Eat, drink, and never say diet

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The Independent Online
One nation's meat is another's poison, if official food and drink guidelines from around the world are anything to go by.

According to a new study comparing the dietary recommendations of 21 countries, few ever make the same suggestions, be they advice about eggs, or fat, or intake of salt.

The jolly-sounding but fiercely academic body, Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment (Arise), warns that the advice is contradictory, difficult to understand and can even be bad for you. Instead it proffers its own advice - a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

Professor David Warburton, of Reading University, said: "Enjoyment is the key to a better diet." Which is very good news for anyone attempting to work their way through the minefield of international guidelines.

There is, for instance, a seven-fold difference in the maximum recommended salt intake with Germany at 10g a day and the British Heart Foundation suggesting 1.6-6g. And there is a near 10-fold difference in the recommended maximum amounts of alcohol. Countries cannot even agree on what constitutes one "unit" of alcohol: it is 19.75 grams in Japan and 6.3 grams in Austria.

The World Health Organisation says not to eat more than 10 eggs a week while the UK Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (Coma) suggests just one is best, the report found.

When it comes to fat consumption, the dictum that less is best is also questioned. Of the 22 countries where life expectancy for men is 72 years or longer, seven consume low-fat diets and 15 consume high-fat foods.

"Dietary guidelines claim to be based on scientific evidence which does not recognise international boundaries, yet a comparison of guidelines around the world shows them to be so different as to seem arbitrary," Professor Warburton said.

The problem is compounded by the fact that governmental agencies are trying to encourage us to eat less or more of this or that yet we are all different.

Evidence is emerging that adult dietary advice is being applied uncritically to children with potentially disastrous consequences, the study concludes. Restricting fat consumption in children inhibits growth, delays puberty and may even be contributing to growing numbers of malnourished babies.

"Fortunately, eminent voices are expressing their dissent and questioning the wisdom of applying dietary guidelines across populations, especially to women, children and the elderly."

Professor Warburton, director of human psychopharmacology at Reading investigating the brain, drugs and behaviour, said high levels of consumption of any one dietary constituent were unhealthy, but safe limits could not be prescribed for the individual.

The key was enjoyment of life rather than a "morbid preoccupation with death," he said.

Scientific studies show that enjoyment both promotes and protects good health. "The biological reason for this is that pleasure cuts the production of stress hormones and strengthens the immune system, leading to greater resistance to infections and disease.

"People often deny themselves the things they enjoy, such as a nice meal, a glass of wine, a cup of coffee, a cigarette ... in the belief that this will make them healthier. Very often, however, illness is not caused by what we eat, but what we do not enjoy. People should introduce variety into a balanced diet. Variety really is the spice of life."

Arise was founded after he and colleagues in the fields of medicine, physiology and psychology realised that if you keyed the word "pleasure" into available medical data, scarcely anything emerged. Yet 43 per cent of people said they would enjoy themselves more if they did not feel so guilty about it.

However, Dr Michele Sadler of the British Nutrition Foundation warned against dispensing with dietary wisdom altogether. "The advice that is given in a particular country will be relevant to that country," she said.