Hear from our Health and Education Manager, Jen, who gives her insight on what we all want to know right now, how to achieve a healthy balanced diet.
What’s your beef, Jennifer Robertson?
The word “diet” is a contentious word, it can spark all sorts of feelings, positive or negative, even downright scary! Eliminate all the fads you may have tried over your lifetime or the new popular trends that all your friends seem to be following, putting it simply, our diet is just what we eat.
Being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 12, means that my life has also always included that word “diet”. I believe it was quite an influential stage and thus food and I have always had a special relationship. If you have ever experienced a hypoglycaemic attack and subsequent hypo hunger, you’ll know what I mean, but food and its make-up definitely interested me from that early age!
At school I studied biology and chemistry and one of the most obvious routes was for me to then go on to study Dietetics. I wanted to be able to help people have a good relationship with food and see how food, like laughter, can be one of the best medicines (it was a bit more technical than that, honest!). It may seem to some as not scientific enough, but discussing ways of eating in a balanced way to keep healthy was what I enjoyed the most. Even for those who had a particular condition, that may have meant a certain food or food group was avoided, balance was always the key and definitely included plenty of science! One of my favourite quotes is from the food writer Julia Child, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it!” I think I can truly say food is my passion and I’m very interested in it.
Work Life – eat balanced?
So, working in the food industry for QMS has continued with the same work focussed mantra, eating a healthy balanced diet, but this time with reference to, and how, red meat can still be part of that. A healthy balanced diet is one that contains all food groups, and in the UK is defined by the EatWell Guide (image1), which has 5 main food groups, the largest two being fruit & vegetables and starchy carbohydrates (ideally wholegrain), then the protein group – beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins; the milk and dairy group; the fifth being a small segment for oils and spreads.
It would be amiss of me to not mention plant-based diets at this juncture, for to say our diet should be plant based, perhaps sounds like we aren’t entirely being balanced with all food groups, and in fact could be avoiding whole groups, that are in the guidelines, entirely. However, plant based doesn’t necessarily mean only consuming plant-based foods, cutting out all meat and dairy. Rather it encourages us to eat more foods that are derived from plants, a flexible approach as it were, or dare I say a balanced diet?
A recent study reported in the BMJ which analysed the adherence to the Eatwell Guide, may at first shock, but when I reflect on the time since my career in Nutrition and Dietetics began, or even further when I was advised on a balanced diet as a young diabetic, it sadly doesn’t shock me.
Goals and Targets
The 2020 report found less than 0.1% of the UK population adhere to all nine of the Eatwell Guide recommendations (image 2). It saddens me particularly to think we haven’t improved on the 5-a-day goal for fruit and vegetables, which was set over 20 years ago and something that is always taught at school. Where are we involved in the world of food education going wrong then, I wonder? Is this something the “plant-based” diet hopes to improve? We must consider then, why when in the same report, where 64% of the population are adhering to the recommended intake of red and processed meat, is it often focussed on more than anything else?
Sustainability and the environment seem to be the focus just now, but does Scotland have a story to tell in that regard concerning sustainability in livestock production? I think so – but I’m going to leave that for another blog in the series.
Getting back to red meat in the diet, the Government guidelines and the Eatwell Guide suggest we can consume up to 70g per person, per day or roughly 500g per week (of cooked meats). It is encouraging then that for the most part, the majority of the population are doing so. Call me old fashioned but I think if we have a meat containing meal 2-3 times a week (with plenty veggies on the side), as well as trying to achieve all our other goals, e.g. fish twice a week, one being oily, then we’re probably doing ok. The focus again I feel should be, are we being balanced? Lots of vegetables with our dinner, additional protein sources to make our meat go further, using wholegrain sources of carbohydrates to help increase fibre, eating less sugary foods in-between meals. If we’re honest that’s a lot to work on, but it has always been important for me to see diet holistically, no one food should be demonised, instead we need to try to eat healthily, eat a balanced diet.
The nutritional properties of red meat such as rich in protein, a rich source of Vitamin B12 and Zinc, will all be discussed in future blogs, so keep a look out. Also look out for the blogs by my colleague and farmer, Alix Ritchie, to get her perspective on things.