Grains and legumes on the plate

The new Dietary Guidelines: know your serve sizes

The new Australian Dietary Guidelines were launched this week by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  It is good to see that the Guidelines continue to encourage Australians to eat a variety of grain foods and legumes as part of a healthy diet. But serve sizes and the number of serves recommended per day have changed which may create confusion. With people already choosing core grain foods less often, it’s vital health care professionals and others understand the changes.

The Dietary Guidelines summarise the best available scientific evidence to provide a guide to what makes a ‘healthy diet’. That is, they recommend food choices that provide the nutrients needed for optimal well being today and protect against chronic disease in the future.
The launch of the new Guidelines, which were last reviewed in 2003, have been keenly anticipated by many people who use them in range different settings such as health care professionals in giving advice to patients, Government agencies in developing healthy eating initiatives and the food industry in developing a healthier food supply.
The 300 page document is distilled down to five guidelines. The first Guideline encourages Australians to eat a wide variety of foods from five food groups.

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/bean
  • 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 meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/bean
  • 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 water.

One significant change from the previous Guidelines is the change in recommendation for grain foods from ‘preferably wholegrain’ to ‘mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties’. This is based on the evidence that eating both whole grain and grain foods high in cereal fibre is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease and weight gain (2). Surveys conducted for GLNC indicate that Australians are not eating ‘mostly’ whole grain and high fibre grain foods but only choosing these foods a third of the time. To help get the message across, public health campaigns are needed to encourage these foods as well as work by the food industry to provide tasty options.

Whole grain foods vary in the amount of whole grain they contain. To choose foods higher in whole grain check the ingredient list and choose foods with the higher whole grain percentage. GLNC is working towards a whole grain claim on pack that will make it easier to choose foods with more whole grain. We hope to launch this by mid 2013 so look out for it on food labels early in 2014.

It was good to see that legumes were encouraged as ‘valuable inclusions in the diet’ and ‘a cost efficient source of protein, iron, some essential fatty acids, soluble and insoluble fibre’.  The value of legumes as a nutritious food is reflected in their inclusion in both the ‘meat and alternatives’ food group as well as the vegetables food group.
However, it was disappointing that the Guidelines didn’t provide a recommended number of serves of legumes per week as was provided for other foods in the meat and alternatives group. A recommendation of serves per week would help encourage people to enjoy legumes more often, particularly as only one in every five Australians eats legumes regularly. GLNC recommends eating legumes 2 – 3 times a week to reduce risk of heart disease and help manage diabetes (3).

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is what most people would think of as ‘the plate’ (or in some countries, the pyramid).  It translates the Dietary Guidelines into a simple how-to guide with recommendations for the number of serves of each food group the ‘average’ person should eat depending on their age and gender.

One concern with the new Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is the changes to serve size and the number of serves of grain foods. The serve sizes have decreased to levels that don’t reflect a realistic portion, such as one quarter of a cup of muesli (Table 1). With the reduction in serve size there has been an increase in the recommended number of serves to six per day.
Six serves of grain foods may seem a lot to people who take this to mean eating grain foods six times a day. This is likely to make it difficult for people to understand how much grain food to eat each day, particularly as many Australians are actively avoiding core grain foods believing that it will help with weight loss (4).
To help avoid the confusion, it is important that health care professionals and others using the Guide have a good understanding of the serve sizes. Looking at the serve sizes listed in the table below you can see that most people would eat at least two serves of grain foods in one meal. For example, two slices of bread as a sandwich is two serves.
Six serves in one day might include a bowl of high fibre cereal for breakfast, a wholemeal sandwich at lunch, a whole grain crispbread snack and cup of rice with your dinner.

Recommended serve sizes for grains and legumes

  • 1 slice of bread, ½ medium roll or flatbread
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles
  • ½ cup cooked porridge, polenta, 2/3 cup wheat flake cereal, ¼ cup muesli
  • 3 crispbreads
  • 1 crumpet, English muffin or scone
  • ½ cup cooked barley, buckwheat, semolina or quinoa
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup cooked or canned legumes, when eating as a side dish with other vegetables
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes, when eating as an alternative to meat
  • 170g of tofu
To make the message a little easier GLNC recommends Australians enjoy grain foods 3 – 4 times a day and legumes 2 – 3 times a week.
The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council has a number of resources to help people understand how to follow the new Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. For information and recipes visit www.glnc.org.au.


1. Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australian Guide to Healthy Eating 2012.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. A review of the evidence to address targeted questions to inform the revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. 2011, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra
3. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council. Lifting the Lid on Legumes: a guide to the benefits of legumes
4. Project Go Grain, Colmar Brunton 2011 (Unpublished, data available on request)

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