If you believed every headline, you'd think it was all change on the diet front. Suddenly, fat is no longer the bad guy and sugar is the new evil. The 'eatwell' plate, which gives guidance on the ideal proportions of food in a balanced diet, says we should bulk out our diets with carbohydrates, but some dieters believe 'carbs' are the great enemy.
In fact, the guidance hasn't changed that much at all - it's just been tweaked. New guidelines still recommend half our energy from carbohydrates, but stresses that we should be upping our intake of wholegrain and wholemeal 'unrefined' carbohydrates. To balance this, we should be cutting down on refined carbs - white processed food and particularly added sugars.Increasing the fibre in our diets in this way has been shown to cut the risk ofbowel cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, as well as painful piles. As for fats, the balance of evidence still tells us that saturated animal fats and fried foods are bad for our hearts - and our waistlines. Keep up your efforts to eat more fish and white meat rather than red (especially fatty) or processed meats.
Sugar - beware the hidden culprits
In our drive to cut out fat, many of us have turned to 'low-fat' processed foods which often contain added sugar. This, it turns out, can be as bad for your heart and your weight as a high-fat diet. The new guidelines highlight the dangers of 'free sugars' - honey, syrups and even unsweetened fruit juices are included, along with 'normal' white or brown sugar. Sugary drinks have been specially condemned.
Artificial sweeteners, on the other hand, have been extensively studied and declared safe by the European Food Standards Agency in moderation. Added to hot drinks or foods, they can reduce calorie intake by a bit - but small amounts add up in the long term. Some sweeteners can be substituted for sugar in cooking - and while doctors don't recommend cookies and cakes on a regular basis, there's little doubt that they're less bad for your health if they're made with alternatives to sugar
Fruit and veg - 5, 7, 10?
For years, the message has been to eat 5-a-day - that's five helpings of about 80g of unprocessed fruit or veg, or about a heaped tablespoon of dried. A dessert bowl of salad, 1 banana/orange/apple or three to four heaped tablespoons of most veg (potatoes don't count) each count as a portion. But now we're getting new advice - seven portions a day would be good and some enthusiasts even recommend 10. They have a multitude of health benefits - apart from vitamins and micronutrients, they're high in fibre and people who have a Mediterranean diet with lots of fruit and veg have lower rates of heart disease.
Frozen, dried and canned veg and fruit all count - but beware fruit in syrup, which is high in sugar. Try and eat a rainbow - different coloured fruit and veg have different vitamin levels. And limit fruit juice and smoothies - a glass a day with a meal is fine but the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the fruit is even better!
The exceptions that prove the rule
Some oils can be actively good - especially omega 3s, found in oily fish (although beware, this kind of fat is still high in calories). And some fruits, like cranberry, can have added health benefits - a daily glass or two of 27% cranberry juice drink (read the label) is well known to cut the chance of cystitis, but ongoing research is showing promise in heart health and diabetes too. However, they're impossible to eat unsweetened - drink sugar-free versions to avoid offsetting the benefits.
Alcohol addition? No way
Every so often a headline pops up to tell us that alcohol cuts heart disease - but that hasn't changed the rules one bit. For men over 40 and women past the menopause, one or two units a day may protect your heart, but above that level other risks quickly outweigh any gains. So the current guidelines (not more than two to three units a day and 14 units a week for women, and three to four units a day and 21 units a week for men) are here to stay.
New recommendations suggest increasing fibre intake to 30g a day - more than double the amount the average Briton eats. Wholemeal and wholegrain foods, pulses and lentils and high-fibre cereals all help.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' where this article was originally published.
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