As someone with an interest in nutrition, you may have seen the “new and improved” Eatwell Guide released on the 17th March from Public Health England. The original “Balance of Good Health” was created over 20 years ago, with further developments leading to the “Eatwell Plate” being published in 2007. So it was certainly time for the evidence to be reviewed, experts to be consulted and consumers to asked their opinions, in order to make sure this public health nutrition resource is up-to-date and effective. But what are the key changes and why have they been made?
The Eatwell Guide has incorporated the latest scientific research (most notably that on carbohydrates and fibre) to ensure advice and support provided to the public by nutrition advisors is current and accurate. The guide is by no means a stand-alone resource; the intention is that it is a starting tool for those with suitable knowledge and skills (such as those who have gained Future Fit’s nutrition diploma) to provide the general public with a more personalised and in-depth information applicable for individual’s circumstances and lifestyles as appropriate.
How does it differ from the Eatwell Plate and why?
- Inclusion of a hydration message – Previously there was no mention of drinks. The guide now includes specific recommendations of 6-8 glasses per day as well as suggested ideal drinks (water, lower-fat milk, sugar-free drinks including tea and coffee) and those to be limited (fruit juice and/or smoothies to 150ml).
- Greater emphasis on basing meals on fruit and veg and starchy carbohydrates – These sections have increased in size in order to reflect the recommendation to consume 30g fibre per day. What does 30g fibre look like? It’s 5 portions of fruit/veg, 2 Weetabix, 2 thick slices of wholemeal bread and a large baked potato with the skin on. Unsurprisingly, the nation fall short of this, but linear programming (a method of modelling current consumption and recommendations) is used to determine a proportion of the plate that would be deemed realistic and achievable for consumers balanced against ideal intakes.
- Less emphasis on foods and drinks high in fat/sugar/salt – This section has been removed from the main plate and instead included on the periphery alongside a comment to minimise consumption. This has been done to clarify consumer confusion; previously some people interpreted their inclusion on the plate to mean that they needed to be eaten for health. However, they are not essential but can be included for enjoyment and to help the public feel that moving towards a healthier diet is possible.
- Clarifying the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat – It is now well recognised not all fat is equal and for heart health, saturated fat (e.g. from meat sources, dairy and butter) should be limited in preference for unsaturated fat (e.g. rapeseed oil, nut oil, avocado, olives). Their intake should be limited to small quantities though as they are high in calories.
- Inclusion of an energy requirements message – There was no comparable information included on the previous Eatwell Plate, but it is now stated that women should generally aim for 2000Kcal and men for 2500Kcal. Consumers are also reminded that drinks can make a substantial contribution to energy intake.
- Addition of sustainability messages – For the first time consumers are being urged to consider where their food comes from. Names of some food groups have changed, for example “Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins” in order to emphasise certain foods within the group that are considered more environmentally sustainable. Research has also shown that red and processed meal should be limited to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, which concurs with the sustainability message.
- Inclusion of a Front of Pack nutrition label – Research revealed that discussion of the Eatwell Plate frequently led to conversation on label reading, as a practical way of making healthier shopping choices. It was felt useful to therefore include an example label to support this.
- Refresh of the 5-a-day message – Alongside the Eatwell guide revamp, the 5-a-day logo has been updated to reflect the Change4Life branding. It is free and easier to use on packaging making it more straightforward for consumers to make healthier choices. As mentioned earlier, intake of juice and smoothies is now limited to 150ml per day (and can only be included as 1 of the 5-a-day) in order to limit sugar intake.
- Limiting sugar intake – Many of the changes mentioned previously also contribute to the reduction of sugar intake, which SACN Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition) showed last year to be a necessary change in the population’s diet. Removal of the high sugar/fat/salt section of the plate and limiting juice and smoothie intake are key changes.
- Clarifying the purpose of the resource – The Eatwell guide’s intention is to show consumers what a healthy diet would look like over a period of time. However, due to the plate graphic including a knife and fork, and the name Eatwell “plate” many misinterpreted the information as what every individual meal should look like. The name change and removal of the cutlery aim to remove some of this confusion.
In my opinion, the Eatwell guide is an improvement from the previous model. Promotion of fibre intake, hydration messages and reducing sugar intake are all positive steps toward a healthier nation. For those of us working in the field, many of the confusing issues have been removed or clarified (at last the cola can and sugary cereal have disappeared – hooray!).
At first glance, it does seem that the guide promotes a very high carbohydrate-low fat diet. Positive steps to promote unsaturated fats have been made, but I do feel that there is now a good evidence-base of a strong positive link between unsaturated fat intake and particularly heart and brain health that this message could have been made more powerfully. Although fat is calorie-dense and can contribute to weight gain/hamper weight loss, encouraging a nutritious diet to support optimum health, functioning and wellbeing should be just as valuable.
Further wellbeing messages such as getting more active and cutting back on sedentary activities could have been incorporated. Although a nod to this was made through the calorie message, was further expansion of this a missed opportunity to promote practical weight management tips?
Personally, I find the graphics and design of the guide a little dull and dated. However, Public Health England has explained that consumer testing showed drawings of foods were more appealing than photos to the target audience (whom as a Nutritionist is probably/hopefully not me!).
As always, a public health resource is never going to be perfect for all people in all situations. Hopefully, you will be able to use the tool as a starting point when working with your clients. Remember that the guide is live and should replace the previous version with immediate effect. We would love to hear your thoughts on the refreshed Eatwell guide and your experiences using the resource; please let us know.
You can view the new Eatwell Guide here
Author: Laura Gandon
“New Eatwell Guide illustrates a healthy balanced diet” Public Health England press release. March 2016
“The eatwell plate: external reference group review” Public Health England. March 2016
“The eatwell guide – A revised healthy eating model” British Nutrition Foundation. March 2016
“Carbohydrates and health report” Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. 2015
“IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat” World Health Organisation. October 2015