I wrote most of this blog when I completed my nutrition exams because I wanted to vent my frustration that nutritional guidelines had not been updated in decades, despite modern research not backing up this dogma. More frightening to me is that this is now being taught to our children in schools so will influence how they eat and more worryingly possibly start them on a diet path as children.
Q. Is it a coincidence that the same decade that propaganda advertised low-fat and counting calories, became the very same decade that obesity and associated illnesses were spotlighted? I want you to challenge everything that you’ve been taught/marketed previously, while I dispel some of the floored science behind the current Government manifesto for healthy eating. I want to present some of the most up-to-date research that will hopefully influence you to make changes. If you don’t need further convincing, maybe this will just give you a little bit more ammunition to answer the sceptics, of which there are still far too many.
The guidelines were put in place in the late 70s following the NACNE report and then added to in 1992 by a manifesto – Health of the Nation.
Low Fat (Government Manifesto – reduce total fat consumed by 35% by 2005 to reduce the incidence of heart disease and obesity)
When making this recommendation total fat consumed was at about 47%, the average now is about 35% and yet cardio vascular disease (CVD), obesity and type 2 diabetes is still on the rise (but apparently this is because our levels of saturated fat consumed are too high but I’ll come onto that shortly).
If you remember one thing from this blog please take this away.. FAT IS NOT THE ENEMY!
Fat is an essential nutrient to our body, it provides essential fat soluble vitamins, aids digestion, assists nerve function and aids the hormones that regulate everything from metabolism to circulation. Half our cell membranes are made up of fat, we store it for fuel and it provides a very efficient fuel (9kcal per 1g) when compared with carbohydrates (3.75 Kcal per 1g) or protein (4Kcal per 1g). It also makes food taste more palatable which is why you crave fats when following low-fat diets, for any of you following low-fat diets I’m sure you’ll agree, low-fat is pretty tasteless! Most of us are living proof that low-fat diets do not work for long-term weight loss but more importantly studies show they do not reduce your risk of CVD.
What we need to get our heads round is not that fat is bad but that we determine which are the healthy, nourishing fats and which are the fats that actually harm our body. If we don’t differentiate and just reduce all fats (like the Government suggests) we are actually depriving ourselves of some of the most powerful and beneficial nutrients on the planet.
By now I’m sure most of you have heard about the health benefits of omega-3 essential fats that can only be supplied by what we eat and are readily available in oily fish (sardines, salmon, rainbow trout, herring etc). What is not so commonly known is that these fats are also available in grass-fed meat. The commercial meat (not including some organic) we purchase from supermarkets is now from origin to supplier brought to us in the cheapest way possible, corners are cut and most are fed on cereal (grains I’ll come onto in another blog!) and therefore have no resemblance nutritionally to the superior meat which our ancestors ate, which would have been wild animals grazing on grass. If you’re not partial to eating fish, consider adding some grass-fed meat or some organic eggs (from grass-grazing chickens). Omega-3s play a vital role in improving blood pressure, supporting healthy cholesterol, reducing inflammation, preventing arthritis, stopping autoimmune disease and improving cognitive function (which is why you may have heard how they are commonly recommended to people suffering with Alzheimer’s or ADHD). The science, a long list of studies that show the reduction of various diseases by increasing your intake of omega-3.
Omega-6 is also an essential fatty acid but to be effective must be kept proportional to omega-3 intake, an efficient ratio would be 1:1, in the UK however the ratio is currently 1 omega-3 to anywhere between 20-30 omega-6. This imbalance causes a whole host of problematic health issues including inflammation and the precursors for virtually all metabolic diseases. Where do we get omega-6 from? Pretty much everywhere but it is most readily available in refined oils, margarine and processed foods. Knowing this, you start to comprehend how easy it is to tip the delicate balance but also how a few simple changes to what you eat can have such a positive impact on your health.
Adding healthy, healing fats to your diet shouldn’t be complicated if you just stay as natural as possible. Here is a list to consider:
- Grass-fed meat
- Oily fish
- Extra virgin olive oil
Keep it simple, minimise processed fats and eat plenty of naturally occurring fats that will truly nourish your body. Food will taste scrummy, you’ll start to feel amazing and you’ll maintain a healthy achievable weight so that you never need diet again.
