- Experts have accused the slimming industry of exaggerating dietary myths
- Limiting amount we eat and not focusing on quality doesn’t help, they say
- We should also lose our fear of fats – some of which can be good for us
Counting calories does more harm than good, experts warn today.
In a damning analysis of decades of dietary advice, doctors say we have been misled about the best way to stay healthy.
We should focus on the content of our food, rather than how much of it we eat, say cardiologists, and we need to lose our fear of fats – some of which can be good for us.
The experts, writing in the BMJ journal Open Heart today, say that existing advice has been so bad that it has contributed to Britain’s obesity crisis.
They write: ‘It is time to stop counting calories, and time to instead promote good nutrition and dietary changes that can rapidly and substantially reduce cardiovascular mortality.’
The NHS advises women to eat no more than 2,000 calories a day and men to consume no more than 2,500.
But the authors, led by cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, of Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey, say that focusing on these arbitrary limits has actually encouraged people to eat junk food.
A low-fat yogurt, for example, contains fewer calories than a full-fat version – but far more sugar, a major cause of obesity and heart disease.
The authors accuse the slimming industry and food manufacturers of exaggerating dietary myths. Simply limiting the amount we eat, rather than focusing on the quality, does not help people stay healthy.
‘Weight-loss interventions are rarely sustained,’ they write.
‘Long-term follow-up studies reveal that the majority of individuals regain virtually all of the weight that was lost during treatment, irrespective of whether they maintain their diet or exercise programme.
Simply limiting the amount we eat, rather than focusing on the quality, does not help people stay healthy, doctors say
‘Shifting the focus away from calories and emphasising a dietary pattern that focuses on food quality rather than quantity will help to rapidly reduce obesity, related diseases, and cardiovascular risk.
‘The evidence indeed supports the mantra that “food can be the most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”.’
The intervention adds to growing doubts about decades-old advice that saturated fat is bad for you.
A PINT OF WATER BEFORE MEALS HELPS YOU SLIM
Drinking a pint of water before each meal could be the key to losing weight, according to research.
Obese adults who drank 500ml of water half an hour before every meal had less appetite so lost an average of 9lb 8oz (4.3kg) over 12 weeks. Slimmers who did not try the trick lost just 6lb 10oz (3kg).
The University of Birmingham said the simple method could be hugely beneficial, and easily promoted by healthcare professionals and through public health campaigns.
Researcher Dr Helen Parretti said: ‘The beauty of these findings is in the simplicity. Just drinking a pint of water, three times a day, before your main meals may help reduce your weight.
‘When combined with brief instructions on how to increase your amount of physical activity and on a healthy diet, this helps people to achieve some extra weight loss – at a moderate and healthy rate.’
A recent study found that people who ate saturated fat in butter or cream were no more likely to have an early death than anyone else.
The authors of the new paper also point to the results of clinical trials which showed that low-calorie diets were not associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular death.
Dr Malhotra, who wrote the editorial with Professor Simon Capewell of Liverpool University and James DiNicolantonio, of St Luke’s Hospital in Kansas, said calorie-restricted diets did not take into account the quality of the food people were eating.
Instead, people should eat a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in oily fish, olive oil and nuts.
And they say some fats – which are packed with calories – can have a beneficial effect on the heart.
Dr Malhotra said last night: ‘I think the current dietary advice has been a major contributory factor in the obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic.
‘I have concerns that vested interests have sadly had an influence on the scientific and medical advice.
‘Our parents and grandparents did not count calories – and there was no obesity.’
Dr Louis Levy, of Public Health England, said: ‘The overwhelming evidence tells us that we need to reduce calories to lose weight and calorie counting remains one of a number of useful tools to achieve this.
‘We also need to eat more fruit, vegetables, oily fish and fibre and cut back on sugar, salt and saturated fat in the diet to improve our health.’