Consumer Understanding of the Australian Dietary Guidelines: Recommendations for Legumes and Whole Grains

By Theresa Pham, GLNC Nutrition Manager

Food based dietary guidelines provide evidence-based practical and actionable recommendations that aim to influence and improve dietary patterns and behaviours.1 The classification of specific foods within the dietary guidelines are based on the traditional dietary patterns of the country.2 The current review of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) provides an opportune time to undertake meaningful and novel research that may assist in the framing of messages.

Research published by the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) delved into consumer understanding of the current dietary guidelines and provided prerequisite insight into consumers’ perspectives of the current representation of legumes and whole grains within the guidelines, including preferences for categorisation, frequency and quantity of intake.3

Legumes are a class of food included in the current ADG and mentioned in two of the five food groups: in the vegetable food group as a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and the alternative to meat group due to their protein rich nutrient profile similar to poultry, fish, lean meat and eggs.4,5

Whole grains, on the other hand, are categorised in cereal grains due to their health promoting properties.
Despite their prominence in guidelines, average legume and whole grain consumption in Australia remains lower than the recommendations outlined in the ADG. There are several previously identified barriers which account for the lower-than-average legume consumption in Australia. These include poor familiarity, confusion around the categorisation and quantification of legume recommendations in the current ADG, lack of preparation skills and gastrointestinal discomfort.6,7 These findings suggest that, in order to encourage intake, guideline recommendations need to address these barriers.

Similar issues have been identified for whole grains and whole grain foods.8 Like legumes, whole grain consumption falls below recommendations, and it has been suggested that more targeted and actionable recommendations outlined in dietary guidelines may be one strategy towards improving intake.

As legumes are included in two food groups, the recently published study revealed consumers preferred legume recommendations to be provided in cup measures because it is easier to visualise – half a cup as a vegetable serving and one cup as an alternative to meat. It was reported that the quantifiable cup measurement was clearer, easier to interpret, easier to understand and easier to remember.

When considering alternative wording for promoting legume intake in the ADG, statements that emphasised daily consumption or provided a quantitative measure for intake was well perceived such as “Each day, consume at least one serve of legumes either as a serve of vegetables or as an alternative to meat”.

These findings support previous studies which demonstrated consumer preference for specific terms relating to intake quantity and frequency, in comparison to permissive terms such as ‘enjoy’ and ‘balance’. This preference also echoes similar messaging around the ADG recommendation for two fruit and five vegetable consumption marketing seen in the Australian market for several years.

On the other hand, for whole grains, consumers demonstrated a good understanding that consumption of grain foods should be from whole grain sources. However, when evaluating preference for whole grain recommendations, consumers preferred less prescriptive wording such as, “Choose whole grain products over refined grains/white flour products whenever you can”. The simplicity of emphasising the swap to whole grain, in preference to refined choices, provides the impetus to simplify and strengthen wording, and provides clarity to help consumers choose whole grain and high fibre food choices as a priority.

Both legumes and whole grains provide economic and sustainable food choices for inclusion within dietary patterns. As studies and research have identified the prevalence of the flexitarian diet, which is a more plant based dietary pattern that allows for the flexibility to include some animal sourced foods,9 this positions legumes and whole grains as a valuable source of plant protein, dietary fibre and other key nutrients.

To that end, findings from this study provide timely advice on the importance of understanding what messages resonate best with consumers to improve dietary intake for legumes and wholegrains. Effective messages in dietary guidelines could consider greater specificity regarding frequency, quantity and quality of foods recommended, and help to get more whole grains and legumes on the plate of Australians.


  1. Herforth, A.; Arimond, M.; Álvarez-Sánchez, C.; Coates, J.; Christianson, K.; Muehlhoff, E. A Global Review of Food-Based Dietary Guidelines. Adv. Nutr. 2019, 10, 590–605. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed] [Green Version]
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  5. National Health and Medical Research Council. Lean Meat and Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Tofu, Nuts and Seeds and Legumes/Beans. Available online: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/food-essentials/five-food-groups/lean-meat-and-poultry-fish-eggs-tofu-nuts-and-seeds-and#:~:text=Legumes%20provide%20many%20of%20the
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