I’ve been thinking a bit lately about this over consumption of ‘discretionary food’ situation we have. It really bugs me that the dietary guidelines are blamed for our poor health. To me, a person that understands the whole shebang and whom has read the results of population surveys, it doesn’t make sense.

There is so many mixed messages out there so really it’s no wonder people are as confused as a tomato in a fruit salad. But I had this thought, maybe one thing impacting on getting the balance right is that some of us just don’t know what discretionary foods are, maybe?

So, let’s go back to basics.

Let’s learn the five food groups – why do we group them together and why are these every day foods.

Let’s learn what a sometimes food is.

So, make yourself a cup of tea & get out your fancy notepad and pen because we are having a little lesson.

Food group 1: Vegetables, beans & legumes.

Nicoise Salad in the French Riviera – Jan 2014

Our vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and many phytonutrients. Most are low in energy too. Dietary patterns high in vegetables, beans and legumes can hep protect us against chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers.

Food group 2: Fruit

Fresh fruit at the market in the French Riviera – Jan 2014

As with our vegetables, fruit provide vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and are low in energy. Going for your two serves of fruit per day can help protect against chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers.

Also, as explained in my sugar post, fruit juice lacks the dietary fibre of fruit and volumes should be limited.

Food group 3: Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley

Penne near the Pantheone. Rome Jan 2014

These foods provide us with carbohydrates which help our brain function optimally, give us energy to go for those spring runs & help us concentrate at school. As explained in my recent post, our unrefined grain foods are abundant in dietary fibre and nutrients like folate, thiamine, iron, magnesium, iodine, and can protect us against heart disease, type 2 diabetes & excessive weight gain.

Note: Wholegrain and/or high fibre

Food group 4: Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans

Snails are a protein right? #wheninparis

This food group are our main sources of protein which is essential for building new cells, maintaining muscle mass & producing hormones. We only get a good punch of iron & zinc, and our animal based proteins are our main source of Vitamin B12. Oily fish such as salmon and sardines are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy brains, eyes & hearts.

Note: Lean aka. little fat

Food group 5: Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat

Cheese at the Borough Market, London. Jan 2014

Our dairy products and their alternatives are a great source of calcium, protein & vitamin B12. Healthy bones and teeth for the win.

And now, the discretionary foods.

I like to think of these foods as those that do not fit easily into the food groups.

Foods that don’t need a justification to be classed as one of the above.

Pastries in Paris – Dec 2013

Biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks. Confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks, alcohol.

These foods are high in saturated fats, added salt, added sugars and/or alcohol.

So let’s touch on some foods which may be a little confusing for some. 

Banana bread

∼ Refined white flour = carbohydrate with little fibre = not a grain food

∼ Butter = high in saturated fat = high in energy

∼ Sugar = added sugars = more energy

∼ 2 banana = 1/4 banana per slice = this is not a fruit serve

Verdict: Discretionary


Broccoli pizza in Rome on route to see the Pope

∼ Refined white flour =carbohydrate with little fibre = not a grain food

∼ Cheese, likely full fat = saturated fat + salt

∼ Processed meats = more saturated fat + salt

∼ Cheese, likely full fat = it’s adding up isn’t it?

∼ Tomato paste = salt

∼ Cheese, likely full fat = moving on

∼ 6 slices of mushroom – on the whole pizza = this is not a vegetable serve

Verdict: Discretionary

Hot chips

∼ White potato = could be a vegetable serve, but then it’s

∼ Fried in fat, and

∼ Covered in salt

Verdict: Discretionary

Meat pie and hot chips in London Town. Jan 2014

Meat pies

∼ Pastry = refined white flour + butter = little fibre, saturated fat

∼ >25% meat = mince = connective tissue, nerve, blood, blood vessels, gristle = I don’t even know what this is but it’s not lean meat

∼ Salt

Verdict: Discretionary

Streaky Bacon

∼ Pork belly = visible fat = Saturated fat = not lean meat.

∼ Cured in salt

Verdict: Discretionary

Ice cream

Morning tea. #wheninrome

∼ Milk

∼ Cream = high in saturated fat

∼ Sweetened with sucrose, corn syrup or can sugar = added sugars.

Verdict: Discretionary





And again, they are high in saturated fats, added sugars and/or added salt.

This means they are likely high in energy and too much can lead to weight gain.

So, how sometimes is sometimes?

Well the guidelines allow for an extra 0-2.5 serves of food from the five food groups, unsaturated fats & oils or discretionary choices per day.

1 serve of discretionary foods = ~600kJ.

So that could be a 1/4 slice banana bread or 2 scoops plain ice cream or 12 fried hot chips or 1/3 meat pie.

Look back on your day: what did you have for breakfast? What did you have for lunch? What’s the plan for dinner?

That monte carlo for morning tea was probably okay, but since then you’ve had a sausage roll for lunch & Betty from the office is walking around the office giving out cadbury favourites. And really who can stop at one?

It’s easy to see how it can all add up over the course of the day, or week.

I do believe there is a place for these foods in a healthy, balanced diet. If you aim for an eating pattern packed full of paddock-to-plate wholefood goodness that is our fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, wholegrains, lean meat or dairy, then the occasional two-scoop Messina or lemon tart dessert is deliciously fine.

Just keep those sometimes food for special occasions.

Those times when you’re catching up with friends, or for a celebration.

Breakfast on the Eiffel Tour – NYE 2013

Don’t eat them on the run, or at your desk.

Enjoy, be mindful & savour the flavour.

This was my first ever Messina trip. Their best PB special to date & white chocolate with hazelnut praline. It was my last catch up with my the best uni friends before I took on Europe. So much good that night.

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