About the European Dietary Guidelines

The European Dietary Guidelines give advice on eating for health and wellbeing. They’re called dietary guidelines because it’s your usual diet that influences your health. Based on the latest scientific evidence, they describe the best approach to eating for a long and healthy life.

What are the European Dietary Guidelines?

The European Dietary Guidelines have information about the types and amounts of foods, food groups and dietary patterns that aim to:

  • promote health and wellbeing;
  • reduce the risk of diet-related conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity; and
  • reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancers.

The European Dietary Guidelines are for use by health professionals, policy makers, educators, food manufacturers, food retailers and researchers, so they can find ways to help Europeans eat healthy diets.

The European Dietary Guidelines apply to all healthy Europeans, as well as those with common health conditions such as being overweight. They do not apply to people who need special dietary advice for a medical condition, or to the frail elderly.

What is the European Guide to Healthy Eating?

The European Guide to Healthy Eating is a food selection guide which visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day.

Why do we need Dietary Guidelines?

A healthy diet improves quality of life and wellbeing, and protects against chronic diseases. For infants and children, good nutrition is essential for normal growth.

Unfortunately, diet-related chronic diseases are currently a major cause of death and disability among Europeans.

To ensure that Europeans can make healthy food choices, we need dietary advice that is based on the best scientific evidence on food and health. The European Dietary Guidelines and the European Guide to Healthy Eating have been developed using the latest evidence and expert opinion. These guidelines will therefore help in the prevention of diet-related chronic diseases, and will improve the health and wellbeing of the European community.

How do I make healthy food choices?

There are many things that affect food choices, for example, personal preferences, cultural backgrounds or philosophical choices such as vegetarian dietary patterns. NHMRC has taken this into consideration in developing practical and realistic advice. Keeping the European Dietary Guidelines in mind will help your choice of healthy foods.

There are many ways for you to have a diet that promotes health and the European Dietary Guidelines provide many options in their recommendations. The advice focuses on dietary patterns that promote health and wellbeing rather than recommending that you eat – or completely avoid – specific foods.

Many of the health problems due to poor diet in Europe stem from excessive intake of foods that are high in energy, saturated fat, added sugars and/or added salt but relatively low in nutrients. These include fried and fatty take-away foods, baked products like pastries, cakes and biscuits, savoury snacks like chips, and sugar-sweetened drinks. If these foods are consumed regularly they can increase the risk of excessive weight gain and other diet-related conditions and diseases.

Many diet-related health problems in Europe are also associated with inadequate intake of nutrient-dense foods, including vegetables, legumes/beans, fruit and wholegrain cereals. A wide variety of these nutritious foods should be consumed every day to promote health and wellbeing and help protect against chronic disease.

Do the European Dietary Guidelines recommend that I only eat certain foods?

No. The European Dietary Guidelines, European Guide to Healthy Eating and consumer resources assist by helping you to choose foods for a healthy diet. They also provide advice on how many serves of these food groups you need to consume everyday depending upon your age, gender, body size and physical activity levels.

Evidence suggests Europeans need to eat more:

  • vegetables and legumes/beans
  • fruits
  • wholegrain cereals
  • reduced fat milk, yoghurt, cheese
  • fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, legumes/beans (including soy), and nuts and seeds.
  • red meat (young females only)

Evidence suggests Europeans need to eat less:

  • starchy vegetables (i.e. there is a need to include a wider variety of different types and colours of vegetables)
  • refined cereals
  • high and medium fat dairy foods
  • red meats (adult males only)
  • food and drinks high in saturated fat, added sugar, added salt, or alcohol (e.g. fried foods, most take-away foods from quick service restaurants, cakes and biscuits, chocolate and confectionery, sweetened drinks).

How have the European Dietary Guidelines changed since the last edition?

Key messages in the Guidelines are similar to the 2003 version, but the revised European Dietary Guidelines have been updated with recent scientific evidence about health outcomes. To make the information easier to understand and use, the revised Guidelines are based on foods and food groups, rather than nutrients as in the 2003 edition.

The evidence base has strengthened for:

  • The association between the consumption of sugar sweetened drinks and the risk of excessive weight gain in both children and adults
  • The health benefits of breastfeeding
  • The association between the consumption of milk and decreased risk of heart disease and some cancers
  • The association between the consumption of fruit and decreased risk of heart disease
  • The association between the consumption of non-starchy vegetables and decreased risk of some cancers
  • The association between the consumption of wholegrain cereals and decreased risk of heart disease and excessive weight gain.