How do you give healthy eating advice when the goalposts keep changing?

Every day a new story tells us everything we knew about healthy diets is wrong. So how do we get it right?

Recently the Guardian published a fascinating article called The Sugar Conspiracy, claiming that years of scientific consensus about how to eat a balanced diet was actually bad, terrible advice, based on bad evidence and a failure by nutritional scientists to seriously question popular wisdom.

could meat and cheese be healthier than pasta and margarine?

The author Ian Leslie's main point is that years of being told to focus on low fat diets, to cut down on ingredients like butter and eggs, has encouraged people to eat a diet full of processed carbohydrates like pasta and bread, which actually causes you to gain far more weight, putting you at greater risk of developing diabetes and heart disease than a high fat diet ever would.

The article goes even further than that, in fact. Leslie argues that not only are high fat diets preferable to high carb ones, but the common belief that large amounts of saturated fat – such as that found in butter and red meat – is bad for your health is also not based on any reliable evidence.

Pay a visit to the British Nutrition Foundation (a charity run by nutrition scientists) website, though, and they're pretty sniffy about the idea that saturated fat could possibly do you any good:

british nutrition foundation saturated fat

Unfortunately that link in the article is no longer active, so we don't know what story they're talking about here. But the point remains - confusion like this reigns all over the internet when it comes to healthy diets.

For example, you’ll often hear that eating foods high in antioxidants will help you fight illness and live longer, but others argue that our bodies don't particularly turn antioxidants in our food into anything useful, and it's all just been a case of the media getting over-excited.

Meanwhile, the raw food diet has really taken off with the claim that cooking kills off nutrition. Except apparently that’s not the case with vegetables high in beta carotene (aka vitamin A) like tomatoes and carrots, where cooking actually increases the amount of vitamin A you’ll receive from the food. Except, of course, that vitamin A is an antioxidant, which might not do anything anyway. And so the whirling tornado of confusion continues.

does cooking kill or enhance the nutritional content of food?

Image credit - Moyan Brenn

So what are any of us supposed to do? As a food business we want to help our customers eat healthily, and with that comes a responsibility to give reliable, trustworthy advice. When even the most qualified experts disagree, we have to tread very lightly in what we tell people to do.

The question we have to ask ourselves, then, is what do we definitely know? Where, across the board, is there a consensus about what all of us should be doing to eat a healthier, more balanced diet.

Well, here’s one thing we can very confidently advise:

When in doubt, eat vegetables, nuts and fruit

Put simply, we get most of our essential vitamins and minerals from vegetables, fruit and nuts, with a few exceptions (such as omega-3 in oily fish). Vegetables are high in fibre too, and studies have consistently found that high fibre diets have lower rates of cardiovascular disease.

Nuts and fruits like avocados are fantastic sources of fat, and you can gain a good amount of carbohydrate you need from vegetables like sweet potato, while also receiving a good whack of other healthy nutrition. Meanwhile lentils, garden peas, runner beans and more are all good sources of protein.

avocados are an excellent source of fat

You can play with the balance of these foods of course – fruit can be high in sugar so you shouldn't overdo it, and it’s especially important to have lots of leafy greens. We’re also not suggesting you have to cut out dairy, eggs, milk, bread and other carbohydrates altogether – they all have nutritional benefits. And, of course, since nothing is ever simple, it is possible to overdo it on the fibre.

Unfortunately, you see, it's almost impossible to tie up any dietary advice in a perfect little bow. Apart from anything, everyone's body is different (hey guv, have you heard the one about the gut bacteria?) All we can say is that, while the battle continues to rage over how much animal products and processed carbohydrate we should eat, the discussion around fresh vegetables, nuts and fruit remains a pool of tranquil calm. So eat your greens!

On every menu we prepare we offer a big range of salads, vegetables sides and fresh snacks. Find out more about how we help keep our customers healthy and informed by getting in touch. Or just join the chat online!