What is discretionary food?
A discretionary food item is a food or drink that does not fit in to the rest of the 5 food groups. You may know it as an “extra” or “sometimes” food. They are exactly as they sound in that their consumption should be done so with discretion – this is because these foods are not necessary as part of a healthy diet.
Discretionary foods often have a higher than recommended saturated fat, added sugar/salt or energy content with less nutritional value than other foods. They are therefore considered ‘energy dense’ (high in kilojoules or calories) but ‘nutrient poor’ options – lacking in nutrients.
The table below was developed as part of the 2013 Australian dietary guidelines. It contains foods considered to be discretionary choices.
|Higher added sugars||Higher fat||Higher fat and added sugars||High alcohol|
Sweetened soft drinks and cordials
|Bacon, ham, salami, some processed meats
Butter, cream, ghee
Certain tacos, nachos, enchilada
Crisps/ potato chips
Some sauces/ dressings
Some sauces/ dressings
Sweet pastries/ muffins
Sweet pies and crumbles
Mixed alcoholic drinks
The above table was adapted from Eat For Health
How often should I eat discretionary food items?
One of the main concerns with these foods is that they tend to take the place of more nutritious options in the diet. They are also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other lifestyle related complications.
By making healthy choices, you will find you can actually eat quite a lot of food in a day and still keep within your daily requirements! However, when you are eating discretionary foods, requirements are met much more quickly as only a small amount of a discretionary food can contribute significantly to your daily needs. This is particularly the case when you consider how easy it is to over consume on items such as chocolate or chips. To put this in to perspective, the energy content of some popular “extra” foods is provided in the list below:
- Two rows of a block of dairy milk chocolate (8 squares) is equivalent to 268calories (1120kJ)
- A medium French fries has 368 calories (1540kJ)
- A 50g pack of potato chips has 261 calories (1090kJ)
- Some burgers available from a popular take away outlet contain up to 850 calories (3570kJ) with 28g of saturated fat, excluding the fries and drink.
Regular consumption of the above foods can take its toll on your body and organs, particularly if it leads to excess weight gain. It is also difficult to fit these foods in to a daily diet when you are trying to lose weight. People who are taller or more active have higher energy requirements and can afford to have more discretionary items, however, it is better for their additional energy requirement to come from the 5 food groups.
In saying that, we have to be realistic in that they are an enjoyable addition to our diets and social occasions. Particularly for those who are not trying to lose weight, discretionary foods can be included as part of a healthy diet if eaten on occasion and in small quantities. It is better to have small amounts of these foods occasionally than restrict yourself to the point of scoffing down a whole block of chocolate.
What constitutes a serve of discretionary food?
One serve of discretionary food is considered as the quantity of that item that equals 600kJ. To work this out, see the information panel of a food product to determine what amount will be equivalent to 600kJ. The food items listed below all contain roughly 600kJ and are therefore considered as one serve.
Develop a balanced diet
This article was written by our dietitian and nutritionist Belinda Elwin. Diet and Nutrition are an important part of your wellbeing. Our dietitians and nutritionists are here to educate you and your family about healthy ways of living by helping you to reduce or maintain a healthy weight, control cholesterol levels and strategies for having a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. We also provide advice for food intolerances and allergies, Coeliac disease, diabetes and fussy eating (Paediatrics).
To make an appointment with Belinda, Contact us today!
We see children and adults for advice with all areas of nutrition.
For more information
The above guidelines were developed by eatforhealth.gov.au. For more information on the 5 food groups and recommended dietary intake, visit: