At a recent nutrition and supplement information evening a school nurse pointed out that they no longer use the Eat Well Guide the Public Health of England published last year (well they revised it last year). The reason for that being that it is too carb heavy. So I thought, time to look at this in more detail. If we can’t look at the Public Health for guidance where do we go?
Firstly – here is a link to the guide in question. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide. As you can see the plate is made up of 37% of starchy foods and carbohydrates such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, with protein such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs and meat making up only 12%. My guests argument was that the diet should be more protein heavy, especially for children and young adults as they see the high amount of carbs allowed as an excuse to eat crisps. And I totally get that!
The guide came under fire by nutritionists as soon as it was released. Saying that there is no evidence on the actual amounts and that the food industry was far too much involved in creating it in the first place. Some even went so far to claim that the rise in obesity was down to the guide endorsing basing your meal on carbs. I think that’s a bit of headline grabbing really. You can’t blame the decisions of individuals to stuff themselves full of processed and unhealthy food on a guide that is meant to help people make healthier decisions. Has anyone missed the big green section for fruit and veg on the guide? Or the many glasses of water we should be drinking?
So if we can’t look to the Public Health of England, where can we look? Google of course! Well that’s where I started anyway. Funnily enough there is a lot of criticism out there but not a lot of concrete information of what to eat instead! I’ve looked at the British Heart Foundations, Diabetes UK and BUPA who all have some useful information and agree on the portion sizes for each item on the food list. But they aren’t so clear on how many portions of each we should be having!
It is handy to know that two table spoons of cooked rice make up a portion, true but I do need to know how many portions of carbs a day I should be having to be eating a well balanced diet. And saying my dietician will be able to advise me on that (like the Diabetes UK website states) really isn’t that helpful.
BUPA on the other hand has been quite helpful. I actually advertise their portion guide in my nutrition and supplement information evenings as it is easy to understand and follow. According to BUPA we should be having 6-8 portions of starchy food a day – which could be achieved with 60g of Branflakes for breakfast, two slices of bread for lunch and four small boiled potatoes for dinner. That sounds reasonable to me and not a lot to be honest. They recommend 2 portions of protein a day, 3 portions of dairy, at least 5 portions of fruit and veg. And when I look at their portion sizes they all look rather reasonable and healthy to me – but I’m no expert.
I do like about both guides that they stress how much fruit and veg we should be having. Because 5 portions is the minimum! It should really be more, but saying 8-10 portions a day sounds unachievable for some people so they settled on at least 5 portions. It also says fruit AND veg, so don’t just eat apples all day long. Fruit is full of sugar and veg is so much healthier.
Funnily enough though comparing the percentages of the Eat Well Guide with the portion numbers of BUPA, the latter actually recommends more carbs and less protein than the Eat Well Guide, which is what the guide came under fire for in the first place! Anyone else confused?
So where does that leave those of us who aren’t trained nutritionists but want to eat healthier? I personally don’t think the Eat Well Guide is that bad. It gives a good indication and guide as to what we should be eating. What needs to be stressed is that this is not what your plate should look like for each meal – it’s what you should be eating over the course of the day. And with this the BUPA portion guide is more helpful.
There are also some useful tips on the BUPA website for controlling your portion sizes like using smaller plates, having a glass of water before dinner and waiting 15-20min after dinner before you have dessert. https://www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/directory/p/portion-size.
The same school nurse actually pointed me in the direction of the food pyramid. This looks quite good too. I guess it illustrates it a little differently and visually the most important thing on here are fruit and vegetables.
What do I do? I look at my calorie intake. Women should be having 2000 calories per day as a guide. That does depend on how active you are, how much you exercise, if you want to lose, gain or remain at the same weight. I calculate this for each person that does the FIT 15 with me and write them a plan. By watching my calorie intake I might have days that are carb heavier than others, but overall I do okay. And of course I make sure I have fruit and veg every day (especially for snacks) and drink plenty of water. The C9 and FIT 15 teach you a lot about healthy eating habits and they’ve become the norm for me. Don’t have to think about them anymore.
I hope I haven’t confused you even more with this. Until we have a better definite guide on what we should be eating for a healthy balanced diet, we’ll just have to use our common sense and looking at both BUPA and the Public Health for England for some guidance.
I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on all of this!