The origin of the ‘eatwell’ plate
(Throughout this post, the plate/guide will either be called ‘eatwell’ in inverted commas, to illustrate that it is anything but. Or, I shall use the name that I coined several years ago and used in my 2010 obesity book: The eatbadly plate.)
The ‘eatwell’ plate was launched at a press release on 16 September 2007, by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It is described in the British Nutrition Foundation video on YouTube as the “healthy eating model for the UK” – suitable for young or old, vegetarian or not and for any ethnic group.
It replaced The Balance of Good Health, which was launched by the UK Department of Health in 1994 and was also a picture of a segmented plate. In April 2000, responsibility for the Balance of Good Health (BOGH) diagram and concept passed to the then newly formed Food Standards Agency (FSA). When the FSA revised the plate in 2007, it summarised the differences between the two plates. The BOGH title was seen as “unfriendly” and “lacking in emotion” and so the title and some colours on the plate rim changed. Food groups were renamed. For example “bread, other cereals and potatoes” became “bread, rice, potatoes, pasta (and other starchy foods)”. In other words, a marketing company made a lot of money making the plate more “friendly” and “emotional”, but, to all intents and purposes, what we know as the ‘eatwell’ plate has been around since 1994. (I share this nonsense, as it has happened again…)
The new ‘eatwell’ guide
A new ‘eatwell’ guide (not plate) was issued on 17 March 2016. This is what the new plate, sorry, guide, looks like. This is a summary of what has changed. It’s been renamed the ‘eatwell’ guide (they don’t use the inverted commas ha ha); the knife and fork have gone; the images are drawn, not photographed; the segment names have been updated – those are the first four changes. Never has the expression “moving the deck chairs on the titanic” been more appropriate! How is any of this going to address epidemics of obesity and diabetes?!
The next four get into the meat of the guide (sorry – meat is largely off the menu): the segments have been resized; the purple segment (the one that used to famously have a red can of cola) now only has unsaturated oils and spreads; high fat, salt and sugar foods have been removed from that purple segment; and there’s a new hydration message.
The segment sizes are not in the launch documents – I phoned the helpline on the press release to be told they would only be given out to journalists. So much for public help, or health! (They’re below – don’t worry). The only real food in the purple segment (butter) has been removed. The biscuits, sweets, cakes, crisps and chocolate have been removed from the purple segment – only to be given a fabulously prominent spot on the eye catching bottom left of the diagram – along with ketchup and ice cream. That’s the fake food industry appeased :-) And not even the hydration message holds water, as Dr Margaret McCartney pointed out in July 2011.
There is so much so wrong with the plate/guide, I hardly know where to start. Let’s focus on the three main issues:
1) The plate/guide is not evidence based
This document (page 2) sets out how it thinks the ‘eatwell’ guide can help (my comments are in red – hover near the underlines to see links):
“The Eatwell Guide shows the different types of foods and drinks we should consume – and in what proportions – to have a healthy, balanced diet.
The Eatwell Guide shows the proportions of the main food groups that form a healthy, balanced diet:
• Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day (This is not evidence based. It was invented in 1991 without evidence base and attempts to post rationalise it have failed)
• Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates; choosing wholegrain versions where possible (This is not evidence based. As Tanner said “Farinaceous and vegetable foods are fattening, and saccharine matters are especially so”…)
• Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks); choosing lower fat and lower sugar options (This is not evidence based. There is a growing evidence base to the contrary – specifically supporting full fat dairy products).
• Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily) (There is some evidence base for oily fish. Micronutrient evidence should drive us towards meat/fish/eggs/dairy/seeds etc).
• Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts (There is no evidence that total fat or saturated fat is harmful and some evidence that vegetable oils are harmful.)
• Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day (No evidence base).
If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts.”
The ‘eatwell’ guide encourages consumption of nutritionally poor foods, rather than nutritionally rich foods. The SACN report has been used to try to justify the new guide. This is a dissection of that report.
2) The plate/guide does not understand the difference between volume/weight and calorie intake
In September 2009, when I asked the FSA what the plate proportions were based on, they said weight. In my 2010 obesity book, I did an interesting calculation where I took the average calorie number for each segment and worked out what the plate would look like if the proportions were represented by calorie intake – which is what matters to the body and which is what is used in dietary studies. A savvy calorie counter or nutritionist will be able to do a back of the envelope: fruit and veg is c. 40 calories per 100g; bread is about 260 cals per 100g, grains are about 360 – starchy things will average out therefore; oils are approximately 880 cals per 100g, spreads lower – that will average too. I have a database of foods to which I commonly refer, so I worked it out more scientifically. The precision doesn’t matter much.
I’ve picked the foods to match closest to those on the new ‘eatwell’ guide to calculate the following: Starchy foods average c. 334 cals per 100g; Fruit & veg 43 cals per 100g; Dairy & alternatives (think moobs when you see soya guys!) 157 cals; Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat & other proteins, c. 180 cals; Oils & spreads c. 819 cals and the Junk (off the plate but the proportions allow for it) c. 600 cals.
When you recalculate the plate by proportion of calories, this is what happened to the old plate:
|OLD ‘Eatwell’ plate||% in diagram||% by cal intake|
|Fruit & veg||33%||6%|
|Milk & dairy||15%||12%|
|Non dairy protein||12%||10%|
The starchy foods became 50% of calorie intake; the junk (purple) segment became 22% and fruit and veg plummeted to 6% of calorie intake,
The new ‘eatwell’ guide is arguably worse. These are the proportions with and without junk (small rounding errors)
|With junk included||Without junk|
|NEW ‘Eatwell’ guide||% in diagram||% cal intake||% in diagram||% cal intake|
|Fruit & veg||39%||8%||40%||9%|
|Dairy & alternatives||8%||6%||8%||7%|
|Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat etc||12%||11%||12%||12%|
|Oils & spreads||1%||4%||1%||4%|
Without junk included, the new plate has a whopping 68% of calories in the form of starchy foods – things that make you fat. When junk is allowed (and it is allowed – I’m being generous here) 71% of calorie intake comes from starch and junk combined. Fruit and veg barely moves from the 6% of calories from the eatbadly plate. Beans, pulses, meat, fish, eggs – crikey – which idiot put almost all of the good stuff in one small category?! – accounts for 11-12% of calorie intake. Dairy is the big loser in the new eatbadly guide – down from 12% of calorie intake to 6-7%. Look at how junk takes such a big chunk of daily calories (still almost 10%) – JUNK HAS NO PLACE ON A ROLE MODEL PLATE OF HEALTHY EATING. There – shouting over (for now).
Nutrition 101 tells us that fat and protein can be used for basal metabolic needs and carbs and fat can be used for fuel (protein too can be used for fuel – and will be as a last resort). Carbs cannot be used for the vast majority of our daily calorie requirement. This video will explain. In a ‘healthy’ eating guide that drives us to consume (using the no junk proportions) 68% of our diet as starchy foods, 9% as fruit and veg (more carbs), 10% as dairy (some carbs) and even the beans/pulses/fish/eggs/meat segment can be taken in carb/protein form (beans/pulses) rather than no-carb form (meat/fish/eggs) – you can see how this guide mandates that we will get insufficient fat/protein and excess carbohydrate. We will be under nourished nutritionally and over fed fuel. In short – we will be sick and fat.
3) The plate/guide is another missed opportunity
Yet again, we didn’t need the committee. We didn’t need all these documents and diagrams and press releases and orange borders and such like. We just needed a three word message to come from Public Health Bodies:
EAT REAL FOOD!
Another three word message therefore comes to mind:
p.s. (This was the Monday newsletter for 21 March 2016)