Many of us hear routinely from those who say they simply don’t know what they should be eating. These people often claim they’ve been told so many conflicting things by different people and organisations, they’re more confused than ever, and why should they bother. None of that bodes well for the rapidly unfolding chronic disease epidemic that holds our healthcare capacity at the edge of a precipes.
Here at least, we want to show you there is a pattern of sorts. There is a difference between what governments suggest you eat and what independent scientists think you should be eating. At risk of digressing from the science to anecdote, what’s quite revealing is that the majority of independent scientists we speak to are personal advocates of their recommendations – and it’s quite apparent that their food choices seem to be working for them! The same, however, can’t always be said of government scientists.
There’s another proportion of the population who think they know what they should be eating but will admit they lack the self-discipline, the motivation, the time or the money to eat what they think is best for them and their loved ones most of the time.
But, by what yardstick do we measure what we think we should be eating? The fact is, there is no absolutely correct way of eating that takes into account the huge diversity in different individuals’ health status, gender, age, activity level, genetics, cultural and economic circumstances.
Despite all this variability, having some kind of a notion of what a healthy plate of food should look like is probably still a good idea. That’s one reason why governments attempt to offer us guidance. In the UK, it’s the Eatwell plate, in the US, it’s My Plate.
Whose advice is more independent?
What an increasing number of independent academics and clinicians are saying, including ourselves, is that what governments are telling us to eat is off the mark, scientifically. But independence is an ambiguous concept here. But 'independent' of who? Governments are certainly not independent of corporations. And the vast majority of research institutions or non-profits still receive money from some corporates. Even at ANH, we have some corporate supporters, as can be seen from our support base, although most of our financial support is still from members of the public.
To many of us, it looks like government nutrition advice is more like a compromise that’s been arranged to keep Big Ag & Food in the kind of business that it has been accustomed to in recent years, rather than an honest attempt to give the most healthful nutritional advice based on the latest scientific evidence to the public. In an effort to stay with what we see as the cutting edge of nutritional science, we kicked off 2015 with our take on a healthy plate of food; enter the ANH Food4Health Plate.
We thought it would then be appropriate to compare all four plates, taking into account, or estimating, the recommended proportions of each food group given in each guideline plate. You’ll see the results of our analysis below, complete with a colour code that denotes our take on how compatible the given advice is with preventing the current metabolic (read ‘diabesity’ = type 2 diabetes and obesity) disease epidemic.
Some of the major points of difference between the four plates can be summarised as follows:
There are close similarities between each of the two government plates, and also between the Harvard and ANH plates, which both differ significantly from the government plates. Does this suggest government scientists, and in turn non-government ones, have access to different science or are exposed to different influences? Is it not ironic that the government advice seems significantly less healthful than the Harvard and ANH advice?
We have major areas of concern with almost all recommendations in each of the two government plates, hence the red colour coding.
The government plates are both mute on fats expecting that people will consume them in other foods. In the accompanying text, both still recommend low fat diets, despite growing evidence for the health benefits of certain saturated and medium-chain triglyceride fats.
The UK Eatwell plate recommends substantially less protein (13%) - against 20-25% for the other three plates.
Among the key differences between the Harvard and ANH plates is lower grain (and 100% gluten-free) inclusion, along with higher tolerance for uncured, unprocessed red meat in the ANH plate
The ANH plate is the only one of the four to recommend entirely gluten and dairy free foods for adults. This is based on common intolerances associated with each of these two food groups and the lack of biological and evolutionary plausibility of these foods as essential human food groups.
While public healthcare systems are almost at breaking point with the continued pressure from chronic diseases and ageing populations, it can be very empowering to take matters into your own hands.
We’ll leave you to answer the following question: do the large corporations corrupt the science, or are governments less interested in delivering the best health outcomes, perhaps because other interests, such as economic or political ones, are more important?
Whatever your view, the freedom to choose is yours.