Healthy eating habits/Young Adult Nutrition: A Pathway to Health in Later Life

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Young Adult Nutrition

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The time of young adulthood, spanning the years 19 to 30, is a time when diet, body weight and lifestyle can strongly effect our future health and well-being. [1] It is therefore very important that, during this time, we maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, and try to meet the dietary targets that have been outlined by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating and the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Meeting these targets ensures that we are getting the energy and nutrients that our bodies need, and can also help to protect us from developing certain diseases influenced by lifestyle, including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and some cancers.[2]

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

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The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a food guide that provides the most current advice on the types and amounts of foods that we should be eating in order to optimise our health. This guide is made up of five major food groups that should be included in our diet everyday. These five food groups are organised on a plate model, according to the amount of our diet that each food group should make up. Each food group has a set number of serves that we should be eating per day, in order to meet our nutrient requirements and avoid deficiency.[3]

5 Major Food Groups

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Examples of foods belonging to the grains/cereals food group

The grains and cereals group is the largest group on the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating model, which means that the largest amount of our dietary intake should be from this food group. Some examples of food from this group include breads, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta and noodles. It is advised that at least two thirds of our intake from this food group be made up of wholegrain options over refined options such as white rice and pasta, as wholegrains offer more dietary fibre and nutrients. [2] Major nutrients that grains provide include:

  • Carbohydrates - Important for providing our bodies with energy
  • Protein - Allows our body to make the protein that we need for our cell function
  • Fibre - Helps to regulate our digestive system
  • B-group vitamins - Essential for the mechanism of energy release in the body [4]


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Vegetables are the second largest food group and this includes fresh, frozen and canned vegetable varieties, as well as legumes such as beans, lentils and chickpeas. The majority of vegetables are relatively low in energy, but are also very high in vitamins and minerals so they are very beneficial to our diet. [2] Such nutrients include:

  • Vitamin A - Necessary for cell growth and optimal vision
  • Vitamin E - An antioxidant which helps protect cells from the damage of free radicals
  • Vitamin C - Also an antioxidant but also plays an important role in strengthening our resistance to infection
  • Folate - Necessary for new cell growth [4]

Meat/Meat Alternatives

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This food group includes lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nut & seeds, and legumes & beans.[2] Nutrients that are found in abundance in this food group include:

  • Protein
  • Iron - Allows for the availability of oxygen in the blood and muscles
  • Zinc - Necessary for growth & development as well as playing an important role in our immune function
  • Omega 3's - Provided by fish, they are essential for normal growth and development, particularly of the eyes and brain [4]

Dairy/Dairy Alternatives

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The dairy group includes milk, cheese, yoghurt and calcium fortified products such as soy milk. It is advised that we choose mostly reduced fat options as full fat dairy varieties can increase the saturated fat and kilojoule content of the diet. [2] Dairy foods are rich in:

  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium

Which are all important contributors to bone and teeth health. [4]


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Examples of types of foods found in fruit food group

The fruit food group includes fresh, frozen, canned and dried varieties of fruit. It is recommended that dried fruit and fruit juices be limited as both can contribute to tooth decay, and fruit juices are high in kilojoules and lack dietary fibre. [2] Fruit is a major source of nutrients such as:

  • Fibre
  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin C
  • Folate [4]

Serve Requirements

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Food group Serves per day women aged 19-50 years Serves per day men aged 19-50 years Serve example [2]
Grains/Cereals 6 6 1/2 cup rice-pasta-noodles, 3/4 cup cereal, 1 slice bread
Vegetables 5 6 1/2 cup cooked vegetables, 1 cup salad vegetables, 1/2 medium potato
Meat/Alternatives 2.5 3 65g cooked red meat, 1/2 cup lentils, 2 large eggs
Dairy 2.5 2.5 1 cup of milk, 200g yoghurt, 2 slices (40g) cheese
Fruit 2 2 1 medium piece e.g. apple, 2 small pieces e.g. apricots

Additional Resources

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If you would like any further information on dietary recommendations or the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, the following resources may be helpful:

  • Australian Dietary Guidelines [1]
  • Australian Guide to Healthy Eating [2]


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  1. Brown, J. E. (2014). Nutrition through the life cycle. Stamford, USA: Yolanda Cossio
  2. a b c d e f g National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Australian Dietary Guidelines. Retrieved from
  3. National Health and Medical Research Council. (2013). Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Retrieved from
  4. a b c d e Whitney, E., Rady Rolfes, S., Crowe,T., Cameron-Smith, D., & Walsh, A. (2011). Understanding Nutrition. South Melbourne, Australia: Cengage Learning Australia