Posted on Wed, 11 Aug 10
Popular nutritional recommendations are outdated, misleading and missing the bigger picture suggest Dariush Mozaffarian and David Ludwig from Harvard University. The standard advice to avoid saturated fat, eat plenty of fibre, and avoid added salt and sugar are impractical, have been corrupted for commercial gain and may not be the best recommendations for your health.
In a recent editorial in the Journal of The American Medical Association the Harvard Medical School Doctors make a plea to change current nutritional recommendations from a focus on nutrients to recommendations that focus on healthful dietary food patterns and with good reason.
A flawed approach
Current nutrition guidelines focus on recommendations around measurements of calories, salt, fat and sugar and fibre however have you ever been able to gauge your daily intake of these in metric measurements? Unlikely.
Another flaw in nutrient based recommendations is that there is scant evidence that modifying your intake of single nutrients will improve your health. Cutting total or saturated fat intake has little effect on your risk of developing heart disease for example.
Furthermore a focus on nutrients has become misleading, foods rich in healthy fats may be categorized alongside fatty fast food and unhealthy processed foods may be fortified with single nutrients and sold as healthful.
A new way forward
So what is the alternative? Shifting away from recommendations based on measurements of nutrients to a focus on healthful foods and dietary food patterns.
“Healthy eating patterns share many characteristics, emphasizing whole or minimally processed foods and vegetable oils, with few highly processed foods or sugary beverages” point out the authors. “Such diets are also naturally lower in salt, trans fat, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and added sugars; are higher in unsaturated fats, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and phytochemicals; and are more satiating. Thus, a focus on foods increases the likelihood of consuming more healthy nutrients and fewer calories and decreasing chronic disease risk, whereas the opposite has arguably occurred through decades of nutrient-focused guidelines.”
This type of eating is not only more practical and healthier but a logical return to traditional ways of eating with an emphasis on unprocessed, close to nature foods.
One such dietary pattern that is supported by considerable evidence is the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern: click here for practical guidelines.
Mozaffarian D, Ludwig DS. Dietary guidelines in the 21st century--a time for food. JAMA. 2010 Aug 11;304(6):681-2.