The ‘It’s Good For You/Bad You’ Yo-yo
I don’t know if it’s the same for you but every other day I read in the news that something that I eat is actually killing me. Then the next thing I see, it’ll add years to my life expectancy and reduce my risk of diseases. So surely then if I eat loads of said food I’ll live forever right? Probably not...
How the Media Are Scaremongers
The media is one of our main sources for delivering health information. It connects us and the world of science together, giving us information on research which may have found something significant.
However, the media can also be the source which spreads some information which is not entirely correct, but will lead to mass interest. Information they know they can post and it’ll get thousands of shares, reactions, and comments.
One such area is nutrition. As you’ve probably seen already, nutrition is an ever-changing field, with research finding out new things almost daily.
The media is the link which allows us to be in contact and up to date with what is being discovered in regard to nutrition and our health. However, a flaw with this relationship is that when certain foods are researched and information is found, the media can spread claims around that product, even if the claims are not 100% true or accurate!
This means that information can easily spread, which may miss out what the research actually concluded and the validity of this research. This is when the link between the media and the public can have a negative outcome.
It’s now not only news sources from which we gather our health information. Between 2007 and 2015, numbers almost tripled from 18% of individuals using online sources for health-related information, to 49% (Office for National Statistics, 2015).
Not only that but we are also now using social media. This is a great way to use this platform to talk about health and wellbeing, but it’s being aware that not everything that we see online is true. In some cases, information can be dangerously wrong.
The Sugar-Fat Seesaw
Here at Lucy Bee, we're very aware of the constant yo-yo concerning fats vs carbohydrates. One day, it’s ‘we were wrong, fats are fine and it’s carbohydrates we need to worry about’, and the next ‘it’s been concluded that fats are the issue, and carbohydrates are fine’. With the relationship between fat and sugar, when our diet is low in one, it is higher in the other.
So, what’s going on with this, do we truly need to fear one?
Studies Looking at the Balance of Food Groups
Luckily for us, we don’t, and you shouldn’t fear either of them, we need both of them to function.
Why? Well, there has been a large epidemiological (meaning "the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases") cohort (a group of people with a common statistical characteristic) study which looked at 18 countries in 5 continents, with 135,335 individuals between 35-70 years old, over a span of 7.4 years. Participants completed food frequency questionnaires and looked at:
- Primary outcomes, including total mortality and major cardiovascular events (fatal cardiovascular disease, nonfatal myocardial infection, stroke and heart failure).
- Secondary outcomes, including myocardial infarction; stroke; cardiovascular disease mortality; and non-cardiovascular disease mortality.
The study looked at whether there was an association with consumption of carbohydrates, total fat, and also each type of fat with cardiovascular disease and total mortality (Dehghan et al., 2017). Here’s some of the results that they found…
When individuals were consuming a diet with carbohydrate intake taking up to 60% and over of their energy intake, it was found to be associated with an adverse (unfavourable) impact on total mortality and also non-cardiovascular disease mortality.
Total fat intake was found to be associated with lower risks of total mortality, stroke, and non-cardiovascular disease mortality.
When looking at fats individually:
- saturated fatty acids, were found to be inversely associated with risk of total mortality, stroke, and non-cardiovascular disease mortality, i.e. they found that higher saturated fatty acid intake was not associated with major cardiovascular disease mortality, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality.
- Monounsaturated fatty acid intake was associated with lower risk of total mortality, a trend for lower risk of non-cardiovascular disease mortality.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acid intake was associated with lower risk of total mortality, and non-cardiovascular disease mortality.
In regard to higher carbohydrate intake, they found that replacement of carbohydrates was associated with an 11% reduction in mortality. They also saw that when carbohydrates were replaced with saturated fatty acids, there was an association of 20% lower risk of stroke (Dehghan et al., 2017).
They discovered that many participants from either low-income and middle-income countries who consumed a very high carbohydrate diet (at least 60% energy), the majority of it was from refined sources e.g. white rice, and white bread.
