Discretionary Foods: A Double-Coated Problem

Our next blog is from Hannah Arnold.  Hannah recently completed her Graduate Diploma of Lifestyle Medicine where she found a passion for chronic disease prevention through dietary lifestyle interventions. Currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Nutrition Science, she aims to further her knowledge by completing the Master of Dietetics at Deakin University.

We have a problem.

It’s not a fun-size problem. It’s a share pack, king-size, upgrade, double coated problem: approximately two-thirds of Australian adults are considered overweight or obese. Combined with the fact that one-third of an average Australian’s diet consists of discretionary food products, there’s little wonder we can’t fit into our jeans! Not only does this consumption of discretionary foods impact our waistlines, it also threatens our planet. The over consumption of energy-dense and low-nutrient foods is a problem we can no longer ignore.

Your health, our planet

Dietary intake has a role in disease prevention and ultimately long-term health. Increased consumption of non-core foods is associated with unhealthy weight gain which can enhance your risk of chronic disease. Highly processed foods often also contain excess packaging, which contributes to the decline of environmental resources.

Unfortunately, a poor diet can also have environmental impacts with 33% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions and 35% of water expenditure being due to the production and consumption of discretionary foods. Perhaps consider whether you need the 2L container of chocolate milk you know you won’t finish on your own.

What are we doing to reduce expanding waistlines?

The Australian Government’s ‘Eat for Health’ program contains evidence-based resources that aim to reduce discretionary food intake, reduce risk for chronic disease and improve health and wellbeing. It includes resources on the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, understanding nutrition information panels and healthy recipes. Interactive food games are also included to teach children how to choose healthy food options. These resources make it easy for Australian’s to access the information they need to improve their health.

Your waist can save our waste

So, why should we care? The benefits of reducing discretionary foods go far beyond your waistline. If all Australians reduced their discretionary food intake and maintained a normal weight range, diabetes would be reduced by 53%, kidney disease by 38% and coronary heart disease by 25%. Reducing consumption of discretionary foods Australia wide, could also see a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Can you believe choosing fruits and vegetables over highly processed foods could have such a profound impact on our health and the environment?

It’s simple. The foods you choose can be the difference between your health and disease, and our environmental sustainability or decline. Next time you’re wondering which dessert to order from your favourite delivery service, consider the crisp red grapes in your fridge instead. The positive food choices you make today will benefit your future self and the future of our planet.

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