Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013 – What they mean for your weight loss efforts

diet_guidelines_coverAfter years of deliberations, the 2003 guidelines have been updated, telling all Australians what the government thinks we should be eating. The task has been massive, especially sifting through the vast amount of input from various health bodies, consumer groups, food growers, manufacturers and retailers, as well as restaurants and fast food outlets.

We’ve looked at the guidelines through the lens of healthy effective weight loss and sustainable healthy weight control and plucked out excerpts that you may find interesting reading.

Firstly, everyone agrees that whatever Australians have been eating and drinking, it’s worked – to make Australians and their children even fatter!

55% of women are overweight or obese and by 2025 this is expected to increase to 75%. Data from some states indicates that overweight and obesity has now overtaken smoking as the greatest health risk factor.

Even more frightening is that we are failing our children and adolescents of whom 1 in 4 are now overweight or obese. More than 35% of daily energy intake was derived from energy-dense nutrient-poor ‘extra foods’. Despite the common myth that “kids will grow out of their weight”, the odds are stacked against the overweight child ever having a healthy weight.

We’ve had a preliminary look over the new guidelines to give you our take on what we think is good and what could be improved.

The guidelines cover 5 sections:

  1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  2. Eat a wide variety from 5 food groups + plenty of water
  3. Limit foods containing certain saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol
  4. Promote breastfeeding
  5. Care for your food; prepare and store it safely

The good bits:

  1. It’s a wake-up call for every Australian. If we don’t do something, or everything, collectively and individually, our hospitals and health care system will be completely clogged and unfunded with diabetics alone. The problem is way past one that can be addressed by “individual responsibility”.
  2. The guidelines are written in plain English and freely available for all to see at www.eatforhealth.gov.au
  3. They explain the various levels of evidence. However, because there are practical and ethical challenges in dietary research, the evidence levels are only “associative”, with 3 levels: A: convincing association, B: probable association and C: suggestive association.
  4. The first guideline about weight mentions the value in maintaining muscle strength.
  5. On page 16 they made it clear that increased energy consumption was mainly driven by rising consumption of cereal-based foods, confectionary and sugar-sweetened drinks – being 36% of adult’s intake and 41% of children’s intake.  We are slowly killing (sweet-poisoning) ourselves and our children.
  6. “The Glycaemic Index does not lead to greater weight loss or weight management.” P20
  7. “There is little evidence that population fat intake is associated with the obesity epidemic independently of total energy intake.” P22 This means that it is not just the intake of fat, but total intake.
  8. “The satiety value of foods may also be important in managing appetite and hunger.” P 22 (No mention of feeding frequency and protein intake on satiety.)
  9. “Energy-dense dietary patterns are associated with higher consumption of grain-based foods, fats and sweets and lower consumption of vegetables and fruit.”
  10. “The three key lifestyle areas related to overweight and obesity are dietary pattern, physical activity and behavioural change. Multi-component interventions that address all three areas are more effective than those that address only one or two.” P 22 (Sounds like the dietflex weight loss program with exercise that we recommend added.)
  11. Want more? “A combination of increased physical activity and energy restriction is more effective than energy restriction alone for weight loss and maintenance of weight loss. Physical activity can affect body composition favourably during weight loss by preserving or increasing lean mass while promoting fat loss.”
  12. And more? “Lifestyle improvements, through cognitive and behaviour change, to increase physical activity and improve dietary intake is fundamental to weight management. Such education, training and support may be provided to individuals or groups.” (Sounds like the dietflex weight loss program with exercise that we recommend added.)
  13. “No recent studies of the relationship between legumes/beans and weight loss were identified.” P39
  14. “The majority of vegetables are nutrient-dense and low in kilojoules – in particular, green, Brassica and other ‘salad’ vegetables are relatively low in energy (kilojoules). However, starchy vegetables are less nutrient-dense and are higher in kilojoules. Diets high in fibre and specific complex carbohydrates such as non-starch polysaccharides, have been used with modest success by people with type 2 diabetes attempting to lose weight. The small effects seen in these experimental situations might relate to a satiating effect due to the prolongation of food absorption and a smoothing of the blood glucose response after meals.” P 41
  15. The health value of ‘grass-fed meats’ (as opposed to grain-fed or grain-finished) and ‘some eggs’ (Which eggs? We assume they mean free range eggs.) get a brief mention as a source of essential fatty acids on P 48. On P 51 they say “There do not appear to be any increased health risks associated with the consumption of eggs.”
  16. In section 2.4.2 on P 49 they discuss red meat. They explain why there is no evidence statement regarding any association between eating red meat and heart health. The population-based studies have simply failed “to adequately disaggregate possibly different effects of unprocessed red meat and processed meats.” There’s simply “insufficient studies” and “lack of clarity” to allow an evidence statement for or against eating red meat and cardiovascular health.
  17. Nuts and seeds get a big tick of approval. But we suggest you avoid manufactured seed oils.
  18. Dairy clarity. “the consumption of dairy foods is not associated with weight change”. P 57
  19. Drink your water! 8-10 cups. Not sugar-containing juices or beverages. Unsweetened coffee and tea seem to have many health benefits.
  20. In the section on saturated fat and cholesterol (HDL and LDL) they make mention of “the discovery of sub-fractions of these” with a reference. As far as we know, sub-fractions tell a clearer picture of one’s cholesterol health but that these tests are not commonly available in Australia, but are becoming increasingly used in the USA. We predict that you might start hearing of a new measure ‘triglycerides over HDL’ in the future, instead of total cholesterol or the current cholesterol ratio.
  21. Limit foods containing added salt. P 73. “… there is now some evidence indicating that reducing sodium may result in a reduction of mortality, stroke and heart disease for those with hypertension (high blood pressure) but not, as yet, for those with normal blood pressure.” The dietflex food plans are very low in any foods containing added salt. Adults need between 460-920 mg/day of sodium but it should be kept preferably under 1,600 mg/day and definitely under 2,300 mg/day.
  22. The report was very strong in recommending against the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. “The most recent WCRF statements urge caution with energy-dense foods and sugar-sweetened drinks because of their association with obesity and its link with some cancers.” “From a nutritional perspective, good health can be achieved without the addition of sugars in any form to the diet.” We would have gone one step further to advise against consuming fruit juices, where the naturally occurring sugars are concentrated even though the juice may be labeled as “no added sugars” or “a good source of (anything)”.

