As far back as 1938 the British Medical Association and the Government recommended that the British people should drink 80% more milk, eat 55% more eggs, 40% more butter and 30% more meat. Essentially this was to remain the official stance for the next 40 years or so. However in the immediate post-war period the Americans became obsessed with the death rate from heart disease, which at that time was one of the highest in the world. This led to the initiation of The Seven Countries Study by Dr Ancel Keys which aimed to identify some of the critical factors linked to heart disease. The significance of his work is that it was used by the US Government in the development of dietary guidelines which included the following:

  • If overweight, decrease energy intake and increase energy expenditure
  • Increase the consumption of complex carbohydrates and ’naturally occurring’ sugars from about 28% of energy intake to about 48% of energy intake
  • Reduce consumption of refined and processed sugars to about 455 to account for about 10% of total energy intake
  • Reduce fat consumption from approximately 40% to about 30% of energy intake
  • Reduce saturated fat consumption to account for about 10% of total energy intake(1).

Even though many questioned the validity of the recommendations they were nevertheless effectively endorsed by international bodies such as the World Health Organisation. Subsequently many other nations around the world essentially followed suit.

In 1984, the official UK Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) recommended:

  • Total fat as a percentage of total daily energy should be reduced from 42 to 31-35% calories
  • Saturated fat should be reduced from 20 to 15% calories
  • Polyunsaturated fat could be increased

It was also agreed that there would be

‘’….advantages in compensating for a reduced fat intake with increased fibre-rich carbohydrates…’’

These recommendations still apply today and are a key element in public health programmes.

According to the current official advice on Healthy Eating in the UK:

  • ‘’We all need some fat in our diet, but eating too much makes us more likely to become overweight. What’s more too much of a particular kind of fat – saturated fat – can raise our cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease’’
  • ‘’Eating too much fat can make us more likely to put on weight, because foods which are high in energy (calories). Being overweight raises our risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure’’
  • ‘’Starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, cereals, rice, pasta should make up about one third of the food you eat’’

So what has happened to the national diet since the recommendations to reduce fat and saturated fat were first introduced?

I will attempt to answer that question in future blogs.

References

1. Dietary Guidelines for the United States 1977.