Mark Twain once said, “The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not”. It’s probably not a bad maxim to live by. We are constantly bombarded with competing advice. Eat this, don’t eat that. Fat is good, fat is bad. Low carb, no carb, no food at all.

It is no wonder that many of us find it difficult to know what we should eat. The recent weeks have seen a glut of stories about diet and lifestyle. The once held belief that fat is bad may actually not be as accurate as first thought according to new research by the British Medical Journal. Are they right? What should we be eating?

 FAT

In 2011, a Queensland based group found no evidence that a low fat diet had any impact on reducing cholesterol. No studies could be found proving something we’ve often advised our patients to do.

In 2012, a group based at the University of East Anglia found that changing the fat you eat has a small impact on risk of developing heart disease. The take home message – unsaturated fats are best, so go for vegetable oils rather than animal fats, but less fat makes no difference.

 CARBS AND SUGAR

Low glycaemic-index diets have been shown to improve glucose control in people with diabetes. These are diets that cause a slow, steady rise in blood sugar, rather than a spike. Think brown rice or pasta, rather than a bar of chocolate. Low GI diets have not been shown to have much of an impact on people with pre-existing heart disease.

SALT

A diet low in added salt can help lower blood pressure, but we don’t know if this will help you live longer.

EXERCISE
It may come as no surprise that diet and exercise can help people lose weight after childbirth. Regular exercise and a “healthy diet”, whatever that might be, can help prevent diabetes in high risk groups.

WEIGHT LOSS

Weight loss has been shown to help treat high blood pressure, but we’re not sure by how much. Despite that, it’s well worth a try. Losing weight might help improve a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver, but the jury is still out.

GO MEDITERRANEAN

The most compelling evidence comes from studies looking at the Mediterranean diet. By that I don’t mean a kebab and cerveza. A diet low in saturated fats, with a little bit of red wine, plenty of legumes (or beans to you and me), with grains, cereals, fruit and veg. Low meat, but high on the fish, and moderate amounts of dairy products. Sometimes it’s not easy going for a sardine salad when the drive-through is calling, but so far, that’s the best advice.

In short, a balanced diet and regular exercise are the order of the day. Now where have I heard that before?

Image Rights; Stephen Depolo

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About the author

Dr Matt Piccaver

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GP, writer and occasional TV doctor, I can be either found behind my desk at my surgery, or spending time with my children. In the rare hours I have to myself, I can be spending time lifting big lumps of metal and shouting, or weight lifting as it's otherwise known.