Some say red meat isn’t good for you. Supporters of paleo diets say grains are the devil. One day butter should be avoided like the plague, but the next day we’re encouraged to slather it on everything. What diet advice can you really trust? And what’s just hype?
Raise your hand if you wish you could find out exactly what to eat so you can feel great all day long. Yeah - we thought so (!) - so that’s why we’re looking into what a healthy diet really looks like and how you can help us to find out that information with our app questionnaires.
With new research from the British Nutrition Foundation revealing that 43% of adults find it difficult to find reliable information on healthy diets, it seems more important than ever to be asking these questions. We know that in some places it can be difficult to buy fresh, healthy food. Fast food is tempting and cheap and the food industry designs it that way. Evergreen Life wants to help you find the best solution for you.
First of all, let’s explore what a healthy diet means and why it’s important for us to get your feedback.
What makes a healthy diet?
People around the world thrive on all sorts of diets that differ very widely according to what foods are available to them, customs and their cultural preferences. Bottom line: there’s no one diet that’s perfect for everyone, and the exact makeup of a healthy diet will vary based on your age, gender, genetic expression and degree of physical activity. Which is why we’re asking Evergreen Life app users to contribute to a new pool of dietary data – find out more about this later on in this article.
A big fat mistake
In the early 1980s, nutrition experts concluded that diets high in fat particularly the saturated kind found in meat and dairy were a risk to heart health. Because of this dietary advice, foods that were naturally high in fat were reformulated by the food industry to contain less fat - but this meant increasing the sugar content. Essentially, the policy villainised fat, but was ignoring the other major culprits: carbohydrates and sugars.
And now? The policy and its underlying science has come under scrutiny in recent years, with people condemning how this policy was introduced to 56 million Brits with the research conducted only on “a small number of unhealthy men.” As a result, there’s now widely varying opinions about what a healthy diet looks like.
Was the study wrong to ignore sugar…?
Gimme some sugar
Traditional diets were not at all sweet, but westernisation has brought a huge increase in the number of people consuming highly sugary foods which our bodies are not necessarily equipped to process. So, the question is whether human genetic hardwiring can cope with the change to more ‘modern’ ways of eating, or whether we’re more vulnerable to the effects of sugar.
In his 1939 book, Weston Price, examined the diet and dental health of different communities. For example, he compared the remote people on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland who lived on a diet of seafood, oatmeal and barley. These people were healthy and robust, with less than one tooth cavity per 100 children’s teeth. In a nearby village where boats regularly brought refined flour, jams, canned foods and sugar, the story was quite different; there were 32.4 cavities per 100 children’s teeth!
If we look at American and Australian populations, we can see the devastating influence of eating highly refined, sweetened foods. Australia’s Northern Territory has the highest consumption of Coca Cola per capita in the world, where it’s common for indigenous people to consume 5-6 cans every day! With this high sugar intake, there’s concern in the region over levels of obesity, diabetes and early death rates.
Eating your way to better health
A recent review article in the British Medical Journal gave advice about what foods should be eaten regularly and which should be avoided in order to prevent the development of chronic diseases. Here’s what it said:
Foods to eat regularly:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Fish and oily fish
- Nuts and seeds
Foods to avoid:
- Red meat and processed meats (bacon, sausages, deli meats etc.)
- Sweetened drinks
For our dietary wellbeing questionnaires in the Evergreen Life app, we’re asking questions based on these areas where expert opinion overlaps with the aim of alleviating our diet confusion. So, let’s delve into the general and often conflicting recommendations available about these types of foods…
A fruitful diet
The case for eating your fruits and veggies is very clear. Pooled data from scientific studies show that eating your greens is linked with reduced rates of cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. In 2017, an estimated 3.9 million deaths worldwide were attributed to inadequate intake of fruit and vegetables.
But why are fruits and veggies so good for us? Well, there’s literally thousands of compounds within them that act as ‘nature’s pharmacy’ including vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and a host of beneficial non-nutrient substances like plant sterols, flavonoids and other antioxidants. The best way to get the benefit is to consume a variety. So don’t just stick to your usual choices - branch out and eat what’s in season, put lemon in your tea, fill your meals with broccoli… you get the idea! If you’re stuck, check out this list of powerhouse fruits and vegetables to load up on essential vits.
Are you getting your 10 a day?
Yes, you heard that right - in France they recommend as many as 10 portions of fruit and veggies per day. Other countries like Canada and Japan advise 7 or more. But that might end up being way too much sugar if you rack up that many from only fruit! Best to aim for more veggies than fruit.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and NHS recommends that everyone should have at least 5 portions (80g) as a minimum - advice that’s been around for 25 years. But, studies are actually saying that 800g (that’s 10 portions) per day significantly reduces your risk of heart disease and cancer. So, can one apple a day really keep the doctor away?