Saturated Fat (Government Manifesto – Reduce saturated fat to a total of 10% of diet)
This was conceived from a highly flawed study performed in 1958 by Ancel Keys. Keys correlated the deaths from heart disease to the levels of saturated fat consumed by individuals in 7 countries. This is the graph released that showed 7 cherry picked countries that would “appear” to show a correlation and you would have come to the same conclusion if you just saw this.
However, this is the graph plotting the actual results of ALL 22 countries. As you can see there are countries that consume far higher levels of saturated fat and have lower incidences of heart disease.
What this study did not take into account, are the many extenuating circumstances to consider for an individual’s health such as smoking, sugar intake, carbohydrates consumed, stress levels, amount of sleep etc. I could go on but as the Keys study has been discredited you start to wonder why the Government hasn’t updated its stance on saturated fats.
There are plenty of populations (Masai, Inuit) shown to eat very high levels of saturated fat and have optimum health. There have also been plenty of studies (350,000 participants in this one) that further discredit the links to heart disease. Sadly whilst doctors and some nutritionists continue to follow Government recommendations people will continue to be miss-informed.
Fibre (Government Manifesto – We need to increase our fibre intake from 20g to 30g per day)
Fibre has for years held the biggest miss-conception and mystery, most people know they need it, most are unsure exactly why – Is it good for the heart? Does it stop constipation?
Fibre is not a nutrient: it supplies absolutely no nutrient value to the body whatsoever, so why are we told to eat more of it? The problem with the type of fibre consumed today, is that in the main it comes from cereal and whole-grain which are particularly difficult to digest. Fibre can have some pretty beneficial effects but these are only seen with the fibre consumed comes from vegetable sources. Whole-grain fibres slow down the digestion process which has a disastrous effect on the body, it interferes with the delicate stomach lining and clogs up the intestines. No one should want to slow down digestion; it can cause indigestion, heartburn, peptic ulcers, constipation, IBS and Crohn’s disease.. yikes!
Don’t be fooled by the cholesterol studies either, fibre has a similar effect to a low-fat diet on your cholesterol levels. It would initially appear to lower your LDL cholesterol, which you might think is good news especially if you are being monitored by your doctor but the reality is it has a much more significant impact on lowering HDL cholesterol. This then reduces the body’s own natural ability to achieve homeostasis because HDL is required to remove LDL from the blood and thus provide its own natural defence system. Cholesterol gets a lot of bad press but cholesterol is a normal body process and only becomes a problem linked to heart disease when again the delicate balance of ratios are out of sync.
Lastly, does fibre ease constipation? Sadly not. Constipation will occur for most of us at some point in our lives due to the temporary loss of the healthy bacteria in our stomach. For a while, whole-grain fibres can replace this role and perform the required laxative function, however over time you will require more fibre because it inhibits the healthy bacteria being restored. As fibre is continuously consumed it bulks up stools, slows digestion and you will then become constipated again and eventually you can incur problems such as hemorrhoids. What does provide colonic motility? – FAT!! Now we begin to understand why everyone on a low-fat diet is constipated in the first place.
Studies have recently found that fibre has no bearing on hunger, satiety or body weight so we can conclude that there are no health benefits gained from eating insoluble fibre (whole-grains). I was astounded to read in one of my textbooks that the Government recommends eating 6 slices of wholemeal bread a day, I hope it’s now apparent why this is exasperating the problem for most people today.
I must stipulate that we are discussing certain insoluble fibres (think whole-grain and cereals), this is where there Government promotes we should increase our fibre intake i.e. further purchasing big food products with supplemented fibre. The reality is that if we are to obtain the benefits of fibre we need to be eating fermentable and probiotic fibre, available in fruit and vegetables, these have an essential role in restoring gut flora and healthy bacteria.
Salt (Government manifesto – Reduce salt intake by 25%)
There has been a lot of conflicting evidence about salt over the years but the reality is that a little bit of salt is not going to do you any harm. To illustrate this, in Japan, where mortality rates from cardiovascular disease are much lower than here the salt intake is significantly higher than the UK.
Our paleolithic ancestors certainly wouldn’t have added salt but interestingly we may not need to demonize salt either. Sodium chloride is also an essential nutrient used to balance fluids within your body and a healthy kidney has been shown to be able to preserve homeostasis of sodium levels in varying ranges consumed. The link between salt and high blood pressure is also flawed (Dahl), the premise on which it was based was evidence shown as hypertension in rats who were given 50x the average salt intake. Studies since have not found the same correlation and what became more significant was BMI and alcohol consumption, no surprise there!
