Sugar and the total diet

Dietary guidelines in Australia and New Zealand encourage healthy eating and lifestyle choices

We are advised to limit intake of added sugars or choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars

Choose nutritious foods from the five food groups and have sugar in moderation

Across all life stages it is important to eat well and keep active. Good nutrition and an active lifestyle are closely associated with improved quality of life and protection from chronic diseases.

Dietary recommendations or guidelines are developed by the Government to promote and encourage good health and wellbeing for the population, through the best diet and lifestyle choices. They are based on the latest scientific evidence and expert opinion on food and health. 

'By following the dietary patterns recommended in the Guidelines, we will get enough of the nutrients essential for good health and also help reduce our risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and obesity.'

Typically, recommendations are aimed at generally healthy people and those with common conditions such as being overweight. 

The Australian Dietary Guidelines

Guideline 1

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.

Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly.

Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.

Guideline 2

Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:

  • Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
  • Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)

And drink plenty of water.

Guideline 3

Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol

  • Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks
    • Replace high fat foods which contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado
    • Low fat diets are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years
  • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt
  • Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods
    • Do not add salt to foods in cooking or at the table
  • Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option

Guideline 4

Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding

Guideline 5

Care for your food; prepare and store it safely

New Zealand Eating and Activity Guidelines (eating statements)

Enjoy a variety of nutritious foods every day including:

  • plenty of vegetables and fruit
  • grain foods, mostly whole grain and those naturally high in fibre
  • some milk and milk products, mostly low and reduced fat
  • some legumes nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry (eg, chicken)
  • and/or red meat with the fat removed.

Choose and/or prepare foods and drinks:

  • with unsaturated fats (canola, olive, rice bran or vegetable oil, or margarine)
  • instead of saturated fats (butter, cream, lard, dripping, coconut oil)
  • that are low in salt (sodium); if using salt, choose iodised salt
  • with little or no added sugar
  • that are mostly 'whole' and less processed.

Make plain water your first choice over other drinks.

Where does sugar fit?

To reflect how we eat, guidelines focus on food groups rather than single nutrients.

'The advice focuses on dietary patterns that promote health and wellbeing rather than recommending that you eat – or completely avoid – specific foods.'

When sugar is consumed as part of nutritious foods, such as flavoured yoghurts or some breakfast cereals, these items can contribute to your overall nutrient intake.  

Foods high in total energy or kilojoules, added sugar, salt and fat with little other nutrition are called occasional, discretionery or extra foods. These are treats such as chocolate, sweets, hamburgers or ice-cream. They are not necessarily required to meet nutritional needs, but can add enjoyment to eating. We need to be mindful about the amount of these occasional foods we consume, and their serve size, to avoid gaining weight.

For more info see our Occasional Food resource here



  • Ministry of Health (2015) Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults, Wellington.
  • National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.

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