Come wholegrain or shine
Whole grains contain bran and germ, which are rich in dietary fibre and micronutrients. Higher intake of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. They’re a much better choice than white varieties in terms of nutrients.
Whilst whole grains (but not the whole wheat or pulverised (flour) type) have a lower glycaemic index than refined grains, if you have diabetes or want to lose weight, you should also take into consideration the total carbohydrate load. Read more about this in our article on glycaemic index vs load.
Something’s a bit fishy
A healthy diet should contain at least two portions of fish a week and should include at least one portion of oily fish.
Oily fish, including trout, salmon, sardines and tuna, are the richest source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease. It’s also important for pregnant or breastfeeding women, because it can help their baby’s nervous system to develop.
Are you nuts?
Unsalted, unroasted nuts and seeds can make up part of a healthy diet when eaten in the right quantities, and the right types. They're a great source of vitamins like vitamin E and selenium (particularly in Brazil nuts), good for maintaining healthy skin. You can also eat nuts and seeds for their protein and healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These compounds can help to lower bad cholesterol. In recent studies, nuts have been shown to play an important role in disease prevention. Snacking on a handful (about 30g) of nuts or seeds every day can reduce the risk of a stroke and early death in a study of 7,000 men and women.
But more isn't always better - and nuts are a prime example. If you have issues with inflammation or digestion, nuts might not be that great for you. They contain omega-6 fatty acids which play a crucial role in regulating metabolic function and maintaining healthy skin, hair and bones. Consuming too much omega-6s can actually outweigh the goodness of omega-3s, so it's ideal to strike a balance that works for your body's needs. Some people also find nuts easier to digest after soaking.
And now the foods to watch out for...
Let it beef
Eating a lot of red and highly processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer. Limit to 90g per day (about the size of a pack of cards) or think of the meat as a side and the vegetables as the main. This advice comes from the NHS, but it’s important to bear in mind that all red meat is being compared as one - whether it’s highly processed, and containing additives or the finest organic grass-fed beef.
A spoonful of sugar?
When it comes to measuring our daily sugar intake, we need to consider all ‘added sugar,’ as well as naturally present sugar such as honey, syrup and fruit juice. With that in mind, the latest WHO guidance says that sugar consumption should not amount to more than 10% of your total calorie intake. That’s less than 50g (about 12 level teaspoons) per day for a person of healthy body weight consuming 2000 calories per day. But if you’re looking for additional benefits and a real boost to your health, ideally sugar intake should be less than 5% of your total calories. That’s less than 6 level teaspoons from all sources.
Think it sounds like a lot? …it really isn’t:
- 330ml can of coke contains 33g
- 200ml glass of pressed apple juice contains 17g
- 250ml peach iced tea contains 11g
Food for thought?
Help us find out what a healthy diet looks like
So, there’s a lot of advice around healthy habits and dietary advice from nutritional studies. But these take a long time and can be restricted, only focusing on one or two things at a time. Despite there being a wealth of data, obesity and diabetes are at an all-time high. Basically, there’s a lot more to learn - and that’s where you come in.
We’d like to invite you to join us in creating an information bank from a wide range of people. By asking questions to a large group about their diet and health habits via the Evergreen Life app, we can get some all-important feedback - and share that with you!
As a first step, we want to uncover what a healthy diet looks like and then importantly what a healthy diet looks like for you as an individual. By pooling our information, we’ll start to see the ‘Big Picture,’ and expose trends in what healthy people eat compared to those who are overweight.
It’s your data: you own it, you share it
Here’s where the Evergreen Life approach differs… this information is owned by you. It’s completely up to you to decide if you want to act on the information and share it for the benefit of others, or simply observe what we find out - you decide. If you do decide to share any information you contribute, it’ll be entirely confidential and completely anonymised.
We hope you’ll be as excited as we are to begin this journey and we’d like to say thanks in advance for taking the time to help with answering the app questionnaires.
To get involved with our Wellness Checks:
- Be sure to update your app to the latest version in the App Store or Google Play
- Start to receive notifications within the app when a new questionnaire is available
- Check the menu in the app and tap 'Take a Wellness Check' to see if you have any available
Nutrition and Physical degeneration A comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their effects Weston Price First Published 1939
“That Sugar Film” which is the highest grossing documentary of all time in Australia
Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention
BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2396 (Published 13 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2396