An introduction to UK healthy eating guidelines
- UK food based dietary guidelines look to turn evidence-based scientific knowledge and government recommendations on foods, nutrients and health into simple messages to help consumers make informed choices about the foods, drinks and dietary patterns that promote good health.
- Food groups and foods/drinks that are sources of nutrients of public health importance when consumed in excess (like free sugars, salt, saturated fatty acids) or in insufficient amounts (e.g. dietary fibre) are considered.
- Guidelines aim to be appropriate for the majority of the population, culturally acceptable and practical, as well as easy to understand.
What is the history of models for healthy eating guidelines in the UK?
Around 20 years ago, in 1994, the UK’s national food guide, the Balance of Good Health was launched as a model to define the government’s advice on a healthy, balanced diet. It was revised under the Foods Standards Agency and renamed the ‘eat well plate’ in 2007, and has been endorsed by the Departments of Health and Education in England; by the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and by the Northern Ireland Executive. The responsibility for the eatwell plate transferred to Public Health England in April 2013.
The eat well plate was a visual representation based on five food groups and showed the proportion that each food group should contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. The plate has been supported by further advice, the ‘Eight tips for healthy eating’. The guidelines were applicable to most of the healthy population. However it does not apply to those under 2 years of age, with children from the age of 2 to 5 gradually moving to eating foods in the proportions shown on the eatwell plate.
Why change the eat well plate?
In 2014 Public Health England established an external reference group to consider the potential impact of new dietary reference values on the eat well plate in light of, the then draft, conclusion and recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s Carbohydrate and Health report.
In 2015 the new recommendations for free sugars (no more than 5% of dietary energy) and fibre (an increase to 30g a day for adults), as well as the recommendation that the dietary reference value for carbohydrates be maintained at a population average of approximately 50% of total dietary energy intake, were accepted. PHE sought to ensure, as part of its role in promoting evidence based public health, that guidelines were aligned with delivery of a diet consistent with these new recommendations.
What are the main dietary messages of the new Eatwell Guide?
- Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
- Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates; choosing whole grain versions where possible.
- Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks); choosing lower fat and lower sugar options.
- Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (including 2 portions of fish every week, one of which should be oily).
- Choose unsaturated oils and spreads and eat in small amounts.
- Drink 6-8 cups/glasses of fluid a day.
- If consuming foods and drinks high in fat, salt or sugar have these less often and in small amounts.