Old nutrition, new nutrition

It’s always difficult to capture in a few words the changing state of modern nutrition, the implications of new scientific findings, the wisdom of calls for change to dietary advice and the conservative response. Yet Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney managed to do it at a recent food labelling conference in a presentation titled ‘Old nutrition, new nutrition’.

Old nutrition

Brand-Miller began by stating: The old nutrition goes like this ….

  • Foods can be dissected into macronutrients
  • Saturated fat is the main dietary risk factor for cardiovascular disease
  • A low fat diet is best for prevention of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
  • “Eat a diet that is low in fat and high in complex carbohydrate”
  • “Eat plenty of cereals, breads, rice, pasta and noodles, preferably wholegrain”

And then she took old nutrition apart, highlighting how the nutrition landscape had changed over the past decade or so:

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The evolution of healthy eating advice: our new Dietary Guidelines

The most notable shift in the latest Dietary Guidelines is the move away from the low fat diet. The emphasis is now on fat type. But how will healthy eating advice evolve from here?

The first Dietary Guidelines in Australia were released in 1980 and recommended restriction of the total amount of fat in the diet as a strategy for chronic disease prevention. In the following 20 years this piece of dietary advice took precedence over all others and dominated the nutrition landscape. However, the writing has been on the wall for the low fat diet for many years now.

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Our Dietary Guidelines: better, but good enough?

Following consultation with stakeholders, the draft Australian Dietary Guidelines have been further refined, with some improvements in relation to cereal fibre, trans fats and added sugar. Even the mess around saturated fats has been tidied up a bit, but is it enough? 

The first post on The Sceptical Nutritionist highlighted several problems with the draft Australian Dietary Guidelines and these have been discussed in detail in recent months. Encouragingly, some of the issues appear to have been addressed during the consultation period. The clues come in a draft appendix to the Australian Dietary Guidelines that was recently released for consultation, which includes the latest version of the key Dietary Guidelines statements.

More emphasis on cereal fibre

There is now greater emphasis on cereal fibre. The previous statement that recommended cereal foods should be ‘mostly wholegrains’ has been changed to ‘mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties’. This is consistent with the science as many of the studies used to support the wholegrains recommendation used high fibre foods, suggesting that recommending high fibre cereal foods was equally valid.

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Seven problems with the Dietary Guidelines

The draft Australian Dietary Guidelines were recently put out for consultation and after a four-year gestation we might have expected a highly polished report, clearly communicating the latest evidence-based nutrition. The reality was very different. The draft Australian Dietary Guidelines report was a very strange document with nutrition science jostling awkwardly with motherhood and ideology. Some important areas of the nutrition literature were reviewed in great depth, but others were not reviewed at all and significant shifts in the science were missed. The translation of the findings of literature reviews into dietary advice appeared to be compromised in two ways – by a conservatism that didn’t want to see change to long-standing messages about diet and health and an activism for change driven by environmental concerns, not by nutrition science.

As a result the Guidelines fall short scientifically in seven areas. These are reviewed below and will be considered in more depth in the weeks ahead.

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