The National Diet and Nutrition Survey have data showing that as a country, the UK isn’t sticking to most of the available dietary guidelines. UK citizens don’t get enough fruits and vegetables, oily fish, or fibre, but are getting too much of salt, free sugars, and saturated fat. Two-thirds of the adults are classified as either overweight or obese, and there’s even evidence of insufficient intake of micronutrients. This begs the question of whether or not consumers accurately understand what a healthy diet looks like or even where to get good information from.

NHS Nutrition Guide

A recent national survey found that consumers of equal proportions believed that both the Internet and food labels were the two most reliable sources of food information. The law mandates that food label information be accurate. However, online health information isn’t always right, which is quite concerning. Fortunately, checking things out is quite simple. NHS England supports the Information Standard accreditation scheme, which is a quality mark that identifies trustworthy and reliable information about health and social care. So, look for that when you look for any nutrition information. The scheme has about 220 health organisations who are members, including BNG (which you can find at nutrition.org.uk) and the NHS Choices website. Pages that provide good information to consumers will have the Information Standard logo displayed on them. The largest group of consumers in the survey said that dietitians, nutritionists, and health professionals who specialise in kinesiology were the most reliable possible source of information. Registered dietitians are health professionals qualified to assess and diagnose nutrition and diet problems before treating them in both individuals and the wider public. However, and this might be a surprise to some, the title of ‘nutritionist’ isn’t protected by any laws, so anyone can identify themselves as a nutritionist, whether they’re qualified or not, and then offer dietary advice, which isn’t always based on evidence. The Association for Nutrition is trying to deal with this problem using the UK Voluntary Register of Nutritionists. Registrants have to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge of the core competencies involved in nutrition science so that consumers can look them up on the register prior to choosing to use them or not.

Food Bloggers, Superfoods and the Risks

Food bloggers have a tremendous amount of influence on the food choices consumers make, and specific products might be suddenly popular or unpopular, irrespective of whether or not including or excluding such foods is actually healthy. For instance, coconut oil is often praised as something of a cure-all product, even though there’s scant evidence that it provides health benefits. In fact, its saturated fat content is very high, and in human studies, it raises blood cholesterol! In a similar vein, honey, nectars (including coconut blossom nectar), and syrups (like date and agave) often get touted as being healthier than most table sugars. However, all actually count as free sugars, which are the kinds that PHE suggests consumers minimise as to avoid gaining weight and dental caries. You can get fibre and vitamins from fruit juice and smoothies, although these would count as one of the five allowed daily portions, and given their content of free sugars, the portions should be under 150 ml per day. Also, forget the idea about ‘superfoods’. For instance, all fruits and veggies can be good for people, and it’s not enough to eat plenty of them but to also eat a variety of them. High price tags or blogger halos glowing around them don’t always make them better than traditional and affordable produce. Also, it’s not medically advisable to skip an entire food product like starches or dairy unless you have a diagnosed medical need. You’ll risk deficiencies as a result of nutritional imbalances.

UK dietary guidelines get issued along the lines of the best scientific evidence that is available at the time. If you want to get all the nutrition your body requires as well as hopefully avoid chronic diseases from developing, then you should eat a diet that’s aligned with the Eatwell Guide. Also, be sure that you only follow dietary information that comes from reputable sources.