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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Gluten-free diets: who’s spreading the bulldust?

Gluten-free diets are good for people with coeliac disease but nobody else, yet going gluten-free has become a major international food trend driven along by celebrity endorsement. Hocus-pocus like this doesn’t just happen; it’s sophisticated food marketing on a global scale.

Coeliac disease

All dietitians and nutritionists are familiar with coeliac disease – the gastrointestinal disorder suffered by about one percent of the population. It’s due to an inflammatory response to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, which damages the gut wall resulting in malabsorption of nutrients leading to gas, distension, diarrhoea and weight loss. Adopting a gluten-free diet provides great benefits to those with coeliac disease but it has long been thought that such a diet offers no benefit to people without the condition.

What about gluten sensitivity?

More recently, a hypothesis has emerged that there is a spectrum of reactions to gluten with full-blown coeliac disease at one end and mildly irritable bowel at the other. The term gluten sensitivity has been coined to describe the “no man’s land” in the middle. If it’s true, millions of people could be affected. But gluten sensitivity is almost impossible to diagnose as the gut wall is not damaged and there is no diagnostic biomarker. So, if you have tummy troubles and they seem improve when you go on a gluten free diet, well, maybe, perhaps you have gluten sensitivity.

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