How much junk food can I eat per day?

We all love treats but how much can we eat and remain healthy?


How much higher calorie/less nutritious “treat” food choices can I eat?

We often hear that it’s ok to have treats in moderation or that they are “sometimes” foods but what does that mean? How often can I eat cake, biscuits and chips and my other favourite treats and remain healthy?

Discretionary foods and drinks include but are not limited to biscuits, cakes, desserts, pastries, ice cream, sweets and chocolate are examples of sweet discretionary foods. Processed meats such as sausages or salami, savoury pastries and pies, takeaway/fast food burgers, fried foods, crisps and other fatty and/or salty snack foods that are high in saturated fats are examples of savoury discretionary calorie choices. Sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, sports/energy drinks and alcoholic drinks are drinks that are considered liquid discretionary calories.

*Please note athletes with extremely high-calorie intakes will need to increase their proportion of discretionary calories to meet their energy needs.

These foods can play a detrimental effect on our physical health is over consumed. However, we must also consider the other side of health. Our mental health is extremely important and enjoying higher calorie foods is a large part of our social well-being. Examples include celebrating an engagement with a glass of champagne to eating gelato while exploring Italy, to having a slice of cake at your child's birthday, to name a few. These are all optional choices as we do not need to associate celebrations or experiences with these optional foods therefore, they are termed as discretionary calories.

So how much of these treat foods can I eat?

One serving of discretionary food is the amount that contains 143kcals. Nutrition Australia advises limiting your intake of discretionary choices (indulgences) to a maximum of one serve per day.

Next time someone tells you to have that food in moderation or it's 80/20 then you know that means roughly 143kcals should be coming from your indulgent treat foods with the rest of your food intake from nutrient-dense foods for optimal health and weight management.

What is important to consider regarding treats is why you are having them. Sitting down and mindfully enjoying a dessert your friend has prepared for you or enjoying a scoop of ice cream at the beach, versus eating half a packet of biscuits while watching TV or drinking alcohol every night to help relieve stress are very different reasons for choosing to consume discretionary calories.

If you are worried about your health and want to ensure you are eating enough vitamins, minerals and fibre take a food-first approach. Include indulgences in your diet sparingly at your discretion. Remember the primary purpose of indulgences is enjoyment. Find the logical dose of indulgent food you require to enjoy the moment.


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