So, it now seems that we can eat fat and not get fat? That’s what the headlines dominating today’s newspapers seem to be telling us anyway.
The newspaper stories quote a report that’s been produced by the National Obesity Forum called ‘Eat Fat, Cut the Carbs and Avoid Snacking to Reverse Obesity’. This emphasises the need to encourage people to enjoy food and stresses fairly uncontroversial and sensible messages such as the importance of avoiding snacking in order to control your weight.
But it also calls for an urgent overhaul of current dietary guidelines which it blames for driving the epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The thing is, the advice has just been reviewed. And while it would be nice to believe that the guidance we’ve been receiving for the past 30 years was flawed and that we can just tuck into as many fried breakfasts as we like and pile on the butter after all, the over-riding consensus is that just isn’t the case.
Of course the report is more nuanced than that, but it is claiming that eating fat doesn’t make you fat and that saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease.
Guidance needs to be clear
The Government recently updated its Eat Well guide on how to have a balanced diet. It’s in the form of a plate and gives you an idea of the proportion of different types of food you should be eating.
The guide is still clear, it’s not about whether it’s fat that’s bad or whether it’s sugar. It’s about overall balance – watching that you aren’t eating too much fat (particularly saturated fat), sugar and salt – and of course eating more fruit and vegetables as well as starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta.
The trouble is many of us struggle to follow this advice. But the issue isn’t about changing the advice, it’s about making it easier for us to act on. It’s also important that official sources – including the Department of Health and Food Standards Agency speak up so that people aren’t confused by contradictory claims.
The Government has promised there will be a Childhood Obesity Strategy, now likely to be published after the EU referendum. In the meantime, it’s not new advice (which appears to contradict the old) that’s required.
We need action that clamps down on irresponsible food promotions and marketing (particularly when it comes to children). We need action to ensure clear labelling, and to make sure healthier foods are more widely available and affordable. And we need action to encourage reductions in the levels of sugar, salt and yes, fat too, in foods where levels are unnecessarily high.