Bloated Britain

Is our diet wreaking havoc on our health?

“A little of what you fancy does you good”, as the saying goes. But then there’s the contrary warning, “You can have too much of a good thing” and the somewhat more sinister, “You are what you eat”. TV cookery programmes have never been more popular, serving up multiple mouth-watering dishes from around the globe. But as scientists and dietary gurus provide a menu of what’s good and what’s bad, what should we be eating to maintain a healthy, balanced diet?

The government commissioned National Food Strategy’s independent report reckons Brits need to dramatically change what they eat, adding that the UK must switch the way it produces food to stop “terrible damage” to our health and to the environment.

And to curb widespread obesity and protect the already overstretched NHS, the report not only urges meals with more vegetables and fruit and less fat, sugar and salt, but also proposes a sugar and salt reformulation tax.

The income raised could be used to expand free school meals and support the diets of those living in deprived areas of Britain. It adds that Covid-19 has been a “painful reality check”, with high obesity rate a major factor in the UK’s death rate, and goes on to urge a better food system for our children and grandchildren.

This should include food education becoming central to the national curriculum, food standards being protected in future trade deals and investment in sustainable farming and new food technologies.

The report also states that by 2032 fruit and vegetable consumption will have to increase by 30%, with fibre going up by 50%, while food high in saturated fat, salt and sugar will have to drop by 25% and meat consumption reduce by 30%.  

To be fair to our celebrity chefs, many do prepare health-conscious dishes, at least some of the time. But it’s frequently the meals we choose for ourselves, including fast foods and the “Western-type diet,” characterised by high intakes of meat, fat and sugar, plus an increased amount of booze for many, that are linked to obesity and the consequent huge health risks. It isn’t all bad news.

A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) survey finds we are eating less white bread, with brown and wholemeal on the rise. We’re also drinking much less full fat milk – though recent studies reckon full fat might actually be healthier.

Consumption of red meat is down, too. High-end, so-called “nose-to-tail” restaurants do have their fans, but this seems not to have greatly influenced the mass market.

Remember liver? And tripe? Yuk! The number of vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians continues to rise, with a greater variety of fish being bought by British shoppers.

This could though be influenced by anxieties over declining stocks and the subsequent increased price of traditional British favourites like cod and haddock. Perhaps surprisingly, tea drinking is down, meaning maybe that fewer of us are sitting down for a nice “cuppa” – while deciding what to serve for dinner. 

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