The bits we feel could be improved

  1. There’s a new food plate that groups various foods into 5 groups and this is followed with suggested portions of each group for people of different ages and sex. But we suspect that there has been undue influence by various special interests to make sure that their food group was included or received a solid recommendation.
  2. The biggest problem caused by how we eat, is our weight. By 100 fold this is a bigger problem than nutrient deficiency, which the guidelines try so hard to avoid, at the risk of having us eating too many servings of the various food groups.  On Page 19 they write that the World Health Organisation is now more interested in energy balance than specific food groups.
  3. Like the dietary guidelines that are based on the ‘energy balance’ assumption, there’s also revised physical activity guidelines. They suggest that 30 minutes a day (7 days a week) is not sufficient to prevent weight gain. They recommend 45 to 60 minutes every day and 60-90 minutes for people who have lost weight to prevent weight regain – totally unrealistic! Now, we disagree with the guidelines. At dietflex we strongly believe in the wellness benefits of exercise, and that (like flossing your teeth and wearing seat belts) we should all be doing it for life. But exercise is simply not effective for weight loss. When people increase their exercise, they often indulge in ‘compensatory extra eating’ and reduced ‘incidental physical activity’. We too, used to believe that daily physical activity was an essential ingredient to weight loss. This meant that we ‘forced’ many overweight people to exercise when they simply did not have the energy or inclination to do it. It actually led to them dropping out of exercise. We’ve found a better way. If you help people make the dietary change that’s right for their body so they can start releasing fat as energy, and start losing weight, then, and sometimes only then, will they be inclined towards physical activity – which can benefit them for life. This especially applies to overweight children who are encouraged to exercise when their dietary patterns keep them fat. Put simply: Exercise does not lead to weight loss. Weight loss leads to exercise.
  4. There has only been recognition and allowance for vegetarians, who choose to avoid different foods like: meat, dairy, fish, eggs… for their individual philosophical, ethical or health beliefs, but there has been no recognition or allowance for others, who for different reasons choose to avoid cereals and grains, and/or dairy. We would have preferred a statement like, if you choose to avoid or limit cereals and grains, make sure you have extra serves of nutritious non-starchy vegetables and adequate serves of meats, eggs, fish and dairy.
  5. The guidelines make the simplistic “earth is flat” assumption that our weight is all about energy balance and no other factors. But we all know some who eat little and can’t lose weight, where others seem to be able to eat (and drink) anything and stay slim. We’ve learnt that each person differs in how their body stores and releases fat and that this can be manipulated by adapting an individualised dietary plan. One diet does not suit every body!
  6. Interested in maths? Let’s look at some numbers from P 15 regarding “Energy intake and trend data” in the decade to 1995 and knowing that the estimate is that it takes 37,800 excess kilojoules to add 1 kilogram of bodyfat
    1. Adults consumed an extra 350 kilojoules per day = 127,750 kj per year = 1,277,500 in the decade. This would equate to an extra 33 kg!
    2. 10-15 year old girls consumed an extra 900 kilojoules per day = 328,500 kj per year = 3,285,000 in the decade. This would equate to an extra 86 kg!
    3. 10-15 year old boys consumed an extra 1,400 kilojoules per day = 511,000 kj per year = 5,110,000 in the decade. This would equate to an extra 135 kg! (Of course, none of this happened which means we cannot take the ‘energy balance’ hypothesis for granted. There’s self-regulatory factors at work for each individual. For the fortunate, these work well, but for many of us they do not. These are not discussed in the guidelines. That’s why we take an individual pathway, focusing on what can move each individual member from fat storage to fat release and burning.)
  7. Please keep reading!
  8. On P 32 mention is made of new varieties of grain (cereal) foods. There are now books written on new high-yield ‘dwarf strains’ of wheat that may contain ‘anti-nutrients’. Search for Wheat Belly by Dr William Davis at your favourite bookstore or Youtube.
  9. On P33 they write “Dietary variety has the benefit of diluting potential toxicants found naturally in foods.” We believe that it’s valuable for each person to discover which, if any, foods do not suit their body, especially those foods known to be high in ‘potential toxicants’.
  10. Too often they use the phrase “a good source of…” to justify eating a particular food. To generalise – meats, fish, eggs, dairy, non-starchy vegetables, nut and seeds (but not seed oils) have high nutrient density.
  11. Page 44 discusses grain foods and their nutrient density but makes no comments regarding their energy density, or potential anti-nutrients (phytates). They do mention that it is mandatory for wheat flour used in bread making to be ‘fortified’ with folic acid and thiamine, and for the salt to be iodised.
  12. To be defined as ‘wholegrain’ foods only need to have 25% actual wholegrains! P 45
  13. “Note that as some degree of processing is applied to most grains (cereals) to aid digestion, the effects [on the body – JH] can be significantly influenced by the technology applied in processing and cooking.” P 46
  14. It is difficult to put some foods into one category. For instance, eggs, which are now declared ‘safe’ to eat, are in the ‘lean meats and alternatives’ group, which are traditionally seen as ‘protein rich’. However, on an energy basis, eggs supply more fat than protein.
  15. In recommending a reduction in saturated fat the guidelines promote an increase (4-10% of energy) in polyunsaturated fats typically supplied in the diet through manufactured seed and vegetable oils, many which are higher in Omega 6. We are concerned by any use of polyunsatured oils over 4% of total energy. Where we all know to avoid ‘trans-fats’, we predict that you will hear more about the downsides of eating margarines and the polyunsaturated seed oils (eg canola oil), which have a higher Omega 6 profile.
  16. The section on alcohol gave a mixed report, with some benefits and some risks, especially the increase in breast cancer risk. Unlike the other sections, the section on alcohol did not address its impact on weight loss or weight maintenance.

