Australia

Jan 18, 2012

Who owns the new Australian dietary guidelines?

For those who missed the announcement, Australia's 24,000 GPs and 3500 dietitians will soon have a new weapon in their battle against big bellies and hard arteries, writes Geoff Russell.

For those who missed the announcement, Australia’s 24,000 GPs and 3500 dietitians will soon have a new weapon in their battle against big bellies and hard arteries. Junk food can be fast and greasy from multinationals with multimillion dollar advertising budgets or wanky and ever so slow and creamy from obese chefs with inexplicable TV pulling powers. Either way, the consequent early onset of ill-health is miserable and expensive.

36 comments

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36 thoughts on “Who owns the new Australian dietary guidelines?

  1. kerry russell

    Thank you for this article, the belief that there is higher quality (animal) and lower quality (plant) protein has long been firmly fixed in the community, on top of this the many TV ads confirming the belief. The facts of nutritional science in opposition seems like just a squeaky mouse. I am usually at a loss to explain when asked “but what about the protein!” and getting Calcium, that is seen as even a bigger danger “you would need a barrow load of broccoli” I am told, so I generally try to keep my veggo beliefs to myself.
    I hope your studies can get out there a bit more. Kerry

  2. Geoff Russell

    Thanks Kerry (no relation … that I know of).

    The history of the protein myth is fascinating and told well by Prof. Kenneth Carpenter,
    Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Berkeley:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3528432

    The problem is that the advertising industry keeps repeating the same protein lies and
    the history is forgotten and has to be relearned. In the world of medical intervention in developing
    countries, the protein myth is old news. Consider this study of malnutrition in
    developing countries (published in 2000), there is not a single mention of protein in
    the whole 100+ page study. It’s simply not relevant. People are malnourished if they
    don’t get enough food or are fighting infections because of dirty water.

    http://www.ifpri.org/publication/explaining-child-malnutrition-developing-countries-0

    The weapon of choice to bring children back from the brink of death isn’t steak, but fortified peanut butter … plant protein. In the early stages, a LOW protein formulation is used, later as the child’s
    organs start to function better, a slightly higher level is used.

  3. AR

    I’ve been vegetarian for over 40 years (and also a farmer, willing to slaughter, and skin, stock for those keen on eating dead animals), and am happy to arm wrestle, lift & carry, or whatever macho claptrap is deemed necessary by the carnivore lobby to demonstrate fitness.
    I’m especially keen to try it in 20yrs time, if any shiteaters still exist.

  4. drsmithy

    During any five-year period only 783 of every 100,000 Cubans will battle cancer compared to 1835 Australians. Diet isn’t the whole story, but the Cubans eat double the fruit, far more veggies, almost twice as many cereals, a quarter the milk and a quarter the meat. It’s carbs, carbs and more carbs and their overweight and obesity rate is about half of ours. All that and not a single low-carb high hype protein bar in sight.

    How do the levels of physical activity compare ?

  5. Geoff Russell

    I don’t have any hard data … just guessing activity levels are higher. Cuba made conscious decisions to change its food supply over the past couple of decades … under extreme pressure caused by Soviet collapse and US sanctions. Calories from animal products plummeted and huge increases in fruit and veg. Heart disease rates dropped very quickly in response. Cancer has a much longer lead time so reflects long standing differences. Meat has always been at about a quarter of Australian levels, most
    of the drop in animal product calories came in reductions in dairy. Total calories in the
    food supply is almost identical to Australia … hence my guess that activity levels must
    be higher if obesity is half.

  6. drsmithy

    For comparison, do the new guidelines contain warnings about the risks of rabbit starvation (which can kill you) for people wacko enough to try living on lean meat? Of course not. So why did the guideline authors deliberately target for blanket warnings a diet which is demonstrably, on average, healthier than the Australian norm?

    I suspect it’s recognising that the number of people “wacko” enough to try living only on a diet of only lean meat is so close to zero it’s irrelevant, whereas the number of people prepared to try and live on a diet of lettuce and green tea (or something equally extreme on the vegetarian side) is not at all unheard of (even if the motivation is not specifically to avoid meat – eg: Anorexia).

    A properly nutritious and balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is more difficult to achieve (without artificial supplements) than an omnivorous one. This is particularly true for children and teenagers. It makes sense that any nutritional and dietary guidelines take that into account.