What Does This Mean?
These results do not mean that we should be following a low carb diet, as carbohydrates are needed to meet short-term energy demands during times of physical activity. What it does mean is that a more moderate intake is necessary rather than a higher or lower intake.
Carbohydrates are important in our diet, however, what we should be aware of is the quality of carbohydrate that we are eating, within the majority of our diet. We should be choosing unrefined, whole grain foods, which contain the majority of the fibre and nutrients. When we choose to consume refined carbohydrates, they lack the fibre and the nutrients that they originally contained, as well as being more quickly broken down and digested!
We need to get 30g per day of dietary fibre. This helps to move food through our gastrointestinal tract, as well as potentially having a beneficial effect on cardiovascular, digestive health, and weight maintenance.
One of the problems with this study above is that it uses a food frequency questionnaire, which is where you input what you’ve eaten over the year. An issue with this is that sometimes we forget how frequently we have consumed something, or we can underestimate how much we consume. If you try and recall how frequently you have had something over the year, it is quite tricky to remember!
Another area that this prospective cohort study looked at was, fruit, vegetable, and legume intake and rates of cardiovascular disease and death. They found that when individuals had a higher intake of fruit, vegetables and legumes, there was an inverse association with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, cardiovascular mortality, non-cardiovascular mortality (when adjusted for multivariable), and also total mortality (Miller et al., 2017).
The study also found that with individuals who consumed more of these foods, they also had higher levels of physical activity, lower rates of smoking, and higher energy. When individuals consumed at least 3-4 servings of fruit, vegetables and legumes a day (around 375-500g/day), it showed a similar benefit against risk of non-cardiovascular and total mortality, as with those consuming a higher intake, indicating that a moderate intake of 3 servings can have the same health benefits as those when consuming a higher quantity (Miller et al., 2017). Similar to the findings in the study mentioned above looking at carbohydrates and fats, incorporating, vegetables, fruit and legumes into your diet, will provide you with vitamins, minerals and also another good source of fibre (Miller et al., 2017).
I think with a lot of things in the media, and even social media, there’s a tendency for a lot of scaremongering around food. Whether it be a single food item, or a food group. The idea that any item of food is inherently bad for you on its own is not a healthy way to look at food. When consuming things within moderation, and with a healthy balanced lifestyle (from your physical activity, to alcohol consumption, to smoking), that’s what makes an impact. Eating a doughnut once in a while isn’t going to kill you. Being aware and being mindful when eating is an important factor which is often overlooked, but is now gaining interest and being promoted.
So, when you see someone online telling you that you should cut out a food group, or a specific food, in most cases, don’t. If a doctor, a dietician, or a nutritionist has spoken to you on an individual basis, and has found reason for you to reduce or avoid a certain food intake, then that is fine. It’s just important to be aware of where you are getting this information from, and who is the source of knowledge. What works for one person may not always work for another.
This research really indicates, that we should be eating a balanced diet, making sure that within our diet we consume carbohydrates, fats and protein. When we eat vegetables and fruit, make sure that we really eat the rainbow. Other factors to remember are: take part in physical activity; moderate the consumption of alcohol; if smoking, make sure you are trying to reduce your intake; and if on medication, make sure you continue to take them
Daisy, MSc PGDip ANutr, is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition, both of which are Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course.
Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease. We always recommend referring your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.
Lucy Bee is a lifestyle brand selling food, skincare and soap products all completely free from palm oil and with minimal use of plastic. Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, organic, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and empowering people to make informed choices and select quality, natural products for their food and their skin.
Dehghan, M. Mente, A. Zhang, X. Swaminathan, S. Li, W. Mohan, V. Igbal, R. et al.,. (2017). Association of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet. Available here.
Miller, V. Mente, A. Dehghan, M. Rangarajan, S. Zhang, X. Swaminathan, S. Dagenais, G. et al.,. (2017). Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths In 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study. Lancet. Available here.
Office for National Statistics. (2015). Internet access - households and individuals: 2015. Available here.