We have seen new guidelines, issued by Public Health England, in the press recently recommending we eat 400kcal for breakfast, 600kcal for lunch and 600kcal for dinner in order to relieve the burden on the NHS. But is this the right approach to improving our health?
A one size fits all approach does not serve us well where nutrition is concerned. Our caloric needs, after all, depend on a variety of factors including level of physical activity, gut absorption and individual nutritional requirements. For example, a woman who walks to work, is very active during the day and runs 5km 3 times a week, will require significantly more calories than a woman who drives to her sedentary job and partakes in little or no exercise.
Furthermore, with the emphasis on the quantity of calories we are consuming, the TYPE of food we are consuming is being gravely overlooked. Food manufacturers have been told to cut calories by 20% by 2024 with chief executive of PHE Duncan Selbie exclaiming, “Britain needs to go on a diet.” Categories of food covered by the programme include pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks. By reducing calories in these types of foods, PHE hopes to reduce the number of people developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So is reducing portion sizes of these types of foods the way to achieve better health?
The focus would be, undoubtedly, better placed on moving away from these nutrient depleting foods and adjusting our diets to include more vegetables, whole foods and good quality, grass fed meat. Without the essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids these foods provide, vital bodily functions such as digestion, elimination and resistance to disease are severely compromised.
UK law ensures that we are provided with information on the back of our food packets which includes RNIs (reference nutrient intakes) to enable us to make better informed choices about the foods we are buying. The figures given indicate the amount of a nutrient that is enough to ensure that the needs of nearly all the population group are being met. This is a good place to start but as we know our individual needs are not equal and some will require more of a particular nutrient than others.
Understandably the government cannot create guidelines for every individual in the country! We can, however, take our health into our own hands. I am now halfway through my 3 year diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition which uses a holistic approach in supporting the individual’s nutritional needs. By considering the person’s lifestyle and preferences, dietary adjustments can offer the individual the opportunity to self-heal. Louis Pasteur hypothesised that disease occurs from infectious microbes outside of the body but it was lesser known scientist (and bitter rival of Louis Pasteur) Antoine Bechamp who said that ‘Disease occurs from within the body’ due to changes of terrain.
What is Health anyway?
Health is more than being rid of disease. Health is vitality, characterised by being in the best possible physical, mental and emotional state. This will never be achieved from simply cutting calories. We must look at ourselves as a whole being and nourish our bodies, feed our minds and nuture our spirit in order to achieve OPTIMUM health and be the very best we can be.
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Haas, E. & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition. 21st century edn. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, pp83-85