On the plate vs off the plate

The release of the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines saw the guidelines and health professionals using a new term: ‘discretionary foods’. Confusing for some, this was meant for those foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. Think takeaways, chips, soft drink and chocolate. Another way to view these foods is to think of them in terms of what we should have on our plates versus what belongs off the plate.

On the plate foods are those that we know are full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. We classify them under five groups known as the core food groups. They include breads and cereals; meat; dairy; vegetables and fruit. The amounts of each of these foods that we should eat each day depends on our age, gender and physical activity levels. These foods are vital for good health and wellbeing.

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However what we are facing is a problem with the off the plate foods – these are the ones that we don’t need every day. Up to 35% of foods that Australians consume everyday can come from these foods. They are usually kilojoule dense, meaning it is easy for us to eat more than what we require daily. When we do this on a regular basis, we tend to slowly, progressively put on weight until suddenly we are 10 or15 kilograms heavier than our goal weight. This excess weight gain is what can cause chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Some big contributors to off the plate foods include alcohol, cakes, biscuits, soft drinks, pastries and confectionary foods. Even modern day convenience foods can be high in fat, sugar or salt. What we need to focus on is a wide range of on the plate foods with the occasional off the plate foods.


Adults should be aware of what their estimated energy requirements are. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating provides a daily energy requirements calculator (external link) that can help you determine what your needs are. . From here, you can look at how your foods fit into your estimated requirements and what may be more energy dense than you realise. You can determine your own amounts of on the plate foods.

Quick Links:

Healthy Eating for Adults (external link) is a guide that provides information on serve sizes. You may be surprised to find out that only half a cup of cooked rice or pasta is considered one serve.

Ashling header

Ashling is the Primary Care Coordinator at Diabetes WA.


One thought on “On the plate vs off the plate

  1. Technically, weight gain can precipitate rather than cause these illnesses as causation is multi factorial. Causation sounds too judgemental. I also find the off the plate description more confusing as it implies any kind of snack you don’t put on your plate, and as we know some snacks can be healthy!


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