  7. Geoff Russell

    I’d agree it was more difficult to achieve good diet if there was ANY evidence that vegetarians lived shorter sicker lives. They don’t. So either 1) veggos are smarter, 2) leaving out meat makes a good diet easier to achieve for some weird reason or 3) some or all meat is bad for you. There is clear consensus now that processed meat is bad for you. There is very wide acceptance (but not consensus) that red meat causes bowel cancer and that most red and white meat causes heart disease because of its high saturated fat levels … which is why the Dietary Guidelines doesn’t have most of the red and white meat found in supermarkets in ANY of its food groups. It only has LEAN meat in its food groups and most supermarket meat, by volume sold, isn’t lean. Precise data on this is absent … nobody wants to know, my claim is based on the little numbers on the
    meat trays in Coles indicating how much of which meat is sold.

    The bottom line is that while it may be counterintuitive, leaving meat out of your diet makes a healthier
    diet easier.

    When I wrote my amino acid testing program I tested for 71 kg adult male requirements and for 8.1 kg female child requirements. It was EASIER to meet the amino acid requirments of the small girl. Children need to eat more energy dense foods for other nutrient requirements, but it isn’t for the protein.

  8. drsmithy

    I’d agree it was more difficult to achieve good diet if there was ANY evidence that vegetarians lived shorter sicker lives. They don’t. So either 1) veggos are smarter, 2) leaving out meat makes a good diet easier to achieve for some weird reason or 3) some or all meat is bad for you.

    Sorry, that doesn’t follow. I’ll also point out that you are conflating two extremely different conclusions in your #3 option.

    Vegetarianism – and especially veganism – is an explicit and active dietary choice. It rarely occurs naturally without an external constraint on dietary options. Someone making an explicit choice about their diet is typically going to do so in a positive manner – ie: they’re going to make an effort to “eat the right foods”. Anecdotally, I’ve never known a single vegetarian who simply stopped eating meat – they all explicitly went out and investigated what they needed to do to _healthily_ replace meat in their diet. A decade or more later – for the few who remained vegetarian – most of them have forgotten they ever went through the process and now make the necessary nutritional substitutions automatically.

    Or, to put it another way, the issue is not so much the conceited “veggos are smarter”, it’s that “veggos have made an explicit choice to change their diet, and like most other individuals who do that, they have tried to make it healthier”.

    Thus, a valid comparison is not “vegetarians and everyone else”, it’s “vegetarians and people who actively manage their diet”. How does the health and lifespan of vegetarian or vegan and omnivorous elite sportsmen and women compare ? Any significant differences ?

    Dietary Guidelines doesn’t have most of the red and white meat found in supermarkets in ANY of its food groups. It only has LEAN meat in its food groups and most supermarket meat, by volume sold, isn’t lean.

    Yet the evidence – including from several links already posted – suggest that if you are going to eat meat (and other animal products), lean meat is actually a worse choice.

    Let’s also not forget the “French Paradox” in this discussion. “Vegetarianism will solve your ills” is a ridiculously simplistic answer to an extremely complex and barely understood system.

  9. Geoff Russell

    “…several links already posted” where? The saturated fat theory has vast support at both the epidemiological level and the mechanistic level. Scientists understand the mechanisms of atherosclerosis pretty well.

    Here’s a nice case study of what can happen to a person on a high fat Atkins diet:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19559147

  10. drsmithy

    “…several links already posted” where?

    Your “rabbit starvation” link, I believe it was. I think I found a couple more searching along similar lines (lean meat vs fatty meat in the diet).

    The critical point, of course – as with most things – is moderation.

    (Not to mention simple enjoyment. Fatty foods taste better.)

    Here’s a nice case study of what can happen to a person on a high fat Atkins diet:

    It’s not freely accessible, and I’m not paying $30 for the sake of an internet argument.

    “Can” happen or “will” happen ? These are two very different outcomes.

    The Atkins diet has a pretty good record for enabling weight loss and maintaining ongoing weight control, which is a fairly critical part of overall health and quality of life. It’s hard to get out and do anything if you weigh 200kg+. Given two extremes of being an idle, obese vegetarian who lives to 80 and a fit Atkins-dieter who lives to 70, I’m sure most people would go for the latter (especially in the context of living for 80 years without cheese and bacon). Which is not to say there aren’t consequent risks, but they need to be taken in context and as part of a larger picture.

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