The New Food Rules For Your Health (Part 1)

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Recent headlines appear to have turned traditional diet advice on its head. So what should we really be eating?

We ask the expert reduced-fat foods and yet we have a worsening health crisis in the UK. Study after study has shown that reducing fat intake makes no difference to heart disease risk. But we should avoid trans fats because they can increase the risk of heart disease. We should also reduce our intake of saturated fat but increase our intake of essential fatty acids, especially omega 3 from oily fish, egg yolks and flax seeds.’ Gaynor Bussell: ‘I don’t think there’s enough evidence to prove a link, apart from with trans fats – we should avoid those. There’s loads of evidence, however, that shows the benefit of the Mediterranean diet, so I encourage more pulses, some fish, olive oil, nuts and plenty of different colours of fruit and veg. Such a diet is naturally lower in saturated fat and richer in plant foods than many of us eat.

Gaynor Bussell: ‘I don’t think there’s enough evidence to prove a link, apart from with trans fats – we should avoid those.

Gaynor Bussell: ‘I don’t think there’s enough evidence to prove a link, apart from with trans fats – we should avoid those.

Is A Veggie Diet Healthier?

For years, many studies have shown the benefits for a vegetarian diet. For example, an Oxford University report found that vegetarians were 32 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than meat eaters because they have lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Another major study by epidemiologist Professor Tim Key, at the University of Oxford, looked at 52,700 people and found those who avoided meat had significantly fewer cancers overall. Then, a recent report from scientists in Austria suggested being veggie might increase our risk of chronic disease. However, on closer inspection, the study looked at a mere 330 vegetarians and grouped them into a ‘catch-all’ vegetarian category, even though some of them weren’t exclusively veggie. It found they had lower BMI and drank less but had more allergies, cancer and mental illness. Critics suggest the study is small and fails to define what’s meant by ‘vegetarian’. It also doesn’t prove cause and effect, for example because participants might already have cancer and eat vegetarian to help improve their health.

An Oxford University report found that vegetarians were 32 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than meat eaters because they have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

An Oxford University report found that vegetarians were 32 per cent less likely to develop heart disease than meat eaters because they have lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

The Verdict

Dr Marilyn Glenville: ‘It all depends on how healthy the vegetarian diet is. The Mediterranean diet offers benefits to health, helping ward off heart disease and cancer and increase longevity. This diet is mostly vegetarian, with nuts, seeds, oils and plenty fruit and veg, plus oily fish. There are benefits to eating less meat. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund has recommended we reduce our intake of meat and eliminate all processed meats due to the increased risk of cancer. However, if a vegetarian diet simply excludes animal protein but includes a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar, it’s not going to be healthy in the long term.’ Gaynor Bussell: ‘There’s evidence that eating too much meat can increase your risk of cancer and diabetes – especially processed or red meat. However, vegetarians may just eat loads of cheese and eggs for protein, and not a lot of pulses, nuts, seeds, soya products or wholegrains, so their diet can actually be worse than if they were to eat meat. They could also become deficient in certain minerals, such as iron. On the other hand, I’ve seen loads of evidence for vegetarians suffering from fewer Western diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. These could be the vegetarians who balance their diet properly though…’

If a vegetarian diet simply excludes animal protein but includes a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar, it’s not going to be healthy in the long term. 

If a vegetarian diet simply excludes animal protein but includes a lot of refined carbohydrates and sugar, it’s not going to be healthy in the long term.

 

 
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