The foodie news this week has been dominated by the announcement from the National Obesity Forum (NOF), which the headlines summarise as advice to eat more fat, fewer carbs, and to stop buying low fat foods and counting calories. This may sound like the best news ever, but it was criticised by Public Health England as being “irresponsible”.
Here are my top ten thoughts:
- Nutrition is an evolving science and it is essential to review dietary guidelines as and when new research emerges. Controversy and debate over the science helps us to re-examine our advice.
- Dietary guidelines should always be based on robust scientific evidence. The British Heart Foundation and others have suggested that the NOF Opinion Paper has been selective in its review and that it has not been compiled after a comprehensive review of the evidence.
- The recommendations made in the NOF Opinion Paper go against current dietary guidelines from Public Health England and leading bodies such as the British Dietetic Association (and other Dietetic Assoc. around the world), British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK. These organisations are globally respected bodies; they are robust in their policies.
- Lower fat products can help people enjoy everyday foods at a lower calorie cost. Foods like lower fat milk, yogurt, and cheese are great examples. Having said that, in my experience many clients think they can get away with twice as much of foods like reduced fat sausages and mayonnaise, so this could potentially be counter-productive.
- Low carb, high fat diets can compromise our intake of fibre.The latest SACN Carbohydrates and Health Report recommends we eat 30g of fibre a day. It’s hard enough to do this with a moderate carb diet. We also need whole grains from carbs for good health and cardio-protection.
- Taking in more calories than your body needs will make you gain weight, regardless of where those calories come from.
- It does make sense to eat high fat foods that are part of the traditional Mediterranean diet – avocado, nuts, oily fish, and olive oil. This diet, which is also rich in fruit and vegetables, has been linked to longevity and a lower risk of cardio-vascular disease. (And I also think eggs, which are often quoted as being high in fat, are a great food!).
- Choosing fewer processed foods and more home-cooked meals is a good thing. But some processed foods enable us to eat better – milk, whole grain bread, canned tuna, frozen peas, stir-fry veg packs… These are all processed, yet also healthy. Best to limit processed foods like cured meats, pies, pastries, cakes and biscuits. (Note these foods are typically high in fat).
- Media frenzy over such sensational headlines leads to confusion and a lack of confidence in the experts. We all need to work together to compile realistic and evidence-based dietary advice that speaks in an engaging tone of voice.
- I will not be changing my advice as a result of the NOF publication. Eat more vegetables, more fruit, more whole grains, and healthy fats. Eat a variety of foods. Eat slowly and mindfully and watch your portion size.
In conclusion, I welcome debate, but it must always be entrenched in a robust body of scientific evidence for it to be taken seriously by the experts in nutrition – registered dietitians (BDA) and degree-qualified nutritionists (AfN).
Read Azmina’s views on the Sugar Debate.