NHMRC 2013), provide advice on healthy eating habits to promote overall health and wellbeing, reduce the risk of diet related disease and protect against chronic conditions. They recommend Australians eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day. Essential nutrients for good health are found in varying amounts throughout many different food groups. Variety in a diet maximises the possibility of obtaining enough of these essential nutrients.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults, adolescents and children:

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the 5 food groups every day:

  • plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours and legumes/beans
  • fruit
  • grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • lean meats and alternatives and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes/beans
  • dairy, including milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under 2).
  • drink plenty of water.

Each Guideline is considered to be equally important in terms of public health outcomes, and the Guidelines differ according to age.

For more information on the dietary guidelines for different age groups, see the Australian Dietary Guidelines .


AIHW 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015

NHMRC 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.