The news this week has probably made you feel even more confused than you already were about what you should and shouldn’t be eating. The National Obesity Forum published a report contradicting the current government healthy eating advice. The report suggested that eating fat could help weight loss and prevent type 2 diabetes, rather than making us fat and causing heart disease, which has been the assumption for many years. It also suggests we should significantly cut our carbohydrate intake.
The latest Eatwell plate, produced by Public Health England earlier this year, recommends basing your diet around carbohydrates and choosing low fat foods. This advice has not changed significantly since the publication of the previous Eatwell plate in 2007, except to specify limits on sugar and to recommend wholegrain or higher fibre carbohydrates. The advice to choose low fat dairy products and spreads was not updated.
In recent years, research into fat consumption and obesity has shown that despite many people following a low fat diet since the 1990s, obesity rates have continued to rise. Some studies have now demonstrated that eating full fat dairy in particular, may actually be linked to lower body weight and be good for the cardiovascular system. The overall balance of scientific evidence, however, is still in favour of fat being bad for us, which is why Public Health England continues to recommend low fat products. This may very well change over time, but will need large-scale scientific studies to back up the claims.
My view is that fat is not the enemy but processed carbohydrates and sugar are, together with a culture of large portions and snacking throughout the day. However, the current popularity of ‘diets’, such as the clean eating movement is not helpful either. Many of their ideas are fantastic – eating wholefoods with lots of fruit and vegetables, but they also cut out grains. Many people who significantly reduce their carbohydrate intake feel tired and lack energy and concentration throughout the day. This can result in a mid afternoon sugar ‘binge’ or eating to excess in the evening as they are starving.
Starting the day with a good breakfast, such as porridge or muesli and eating a slice of wholegrain bread with a lunchtime salad or soup is all it takes to balance blood sugar and keep energy levels peaked for the day. Fibre from wholegrains is also really important for digestive health and for the heart. Eating a small amount of full fat dairy and choosing butter rather than a low fat spread is my recommendation, as they are completely natural foods. Moderation and sensible eating may not make headlines, but it should prevent weight gain and keep you feeling on top form.