You may have seen or heard of The Food Standards Agency’s ‘Eatwell Plate’.
Let’s take a look at The Eatwell Plate:
From initial observations the following stands out to me:
- eat the same amount of bread, rice, potatoes and pasta as fruit and vegetables
- milk, dairy and ‘foods and drinks high in fat and sugar’ should make up approximately 25% of your diet
- foods and drinks ‘high in fat’ are in the same health category as foods ‘high in sugar’
- meat, fish, eggs and beans (natural foods that are high in quality protein) makes up less of the plate than the mostly processed form of protein – dairy foods
My concerns with the eatwell plate
Bread, rice, potatoes and pasta
The majority of this section is grains. In fact, the image is made up of mostly white bread, white pasta and a cereal – all highly processed foods with next to no nutritional value (e.g. white bread and white pasta has had all beneficial nutrients removed in processing).
Most of these foods are rapidly turned into sugar when we digest them; which can often lead to insulin sensitivity, type 2 diabetes, blood sugar imbalances, cardiovascular diseases and weight gain (amongst several other health issues).
Wheat and gluten have been shown to cause multiple health issues including digestive disorders; food allergies/intolerances and autoimmune conditions (where the digestive system mistakes them as a ‘poison’ and attacks, causing inflammation).
Cereals are highly processed and the majority are very high in added sugar.
Milk and dairy foods
Dairy is associated with digestive disorders and lactose intolerance is fairly common. Many people have an intolerance related to dairy products without symptoms ever becoming obvious. However, these intolerances can disrupt efficient digestion and absorption of nutrients as contribute to any number of (seemingly) unconnected symptoms.
Most milk consumed today is semi-skimmed or skimmed. These forms of milk are actually less healthy than full fat milk as they have been homogenised – making the milk more difficult to digest and may contribute towards digestive issues including abdominal pain and flatulence. Low fat is not always better!
Consuming too much dairy runs the risk of an unnaturally high intake of calcium. This can be a problem as excess calcium will deplete levels of other essential minerals.
My advice would be to consume dairy in moderation (especially if you are conscious of your weight) – certainly less than the eatwell plate is recommending.
Foods high in fat
Putting foods high in fat and high in sugar in the same category gives the message they are both bad and should be mostly avoided.
Whilst this is definitely the case with sugar, several foods high in fat are an essential part of what we should be eating. For example – oily fish and olive oil are high in fat but contain essential fatty acids which are proven to reduce the risk of heart disease; nuts are high in fat but are rich in fibre and several essential minerals; coconut oil is high in saturated fat but is made up of mostly lauric acid – a form of saturated fat that has numerous health benefits.
Low fat foods seem to be advocated, despite often containing high levels of refined carbs, sugar, salt and chemically enhanced artificial sweeteners!
An alternative – the BANT Healthy Eating Puzzle Plate
This plate from the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapists (BANT) is, in my opinion, much much more like what the Eatwell Plate should look like:
Some key points on this in comparison to the Eatwell Plate:
- Much less dairy is recommended with protein being a category in itself
- Fruit & veg makes up 50% of what we should be eating (more if you add root and starchy vegetables)
- Root, starchy veg and grains are recommended – with a limit put on refined (processed) grains
- There is no mention of foods high in fat or sugar – fat falls into the protein category (and oils)
There are some other very useful health tips on this graphic – all worth considering in the overall health picture.
I would advise my clients to aim towards following the BANT plate, which I believe to be much healthier and largely free from processed and foods that may cause problems.
Being realistic, I would never advise people they should completely cut out foods high in sugar – as long as they are in moderation and as part of a diet looking very much like the BANT plate overall. The same goes with cheese, etc – just make it an occasional treat and don’t go mad 😉
You may also be interested in BANT’s alternative plate for Fighting the Flab and Beating the Bloat. Additionally, the Alliance for Natural Health produce their own Food4Health Plate, which is similar to BANT’s. This plate contains additional advice which might be a step too far for some, although the majority of it is worth following.