Many assume that because I critisise the conventional approach to nutrition that I am a rebel. An alternative, slightly nutty medical practitioner in flip flops, long tribal skirt and myriads of beads hanging from her neck: “So, you have a neck of femur fracture? I recommend this delicious broth from organic frog livers followed by cupping of your right buttock and acupuncture to your left testicle”. To add insult to injury, I also teach yoga. Victoria has kindly forwarded to me this entertaining representation of a yoga teacher. Thank you, Victoria, I suddenly feel the urge to buy more Lululemon.
I’m not a rebel at all. In fact, I like rules and do not reject them out of some vestigial teenage rebellious principles. My “problem” is that I like to know the reasoning behind the rules. So when the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council, a.k.a the NHMRC, comes out with a Draft of The Australian Dietary Guidelines I do not snigger resentfully. Sure, I find it hilarious that of all the species on the planet humans are the ones who need the leaders of their pack to tell them what to consume to survive. Can you imagine “Dietary Guidelines for Lemurs: reduce incidental consumption of red beetles and increase the portion of green crunchy leaves daily”?
Tell me what to do and if I agree with it, I’ll follow like a lamb.
So what’s the story?
The last revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG from here) and the accompanying Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) occurred in 2003. Things clearly haven’t been going that well since we need a multi-million dollar revision 9 years later. But of course, we all know that.
The fact that caught my attention is that the Drafts to ADG and AGHE are available for public comment. That means that you and I can make an individual online submission to the NHMRC until February 29, 2012 (here is the submission page link).
The development of new guidelines is a serious business. The official website, eatforhealth.gov.au, states that more than 55,000 scientific journal articles were researched. In addition, various experts in food, nutrition and health, food industry representatives and the public (not me?) were already consulted. The information on the evidence which formed the scientific basis of the guidelines is outlined in the Evidence Report, formally known as a Review of the Evidence to Address Targeted Questions to Inform the Revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines (you gotta give it to the government, they are always thorough). Interestingly, the literature review was limited to 2002-2008. If you think that’s a little Gen Y (nobody before us had any idea about anything) don’t worry. They also used the previous 2003 guidelines as a blueprint. So if somebody stuffed up writing those it’s really nobody’s fault.
One of the major differences in this revision is the emphasis on foods and food groups recommendation rather than nutrients. I am an optimist and I see it as a major step forward. The recent trend towards “nutritionism“, as Michael Pollan called it, resulted in the overhaul of the way we traditionally view food. Food used to unite us, connect families and countries, make us happy and healthy. Food circa 2012 is a combination of ”only a 100 calories”, fat free, no-sugar, high fibre, healthy wholegrains, high in antioxidants, reduces cholesterol, calcium fortified, plus vitamin D, low GI…
Any recommendation to step away from nutrients gets thumbs up in my books. A further look into the guidelines however seems to contradict that fine premise, more on that later.
I’m sure that now you are all dying to hear what we should and should not eat. Please be aware that if you are in the US, Canada, Europe or anywhere else in the world where people do not routinely say “you little rippa” and “she’ll be right mate”, none of this applies to you. Please refer to your own government’s advice. Because everybody knows that human metabolism is government-dependent.
Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years).
And drink water.
a. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated and trans fats
Include small amounts of foods that contain unsaturated fats
Low-fat diets are not suitable for infants.
b. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added salt
Read labels to choose lower sodium options among similar foods.
Do not add salt to foods.
c. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing added sugars. In particular, limit sugar-sweetened drinks.
d. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit intake
To achieve and maintain a healthy weight you should be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious food and drinks to meet your energy needs.
Children and adolescents should eat sufficient nutritious foods to grow and develop normally. They should be physically active every day and their growth should be checked regularly.
Older people should eat nutritious foods and keep physically active to help maintain muscle strength and a healthy weight.
Encourage and support breastfeeding.
Care for your food; prepare and store it safely.
If you have read my blog before (or even had a look at my Start Here page) you might know that I have a slight problem with the Guidelines 1,2 and 3. Over the next few weeks I will be looking in finer detail into each of those guidelines and the evidence behind them with the aim to make an online submission. Feel free to join in the fun. Better still, send in your own thoughts on the Draft to the folks in NHMRC.