What is a healthy and sustainable diet? Sometimes it can seem the answer is far from straightforward - but it shouldn't be! Together with over 20 leading health, consumer and professional organisations we have released a joint statement in support of the government’s Eatwell Guide, which has come in for some recent criticism since its publication in March 2016. We think that, for our health and planet, advice to eat more vegetables and pulses is hugely important.
The Eatwell Guide is the official guide to healthy eating in the UK and aims to translate nutrient recommendations into simple information, using language that the public can easily understand. Providing this clarity to the public is important because of the significant burden diet-related diseases place on families, the NHS and wider society, as well as the environment. Conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, obesity, common cancers, chronic liver disease and tooth decay are highly prevalent. The huge environmental impacts of our typical meat-heavy diets are well documented.
Within the UK, 100% of 11-18 year olds are eating too much sugar and 84% of children are failing to meet the 5 a day fruit and vegetable target. 1 One in five children in England and 6 in 10 adults in the UK are overweight or obese. 2 If current trends continue, 7 in 10 adults are forecast to be overweight or obese by 2035, leading to an extra £2.5 billion in NHS costs alone. 57% of men and 32% of women eat too much red and processed meat.
The NGO statement endorses the Eatwell Guide and welcomes its new messages on sustainability. The evidence that our current eating patterns are not sustainable for our health or the planet is growing, so advice to eat mostly plant foods is hugely timely and relevant. For Eating Better, the Eatwell Guide recommendations that people eat more plants, get more of their protein from beans and pulses and cut down on processed and red meat and dairy are definitely a step in the right direction towards healthier, more sustainable diets. Sue Dibb, Coordinator of the Eating Better Alliance said "the government is to be congratulated on being among the small number of countries worldwide to have included sustainability considerations in healthy eating messages. Suitable policies to support these recommendations should now be implemented.”
Providing clear, consistent advice to the public is really important. Commenting on the joint statement, Dr Modi Mwatsama, Registered Nutritionist and Director of Policy and Global Health at the UK Health Forum said: “Studies can sometimes have conflicting advice which leads to public confusion. The role of the Eatwell Guide is to review the evidence as a whole and provide simple messages on how to eat healthily and prevent conditions such as obesity, common cancers and tooth decay. The Guide is based on thorough reviews of the evidence by the independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition which advises government. 600 research papers were included in the carbohydrates and health evidence review which informed the latest revisions to the Guide.”
The joint statement calls on the government to put in place a comprehensive range of policies which can support people to meet the new guidelines. It also calls on government to commit to regularly revising the guidelines in line with new health and sustainability science and research.