At first glance the revised Australian Dietary Guidelines released on 18 February, holds few surprises. According to the new Guidelines, Australians should be eating more fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals and reduced fat dairy foods, while eating less energy rich nutrient poor ‘junk’ foods.
But for some the devil will be in the detail, with white bread, full cream milk, yoghurt and cheese, and the amount of red meat consumed by adult males, all getting the thumbs down from the from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the government authority responsible for revising the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
But for those of us who are reluctant to give up the white bread and full cream diary products, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The new Australian Dietary Guidelines are based on the best available scientific evidence on food and health, which means in all likelihood, further revisions will be required in the future as new evidence comes to light and community attitudes change.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines are for use by health professionals, policy makers, educators, food manufacturers, food retailers and researchers, so they can help Australians to eat healthy diets. In the coming weeks, both government and non-government organisations will be asking staff and their members to get behind the new Guidelines and advise the public accordingly.
However, the new Guidelines aren’t perfect and with so many examples of the ‘best scientific evidence’ being refuted by other scientific studies, I suspect consumers are no longer willing to just blindly accept the notion that the experts always know what is best.
Some of the recommendations, such as limiting our intake of energy rich nutrient poor ‘junk’ foods cannot be refuted. As anyone who has eliminated junk food from their diet will tell you, the human body doesn’t need it and weight is much easier to control without it. However, some researchers have questioned the wisdom of recommending all Australians adopt a low fat diet.
Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Newcastle, Clare Collins, says “Just because a food is low in fat doesn’t mean it’s low in total kilojoules¹.”
“If you’re putting low-fat foods into your shopping trolley, it’s wise to stick to the ones that would have been around in your grandparent’s day,” said Professor Collins. “This means eating more vegetables, fruits and low-fat dairy products, plus whole grains, fish, or vegetarian sources of protein such as baked beans. It also means avoiding packaged and highly-processed low-fat foods.”
Consumers need to remember that to make packaged and highly-processed low-fat foods more palatable, food manufacturers will often add sugar to a product, making the low-fat versions higher in kilojoules than the original full fat versions.
An international review of the scientific evidence published in the European Journal of Nutrition last year, concluded “there was ‘no compelling reason’ to avoid the fat found in dairy products…In contrast to most current dietary guidelines recommending the consumption of fat-reduced milk and dairy products, researchers found 11 out of 16 international studies showed higher dairy fat intake was associated with lower body fat levels and lower long-term weight gain.²”.
In addition, the new Guidelines recommends foods containing saturated ‘natural’ fat such as butter, be replaced with foods containing unsaturated ‘processed’ plant-based fat such as margarine. Although plant-based fat sounds like it would be a healthier alternative to the animal fat found in butter, the ways in which vegetable oil (which isn’t made from vegetables at all but manufactured from seeds), is processed has raised some serious questions about the effect these unsaturated fats could be having on our health³.
So the question must be asked, why then are the new Australian Dietary Guidelines recommending we eat mostly ‘reduced fat’ dairy? Perhaps it’s because despite there being evidence to the contrary, prevailing scientific and community sentiment still points to dairy products as one of the main causes of weight gain. Unfortunately, there are two few brave souls in the scientific and medical community who are willing to challenge this sentiment.
What is glaringly obvious is that the new Guidelines are too focused on reducing fat from our diet, whilst neglecting to support efforts in our community to reduce our nation’s high intake of refined sugar.
The new Guidelines recommends Australians limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks. This falls way short of the growing trend in Australia to eliminate refined ‘processed’ sugar as much as possible from a healthy diet.
Whilst the human body does need some fat to function each day, what it definitely doesn’t need is refined sugar. Like smoking tobacco, eating refined sugar has absolutely no health benefits whatsoever. But for some reason, governments and health organisations are reluctant to take on the food manufacturers and recommend all Australians give serious consideration to giving refined sugar the boot.
For more information visit the website: www.eatforhealth.gov.au
Australian Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
And drink plenty of water.
Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
a. Limit intake of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats, commercial burgers, pizza, fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks.
b. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt.
c. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionary, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks.
d. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding.
Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
1. Monday’s medical myth: low-fat diets are better for weight loss published by The Conversation on 28 January 2013, accessed on 19 February 2013.
2. The skinny on full-cream: New study turns prevailing views about full-fat dairy on their head published by The Sydney Morning Herald on 29 July 2012, accessed on 19 February 2013.
3. Toxic Oil: Why Vegetable Oil Will Kill You & How to Save Yourself by David Gillespie. Published by Penguin Australia, February 2013.
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