People choose certain foods or change their diets for a range of reasons: to improve their health, lose weight, save money or due to concerns about sustainability or the way food is produced.
Consider the trend towards low-fat products in the 1980s and low-carb diets in the 1990s, and now, the rise in plant-based protein products and ready-to-eat meals.
But before you abandon your traditional food choices, it’s important to consider the nutritional trade-offs. If you’re replacing one food with another, are you still getting the vitamins, minerals and other nutrition you need?
In a recent paper, I sought to raise awareness of nutritional differences between foods by producing a new index specific to Australia. It aims to help Australians make better informed dietary choices and get the nutrients recommended for good health.
Nutrients: are we getting enough?
The Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes tables showing the usual intake of selected nutrients across the population. The tables also show the proportion of Australians whose usual nutrient intake is below what’s known as the “estimated average requirement”.
While Australian adults eat in diverse ways, they generally get enough of some nutrients regardless of their diets.
For example, most people seem to obtain adequate niacin (Vitamin B3) and phosphorus. And the tables suggest 97% of Australians get enough vitamin C.
However, inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and zinc is common.
Around two-thirds of Australian adults consume less calcium than what’s recommended (which ranges from 840 to 1100 mg/day depending upon age). Worryingly, 90% of women aged over 50 don’t get enough calcium.
Inadequate zinc intake is most prevalent among Australian men – more than half aged over 50 consume below recommended levels.
So what about free sugars? These include added sugars and the sugar component of honey and fruit juices, but exclude natural sugars in intact fruit, vegetables and milk.
It’s recommended Australians limit free sugars to less than 10% of dietary energy intake. However, almost 50% of Australian adults exceed this recommended limit.