Are National Healthy Eating Guidelines moving in the right direction?

March 22, 2016

It’s quite apparent that many of us are struggling to eat a healthy balanced diet, either as a result of a lack of education or a lack of a desire to prioritise health. The eatwell plate has been criticised in recent years as it was felt it no longer represented the scientific evidence on healthy eating. It can also be argued that the image of a plate with a knife and fork no longer resonated with the majority of the general public. There aren’t many families or individual who sit down at a table to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore.

The eatwell plate was born 8 years ago and has recently undergone an ‘evidence-based’ makeover – along with a name change to the Eatwell Guide. In recent years there has been a significant shift in focus away from fat as the key cause of diet-related health problems to sugar. This has, in part, culminated in the government bringing in legislation for taxing the sale of sugary drink and is reflected in the new healthy eating guidelines with a differentiation made between saturated and unsaturated fats.

To tackle the issue of high sugar intakes, the latest guidelines state we should halve our recommended intake of free sugars (sugar added to a product by manufacturers, cooks or consumers or the sugars naturally present in syrups, honey and fruit juices. Free sugar doesn’t include sugars in fresh fruit and vegetables or dairy products) and increase recommended fibre. Furthermore, the boom in juicing has lead to a change in the guidelines to state that the act of juicing or blending fruit releases the sugar so that it is ‘free sugar’. It’s better to get your five a day by eating whole fruits and vegetables.

To better highlight the message that high fat, salt and sugar foods such as cakes and biscuits are not needed to maintain a healthy diet, these categories have been excluded from the main image. The reality is that most people do consume these foods and in order for the guidelines to reflect an ‘achievable’ way to achieve a healthy balanced diet, the recommendation remains that they are best consumed infrequently and in small amounts. Only time will tell as to whether these changes have a meaningful impact on the nations health and it could b argued it’s perhaps 20 years too late!