I think it is worth differentiating between salts, sea salt for example has a trace mineral content such as magnesium, calcium and potassium. Table salt contains no minerals and often has anti-caking agents added to it to keep it as a powder so you really want to avoid table salt where possible. Unfortunately, most salt that is added to prepared foods is table salt, so preparing your own meals and adding sea salt is the healthiest way to add salt to your diet.
Sugar (Government manifesto – Sugar should not make up more than 11% of the total energy, not including fruit and vegetable sugars)
The average British individual consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day (most of it hidden). It’s highly addictive and food manufactures know this, the white stuff has a lot to answer for. It’s pretty difficult to buy anything off the shelf that doesn’t have sugar added to it’s ingrediants; particularly high in cereals, drinks, cakes, jams and bottled sauces. Not only does sugar rot our teeth but is the main cause of obesity and all the associated health conditions that being overweight brings.
Food retailers use salt and sugar to instigate “The Bliss Affect” in snack foods. This is the name used by retailers for the tipping point at which people become highly addicted to the taste, whilst at the same time not providing the satiety you should feel once you have eaten. This allows consumers to over-indulge on snack foods to dangerous proportions. It’s all a clever design ploy that the average consumer is not aware of and so they end up excessively treating themselves detrimentally to their health.
I can’t disagree with the Government on this stance but all the ownership appears to be on the consumer and not the industry that has no interest in the health of our nation. If you mostly eat natural foods than sugar isn’t a big consideration but if like most people you need the convenience of mixing it up with purchased products than hidden sugar is something you should be aware of.
Protein (Government manifesto – Protein levels should stay the same but take more protein from vegetable sources)
Animal meats are constantly being vilified in the media, but contrary to popular belief meat and fish contain the highest quality of vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Some of the myths surrounding meat are:
- Meat contains too much saturated fat and cholesterol – We’ve already covrered these concerns above!
- Meat Causes heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes – Heart disease became a problem in the 20th century and type 2 diabetes became a concern in the last decade and meat has been eaten for literally millions of years. The correlation is made when we don’t specify the type of meat so I’ll come onto that shortly.
- Meat causes cancer – This statement is currently making headlines but again the studies have mostly been linked to processed meat. Perhaps the only other area of caution is not to burn your meat, overcooked meat has been shown to cause cancer in animals but it’s certainly not a reason to avoid meat altogether.
Processed meats are however another story, full of additives, preservatives, sugar and starches you can understand the link to certain cancers but not all sources of meat should be tarnished with the same brush. As discussed previously, when possible it’s important to try to obtain grass-fed and organic, it is worth paying the additional price difference for the nutritional superiority of this meat.
The Government recommends we should be substituting meat for processed plant and soy based alternatives (another big food alternative being promoted). Soy foods became popular in Japan because of the health links shown there however, what is not noted is that the consumption of soy there is predominantly fermented e.g. soy sauce. 90% of soy products here are genetically modified and are contaminated with large pesticide residues and soy is a common allergen for many people. Soy proteins are added to many products and are heavily processed with aluminium washes and nitrates all of which have been linked to cancer studies. I would personally avoid soy altogether if you can unless you’re buying fermented soy.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES (GOVERNMENT MANIFESTO 5 A DAY ON THE EATWELL PLATE)
Years ago when I probably followed an “eatwell plate” style of eating I was always consciously aware of the need to try to put more fresh vegetables and fruit in my diet. When you take bread, cereal, pasta and all the processed carbohydrates out of your diet, you’re left eating what nature supplies, a pretty amazing colourful array of phytonutrients, nutrients with energy supplied by the sun. When every plate looks like a rainbow of colour you can easily eat 9/10 fresh vegetables without having to think about your 5 a day. Packed with minerals, vitamins, naturel fibre and living enzymes which when eaten raw can actually reverse the signs of aging!
I think we have to establish that the Government guidelines are not working to alleviate the health problems of today. We are only a few years behind the US where obesity has skyrocketed. The reality is the Government is heavily influenced by big food companies that are only interested in profit. We are continuously marketed with “healthy products” by those that have the financial incentive and backing to do so, big food and pharmaceutical companies. We mustn’t let the Government influence our eating habits or our children’s. New research is being published all the time dispelling old myths and showing us how to eat healthily and I will endeavour to research and write about it. Today, make 1 small change to what you eat and even without looking at the evidence, you’ll start to notice for yourself the difference it makes to your health.
Food of Happiness