The Government's EatWell Guide IS NOT Responsible for Diabetes and Obesity

The Government's EatWell Guide IS NOT Responsible for Diabetes and Obesity

I must admit, I get increasingly frustrated with some of the reports I read in our papers these days. Take a recent article that appeared in The Daily Mail - a well known nutritionist, Dr. Harcombe, claims the new EatWell Guide could be causing obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. This is a wild and bold claim. Considering Dr. Harcombe concentrates on the EatWell Guide's lack of clinical evidence to support advice, I beg to ask the question, where is her evidence that the guide causing both obesity and Type 2 Diabetes?!

The EatWell Guide is designed as a general tool to help people understand the concept of what a healthy diet is and how much of each food group should be eaten to stay healthy. It doesn't have to be achieved at every meal and the right balance should be achieved over a day or week. It is important to remember that its role is to act as a guide and help people to understand healthy eating principles. When we're dealing with a healthy eating message for the general population, key points have to be clear and easy to understand. In clinics, many clients have said they find the EatWell Guide extremely helpful and useful, in particular at gauging portion size.

Whilst the guide may not be perfect, it does include some very positive information that, in my opinion, Dr. Harcombe has completely ignored. For example:

  • It advises to check the label on packaged foods and choose foods lower in fat, sugar and salt.
  • It tells us to eat snack foods such as cakes, biscuits, crisps and chocolate less often and in small amounts - another positive message I believe.
  • It also tells us to eat sustainably sourced fish and to aim to eat fish twice a week, one of which should be oily. It reiterates the message to eat less red and processed meats and to eat more beans and pulses - soluble fibre which we knows helps to reduce raised cholesterol levels as part of a healthy diet.
  • The guide also advises us to eat wholegrain or higher fibre carbohydrate foods with less added fat sugar and salt.

All of these key messages are extremely important to encourage healthy eating.

Regarding fruit and vegetables, we're asked to limit fruit juice or smoothies to a total of 150ml a day, which is a message that has been difficult to convey in the past. In my practice, a growing number of people believe drinking large volumes of fruit juice is a great way to achieve the 'five-a-day' recommendations. They're extremely surprised when I advise that they should only be having a maximum of 150ml a day and higher volumes may cause dental caries We know the average intake of fruit and vegetables in the UK is three a day. Dr. Harcombe suggests there is no scientific evidence for eating five a day so are we really going to ask people to reduce their intake?

Regarding Dr. Harcombe's comments on carbohydrates, I do not feel a standalone 4% rise in carbohydrates will singularly increase both obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. These are complex conditions that are multifactorial and it's well reported that activity and lifestyle choices also play pivotal roles. For the general population, lower fat dairy products are an important source of both calcium and protein. Both are needed for bone health and protein is key for growth and repair of tissue and cells. We should eat two to three portions of calcium rich foods a day to meet our calcium requirements. Protein can be sourced from other foods such as fish, egg, pulses, meat and beans. As a nation we exceed our daily protein requirements, so this isn't a real issue.

From my PR days, I'm fully aware what sells papers and what stories makes an 'interesting read'. However, I do feel quite strongly that newspapers, magazines and any articles that reach a wider audience have a responsibility to the public to publish accurate and balanced stories. I would like to ask Dr. Harcombe, if she feels the EatWell Guide is so flawed and could be blamed for obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, what would she like to offer as an alternative? In addition, what does she think of the positive changes of the new guide which she has completely chosen to ignore?

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