Dec 26, 2011

Food to have sometimes

Some foods should only be eaten occasionally. These ‘extra foods’ (sometimes called junk food) are foods like potato chips, chocolate, cakes, lollies, soft drinks and some takeaway food like hamburgers and hotdogs. These foods are usually low in nutrients and high in salt, sugar or fat. They are ‘extras’ to be enjoyed occasionally.

If these foods regularly replace more nutritious and healthy foods in your diet, you are likely to become overweight and may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies and other health problems.

You can have ‘extra foods’ occasionally

We all enjoy a ‘treat’ now and then and it’s okay to have some of these foods now and then as an extra. How often you have them depends on your weight, age and how active you are. But you should keep to small amounts.

If you are overweight and want to lose weight, you should limit these ‘extra’ foods to no more than every second day – and then only if you have a nutritious and balanced diet and you are physically active.

If you are active and not overweight, you could probably have one or two ‘extra foods’ a day – as long as you’ve had your daily requirements of meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables and cereals.

Foods prepared outside the home

Australians spend around one-third of their weekly household food budget on foods prepared outside the home. These include restaurant meals, fast food and takeaway. These foods are often high in fat, salt and sugar. High consumption of these foods may contribute to obesity, heart disease and other disorders.

Fast food and takeaways are often high in saturated fats

The foods sold by popular fast food and takeaway outlets, including fried chicken, hamburgers and hot chips (fries), are often high in saturated fats. These types of fats can cause high cholesterol levels and may cause health problems.

These outlets prefer to use saturated fat because it is cheap and can withstand high cooking temperatures. One fast food or takeaway meal may have more than 50 per cent of your daily fat allowance and almost 100 per cent of your daily saturated fat allowance.

Saturated fats should make up less than 20g of the fat in your daily diet. However, Australians consume, on average, more than 40g of saturated fat per day. For example, each of the following takeaway meals contains about 20g saturated fat:
  • Fish and chips
  • Four slices of pizza supreme
  • Hamburger with the lot and chips
  • Fried chicken and chips.

Fat is high in kilojoules

Fat is energy dense; it contains twice the amount of kilojoules per gram (37kJ) as protein (17kJ) or carbohydrates (16kJ). Regularly eating more kilojoules than your body needs will lead to weight gain.

Several studies indicate that saturated fats can cause greater weight gain than polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, even when all varieties contain equivalent kilojoules. Saturated fats also contribute to the risk of heart disease by increasing blood cholesterol levels.


Convenience foods usually contain high amounts of salt. The body needs some salt. However, too much salt in the diet has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

A maximum salt intake of no more than 5g of salt per day is recommended for adults with normal blood pressure. Many Australians consume double this amount each day.

Less than 20 per cent of our salt intake comes from salt we add to our food. Cutting back on takeaway foods will help reduce your salt intake.


Foods like soft drinks, cordials, biscuits, cakes and lollies have high sugar content. Although sugar has not been directly linked to developing heart disease or diabetes, there is evidence that a high sugar intake may contribute to the development of overweight and obesity.

In Australia, soft drinks have become among the most popular beverages. Their consumption has increased by 30 per cent in 10 years. The size of containers has also increased. Ten years ago soft drinks were available in 375ml cans. Now they are commonly sold in 600ml bottles, which provide at least 12–15 teaspoons of sugar.

Studies suggest an association between increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and the development of childhood obesity. That’s why eating foods and drinks with high sugar content should be limited.

Problems caused by too much sugar

High sugar intakes have been associated with:
  • Tooth decay
  • Decreased levels of good cholesterol
  • Increased levels of blood fat associated with diabetes and heart disease
  • Childhood obesity.


Food additives in junk foods are generally used to prolong shelf life or to enhance colour, flavour or texture. Some people are sensitive to food additives. Symptoms may include diarrhoea and skin rashes.

Healthier choices

Market surveys indicate that Australians would like healthier takeaway foods. Perhaps the easiest way to enjoy a fast food meal, without consuming too much fat, is not to have the hot chips or fries. A large serve of chips can contain around 50g of fat. Current dietary recommendations advise that adults trying to lose weight should restrict their daily fat intake to 40g or less. Active people can have up to 70g of fat.

Fast foods that have relatively low levels of fat and salt include:
  • Pizzas with less cheese and meat
  • Skinless chicken
  • Grilled chicken
  • Souvlaki
  • Grilled, lean meat hamburgers
  • Grilled fish burgers.

Moderation is the key

‘Extra foods’ may have higher levels of fat, salt and sugar, but they still contain nutrients and can be considered as a small part of a healthy diet. A general rule of thumb is to eat fresh, healthy foods about 90 per cent of the time, and indulge in the extra foods no more than 10 per cent of the time.

Suggested amounts of 'extra foods'

A healthy diet doesn't need extras, but if you want to include some extra foods in your daily diet, the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends that people over four years of age, who are not overweight, could have up to 3 serves of extra foods each day, in addition to a nutritious diet. Examples of one serve include:
  • 1 doughnut
  • 4 plain sweet biscuits
  • 1/2 small bar of chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons of cream or mayonnaise
  • 1 can of soft drink (375ml)
  • 12 hot chips
  • 1 1/2 scoops of icecream (50g scoop).

Alcohol is also an 'extra'

For adults who choose to consume alcohol the following amounts equal one serve
  • 200ml wine (2 standard drinks)
  • 60ml spirits (2 standard drinks)
  • 600ml light beer (1 1/2; standard drinks)
  • 400ml regular beer (1 1/2; standard drinks)

Where to get help

Things to remember

  • Fast foods, takeaway, lollies and chips are typically high in fat, salt or sugar. They should be considered as extras to your usual diet.
  • Australians are spending more money on extras. Spend your money wisely. Choose the healthy option when eating out or having snack foods.
  • ‘Extra’ foods can be enjoyed occasionally as part of a healthy diet.

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