Diet advice dismissed by food industry: Proposed guidelines on nutrition branded 'confused and misguided'

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GOVERNMENT proposals for a national diet which includes three 'egg-sized' potatoes daily and three boiled sweets each week were dismissed by the food industry and some nutritional experts yesterday as confused and misguided.

The draft guidelines to be published next month by the Department of Health are seen as a last-ditch attempt to persuade a nation of 'couch potatoes' to change their eating habits.

Previous advice to eat less fat, more fruit, fibre and complex carbohydrates has fallen on deaf ears. An estimated 20 million adults in the UK are overweight and 6 million are obese, according to a report from the Office of Health Economics last month. Obesity among men has risen by 50 per cent in 8 years.

More specific directions are seen as the answer, such as a recommendation that consumption of cheese sandwiches be cut from two or three a week to one or two. A daily biscuit limit of one or two instead of three or four is advised, but only one can of a sugary drink each week and three-quarters of a small bar of chocolate is advised.

The Government panel of nutritional experts would also like to see people use just enough butter to spread on three and a half slices of bread, rather than the typical seven each week. However, bread consumption should go up 50 per cent from 3 slices daily at present to 4.5 slices. Sugar and preserves should be cut by 5 per cent and cream consumption from one tablespoon each week to a half.

Instead of eating two to three portions of vegetables each day, people should be eating four, plus two pieces of fruit. Fish portions should rise from one and a half to two a week.

But the proposals, which have been circulated throughout the food industry, were attacked yesterday by Dr Michael Baxendine, a health adviser with United Biscuits, one of the country's biggest food producers. 'The guidelines are confused. They mix non-existent science with mainline thought,' he said. 'Basically I don't believe they will do anything to help people to select a good diet. People don't respond well to prescriptive advice.'

Dr Baxendine agreed many people needed guidance and education on what to eat, but said 'persuasion' was the most effective means.

The Food and Drink Federation disputed the scientific basis for some proposals, and criticised the decision to come up with specific intake targets. If acted upon, the targets could cause cuts and job losses in the food industry.

But the department defended the guidelines, drawn up by its Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food. 'We can't tell people what to eat and what not to eat . . . Our food selection guide is based on up-to-date scientific evidence and provides broad guidelines from which people can make informed choices.'

Safe drinking levels may be increased following a review of the current recommended limits by a government panel. Recent research which shows that moderate alcohol consumption - particularly of red wine - may protect against heart disease has lead to criticism that current limits - about 21 glasses of wine a week for men - are too restrictive.