16 January 2017

Experts do agree on what constitutes a healthy diet

The notion that 'no two health professionals agree on what a healthy diet should be' is untrue. We take a look at the many (scientifically verifiable) points global health experts agree on.

I find that most members of the public are confused when it comes to nutrition and making sensible food choices, and in my practice I have become quite accustomed to statements like: “I don’t know what I should be eating and what a healthy diet is – no two nutrition professionals agree on what a healthy diet should contain.

Consensus does exist

Contrary to what many people believe, there is consensus among global health experts as to what constitutes a healthy diet, and it is based on scientific findings. The notion that no two nutrition experts agree with each other, or that they change their opinions every few months is simply not true.

In fact, the establishment of the True Health Coalition has brought together leading experts in the health and diet field, ranging from advocates of veganism to paleo diets – and even these experts agree on key nutrition principles, i.e. that we need to eat a diet that is made up of generally plant predominant foods in balanced combinations (like the Mediterranean populations), using minimally processed foods. These are key factors listed by the True Health Coalition in the “Forks” section of the recommendations.

Read: Exercise helps us eat a healthy diet

In a paper published in the Annual Review of Public Health authors noted that compatible elements across a vast variety of various “fad diets” indicate that we should:

  • Limit refined carbohydrates and added sugars.
  • Select fats that have the most health benefits, namely monounsaturated fats.                                        
  • Include whole plant foods, particularly vegetables, with or without the inclusion of lean meats, fish, poultry and seafood.

Why then the confusion?

The false perception that nutrition experts don't agree on nutritional recommendations is often created by proponents of fad diets who benefit by sowing seeds of doubt regarding nutritional science. Dr James Hamblin sums it up as follows: “The formula for a bestselling diet book is: lay claim to a revelation, cite the literature selectively to back up your argument, ignore all evidence to the contrary, offer up a scapegoat, silver bullet, or both – and whatever you do,  that the only way to get the benefits of eating well and exercising is to actually eat well and exercise.”

Read: Why fad diets flop

The unfortunate truth is that when an individual is not well, overweight, chronically ill etc., they are vulnerable and desperate and will believe and try any dietary guidance or new product/tablet. By going back to the fundamentals of a healthy diet, we can shift health outcomes. The current global health crisis is not due to the lack of knowledge about what we should be eating, but rather the failure to convert what we do know into practice. Healthy eating habits therefore need to become the norm to produce a positive health shift.

As a dietitian, my goal is to see my patients gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition, so that when they are faced with the next fad diet book or new "superfood" they have the necessary knowledge to discern fact from fiction.

Read more:

Healthy eating key to healthy lifestyle

Fad diets: dangers to avoid

Forget fad diets and eat less


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