Sugar changes to Eatwell Guide are ‘large’ but worthwhile: Oxford study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

The Eatwell Guide does not include sugars incorporated within intact fruits and vegetables or sugars naturally present in milk. ©iStock/smartin69
The Eatwell Guide does not include sugars incorporated within intact fruits and vegetables or sugars naturally present in milk. ©iStock/smartin69

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Reducing sugar consumption in line with recommendations set out in the Eatwell Guide, are likely to extend the average life expectancy by around six months according to Oxford University researchers.

In an analysis of the UK Government’s dietary guidelines that were updated in March 2016, the team also found that sticking to this advice may also prevent as many as 850,000 diabetic cases over the next ten years,

This, the study’s authors said, could be achieved by reducing of foods high in sugar and fat by half (53%), reducing consumption of beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins by a quarter (24%) and cutting dairy and alternative products by a third (29%).

At the other end of the scale, a substantial increase (69%) in consumption of potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables (71%), was also required.

SACN intervention

The findings follow a review of the latest evidence on carbohydrates and health by the Food Standard Agency's (FSA) Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).

Here, the advisory panel to the UK Government advised the reduction of the recommended average intakes of free sugars to no more than 5% of dietary energy intake.  

Free sugars include sugars added to foods and beverages before consumption, and naturally occurring sugars such as those in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

The Eatwell Guide does not include sugars incorporated within intact fruits and vegetables or sugars naturally present in milk.

“The strengthening of sugar and fibre recommendations more than doubles the health that could potentially be gained if everyone were to follow dietary recommendations without increasing energy intake,”​ the study stated.

“The results show how big changes in fruit and vegetables and meat consumption that are recommended in the Eatwell Guide could translate into big improvements in health when compared to average consumption levels in the current UK diet.”

Meat and dairy industry

charcuterie, cured meat, parma, ham salami, italian Droits d'auteur Kuvona
The study thought the potential improvements in health were greater for men due to men having a poorer quality of diet to begin with (e.g. higher intake of red and processed meats).©iStock/Kuvona

While the analysis also outlined the health gains from reducing meat and dairy consumption, they also highlighted the implications such a drastic reduction would have on the two industries.

“There would be economic implications for the meat and dairy industries due to reduced demand for their products,”​ said the team. “While agriculture adds just 0.7% to GDP in the UK, meat and dairy commodities are responsible for two-thirds of that value.”

Despite this prediction, previous findings have argued that the impact on total food and drink costs for the individual would on average be insignificant, actually reducing slightly from, on average £6.02 (€6.93) to £5.99 (€6.90) in 2016.

In addition to an extension to the life span, the model suggested that through prevention of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and colorectal cancer may also possible.

A smaller, but still substantial, number of cases of stomach, lung and breast cancer would also be prevented.

The pattern of disease outcomes is similar with a diet that meets old recommendations, but substantially fewer cases of disease would be averted, ranging from 38% fewer cases of diabetes up to 79% fewer cases of stroke.       

Foodvision logo

Interested in learning more about sugar reduction? Then join other food and drink industry leaders at Food Vision​ from 1 – 3 March 2017 in London. Organised by William Reed, the publisher of FoodNavigator, this industry event brings together CEOs, academics and top scientists for three days of interactive conferences and networking sessions on how to drive sustainable growth and profitability in global nutrition, food and beverage markets.​                                                                                                                                                      

Source: PLOS One

Published online ahead of print:

“The Eatwell Guide: Modelling the Health Implications of Incorporating New Sugar and Fibre Guidelines.”

Authors: Linda Cobiac et al.


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