What is the worst food?

16 January 2018


We hear a lot about sugar, salt and fat. Is there a single 'worst' culprit for bad health?


Chris Smith asked dietician Sian Porter what she thought was food public enemy No.1...

Sian - I’m really against viewing single nutrients because, for a start, you need to have a healthy relationship with food. If you’re thinking about one type of food then it leads to the thinking about good and bad foods which, again, isn’t really a healthy way to view things.

As I said before, food comes as packages and you want to take a whole diet approach because, obviously, sugar has been public enemy No. 1 for probably the past couple of years. That’s lead to so much confusion because not all sugars are the same, and really the sugars that we should be worrying about are what we call ‘free sugars’ or the sugars that are added. That includes things like table sugars and it also includes things like syrup, so agave syrup, maple syrup, date syrup, Fruit juice falls into that category as well.

Sugar that you find in the cell of fruit and vegetables and lactose, which is the sugar that you find in milk and dairy products, that’s absolutely fine. I get people coming and saying to me “oh, I don’t have yoghurt because of all the sugar in it”. Actually, about 5% of the sugar in yoghurt is lactose so, if you’re looking on the back of a yoghurt, 100 grams, about 5 grams of that will be lactose. So it’s about you need to have a mixture of nutrients: fat, protein, carbohydrates.

Chris - What sort of amounts, relatively, of those? Because when I went to medical school people used to say you should get maybe half the calories in the day should come from fats or something, and then maybe about a third from carbs, and then 20% from protein, something like that. Does that still stand or have we moved away from that?

Sian - Yeah. There’s ways of looking at it. If you’re looking at population recommendations. Then if you’re looking at basing it on calories then it’s still around 50% of calories from carbohydrates, about 30% from fat, and about 20% from protein. But that’s population so it varies so much from individual. You’re not going to get your calculator out and work out that carbs have got 4 calories per gram, so 50% of my energy, you know…

I think a much simpler way is thinking about when you’re making up your plate, going back to having half your plate fruit and vegetables, about a quarter some lean protein, and don’t forget things like beans and pulses and about a quarter of your plate. So we’re talking probably about the size of your clenched fist of starchy carbohydrates, preferably high fibres, so things like whole grains, brown rice, brown pasta, potatoes with skins. Try and have some protein at every meal because your body like it better if you spread it out through the day. Stay hydrated. With fat, you want to watch saturated fat which is the one that can raise your cholesterol, and raised cholesterol is a risk for cardiovascular disease.

But, like I said, if you aim to have at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, some starchy carb, some fibre. And watch you portion size; that’s the other thing so it’s really important.


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