Some foods and drinks should only be eaten very occasionally and in small amounts. These ‘extra foods’ (sometimes called junk food) are food and drinks such as:
- potato chips and other savoury snack foods
- processed meats and sausages
- takeaway foods such as hot chips, hamburgers and pizza
- cakes and biscuits
- chocolate and other confectionary
- sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials
- alcoholic drinks
These foods are too high in saturated fat, added sugars, added salt or alcohol, and are low in fibre. These foods and drinks can also be too high in kilojoules (energy). Many are low in essential nutrients and so are not necessary for a healthy diet.
If these foods regularly replace more nutritious and healthier foods in your diet, you will increase your risk of obesity and chronic disease, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
It’s okay to have some of these foods now and then as an extra. How often you have them depends on your height, weight, age and how active you are. Aim to keep to small amounts.
If you are overweight and want to lose weight, try eating more foods from the five food groups (lean meats, reduced fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals) and limit your intake of ‘extra foods’. You are more likely to lose weight if you eat fewer ‘extra foods’, because they are high in kilojoules but low in essential nutrients
If you are active and not overweight, you could probably have ‘extra foods’ sometimes and in small amounts – as long as you’ve had your daily requirements of meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables and cereals.
Foods prepared outside the home
Australians spend around one third of their weekly household food budget on foods prepared outside the home. These include restaurant meals and takeaway foods.
These foods are often high in saturated fat, added salt and added sugars. High consumption of these foods may contribute to obesity and chronic disease, such as heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes , and some forms of cancer.
Kilojoules on the menu
In Australia, we use kilojoules (kJ) to measure how much energy people get from consuming a food or drink.
Large Victorian fast food and supermarket chains are required to display the kilojoule content of ready-to-eat food and drinks on menus and food labels, along with the average adult daily energy intake (8,700kJ). These laws help you compare the kilojoule content of food and drinks on offer and make more informed decisions when eating out and taking food away to eat at home or on the go.
Find out more about Kilojoules on the menu.
Takeaway foods are often high in kilojoules
The foods sold by popular takeaway outlets, including fried chicken, hamburgers and hot chips (fries), are often high in saturated fat, added sugars, added salt and kilojoules.
One takeaway meal may have more than 100 per cent of your recommended daily saturated fat intake. The average adult should consume less than around 20 g per day.
However, Australians consume, on average, 28g of saturated fat per day.
Examples of takeaway meals that contain about 10 – 20 g saturated fat include:
- large battered fish and a large serve of chips
- four slices of pizza supreme
- hamburger and chips
- fried chicken and chips.
Fat is high in kilojoules
Fat is energy dense. It contains twice the amount of kilojoules per gram (38 kJ) as protein (17 kJ) or carbohydrates (17 kJ). Regularly eating more kilojoules than your body needs will lead to weight gain.
Substituting saturated fats (such as butter) with polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil or margarine) is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.
Examples of foods that are high in saturated fats include:
- dairy foods such as full fat milk, cream and cheese
- coconut milk and cream
- fatty cuts of meat
- processed meats
- fatty snack foods such as potato crisps and crackers
- cakes, muffins and biscuits
- pastries and pies
- deep fried and high fat takeaway foods such as hot chips, pizza and hamburgers.
Foods that contain polyunsaturated fats include:
- fish, especially oily fish (omega-3 fats)
- safflower and soybean oil (omega-6 fats)
- brazil nuts (omega-6 fats).
Foods containing monounsaturated fats include:
- olive and canola oil
Read more about fats and oils.
Takeaway foods usually contain high amounts of salt. Too much salt in the diet has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Eating less than 5 g of salt per day (less than a teaspoon a day) is recommended for adults with normal blood pressure. Many Australians consume double this amount each day.
Seventy-five per cent of our salt intake comes from packaged and processed foods we eat every day, like bread, processed meats and soups. Cutting back on takeaway foods will help reduce your salt intake.
Read more about how to cut down on salt.
Foods and drinks like soft drinks, cordials, biscuits, cakes and confectionary are high in added sugars and high in kilojoules. Sugar itself does not lead to diabetes. However, being overweight increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes and too much added sugars can cause weight gain.
In Australia, soft drinks have become among the most popular beverages. Soft drinks, along with other sugar-sweetened drinks, are the largest source of sugars in the diets of Australians. The size of containers has also increased. Ten years ago, soft drinks were available in 375 ml cans. Now they are commonly sold in 600 ml bottles, which provide at least 12–15 teaspoons of sugar.
There is strong evidence of an association between increasing consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and the development of childhood obesity and tooth decay. That’s why eating foods and drinks with a high sugar content should be limited.
Additives in food
Food additives are generally used to prolong shelf life or to enhance colour, flavour or texture. Adverse reactions to food additives occur in a small proportion of the population. Symptoms may include diarrhoea and skin rashes.
Healthier food choices
Market surveys indicate that Australians would like healthier takeaway foods.
Perhaps the easiest way to enjoy a takeaway meal, without consuming too much saturated fat, is not to have the hot chips or fries. A large serve of chips can contain around 18 g of total fat and 2,400 kJ.
Other suggestions for reducing saturated fat in takeaway food options include:
- Choose bread-based options like wraps, kebabs, souvlaki or hamburgers.
- Avoid deep fried and pastry options.
- Include extra vegetables and salad.
- Choose smaller portions or share with someone else and add a green salad to reduce the kilojoules of the meal.
- Limit high fat, high salt sauces and toppings like cheese, fatty meats and mayonnaise – remember, you can ask for less.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t upsize unless it’s with a side salad.
Fast foods that have relatively low levels of saturated fat and added salt include:
- pizzas with less cheese and meat
- grilled chicken burger or wrap
- grilled, lean meat hamburgers, with no cheese or bacon additions
- grilled fish burgers.
For more information on healthier food choices, ‘extra’ foods and drinks and the Australian Dietary Guidelines, visit Eat for Health.
Suggested amounts of 'extra foods'
A healthy diet doesn't need extras. However, if you are over four years of age, eat a nutritious diet, and you are not overweight, you could include one serve (up to 600 kJ) of ‘extra’ foods or drinks per day.
Examples of single serves of extra foods include:
- 12 hot chips
- 1 ½ thick or 2 thinner sausages that are higher in fat or salt
- 50–60 g (about 2 slices) of processed meats such as salami
- 1 doughnut
- 2–3 plain sweet biscuits
- 1/2 small bar of chocolate
- 2 tablespoons of cream or mayonnaise
- 2 scoops of ice cream (75 g)
- 1 can of soft drink (375 ml).
Alcohol is also an 'extra'
For adults who choose to consume alcohol, one serve equals:
- 200 ml wine (2 standard drinks)
- 60 ml spirits (2 standard drinks)
- 600 ml light beer (1 1/2 standard drinks)
- 400 ml regular beer (1 1/2 standard drinks).
Where to get help