Summary

We hope that this summary has shone some light on the new 226 page Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013, especially from a weight management perspective. They clarify some issues and also leave some big questions.

At dietflex, we have learnt that “One diet does not suit every body” and that a process that works with your body to develop an individual dietary regime works best and is most sustainable.

We’re pleased to read the words “Multi-component interventions that address all three areas (dietary pattern, physical activity and behavioural change) are more effective than those that address only one or two.” That’s what we promote.

We hope that those that read this will have greater confidence to start or continue their weight loss journey with a dietflex coach. We’ll continue to stay abreast of the latest research so that our programs and their delivery are always at the cutting edge of effectiveness, wellness-promoting and sustainability.

The comments from clients doing our weight loss program typically fall into two groups:

  1. “I was mainly interested in learning how to eat better in order to improve my health and avoid future illness. Not only do I feel much better, my weight loss has been a welcome side effect.”
  2. “I was mainly interested in getting my weight down, having tried loads of diet and exercise programs. Not only did my weight come down, but I feel so much better. I thought that how I used to feel was ‘normal’. I now know that it wasn’t.”

Your comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this post with your friends. Print it out. Send them an email link, or post it on Facebook or Twitter. Let us know if you’d like to meet one of our dietflex coaches to learn about the dietflex program – either face to face or online.

We wish you the best of health,

Jamie Hayes

  • Casey Conrad says:

    Jamie,

    Great job in outlining the pros and cons as concisely as you could possibly narrow down 266+ pages.

    We we both know from years of being in the weight loss industry, the equation is not complicated, it is the execution that people fail at.

    My suggestion is that as a leader in the battle against obesity in Australia you now take your points, break them down into even smaller bits and create a community of people who want to truly make a difference by getting this information into the hands of parents across the country. Not a small task but then again, everyone needs a BHAG.

  • Jamie Hayes says:

    Thanks Casey,

    As always you make great suggestions – adding to my to do list!

    I’ll keep you posted.

    Jamie

  • Tim Michael says:

    Well done, Jamie.
    Great analysis.
    Obesity is now reaching epidemic proportions in Australia and this is the wake-up call we all need.
    Hopefully your dietflex program will now help Australians win the battle of the bulge.
    Keep up the good work.

  • Greg Hurst says:

    Hi Jamie

    This was a very informative summary. You and your team are definitely on top of the current agenda of healthy eating and healthy weight loss. Yes, the guidelines are an improvement but they will always suffer from the inertia of peer reviewed research and institutional agreement. In and of itself this is not a bad thing as it limits careering from one idea or trend to the next. However, it does emphasise the benefit of the good work conducted by yourself and others who continue to push for a rethink of ‘known wisdom’ and are able to innovate in a timely manner as and when quality information comes to hand. Keep up the good work.

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