First analysis of the government-recommended UK diet shows benefits for health and environment, but also reveals too few people are following the guidelines
Adhering to Public Health England’s ‘Eatwell Guide’ of a balanced diet could reduce your chance of dying prematurely and lower your environmental footprint, according to a new study in BMJ Open.
The research, led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in collaboration with the University of Oxford, found that people who adhered to any five or more of the evaluated recommendations set out in the guidelines had an estimated 7% reduction in their mortality risk – based on data from three major UK databases (UK Biobank, EPIC Oxford and the Million Women Study). They also found that the recommendation associated with the largest reduction in predicted mortality risk, when adhered to alone, was the consumption of fruit and vegetables which reduced risk by 10%.
Additionally, it found that following Eatwell Guide recommendations could reduce the emission of greenhouse gases – one of the biggest drivers of climate change. Diets that adhered to between five and nine of the evaluated recommendations were associated with 1.6kg less CO2 emissions per day, a 30% reduction compared to average daily CO2 emissions of diets that adhered to up to two of the nine evaluated recommendations.
However, data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey revealed that less than 0.1% of people adhered to all nine guidelines. The majority of people (44%) followed three or four of the recommendations, with the consumption of dietary fibre and oily fish being the least commonly met category.
Globally, around 1.9 billion adults are overweight or obese, 462 million are underweight and a third are suffering from essential nutrient deficiencies. Governments are putting more emphasis on the need for a balanced, healthy diet – especially one which is more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
The government’s current Eatwell Guide (EWG), published in 2016, provides advice on balanced and healthy diets. The recommendations include advice to consume five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, wholegrain, higher fibre carbohydrates and lower fat and sugar dairy options. The EWG also recommends consumption of no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day, and replacing meat with lower fat, higher fibre proteins such as beans, pulses, fish and eggs.
Other recommendations include choosing unsaturated oils and spreads, limiting consumption of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, and drinking six to eight glasses of fluid every day.
Previous studies have shown that fruit, vegetable and fibre consumption, in combination with limited sugar and processed meat intake, is associated with improved cardiovascular health and reduced cancer risk.