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The EatWell Guide is the one we see pinned up at our GP surgeries, a pie chart indicating how to divide up the different types of foods we eat. It’s designed to promote a balanced diet that prevents heart disease and stroke, but the new version has nutrition experts claiming it could actually be increasing your risk of brittle bones.
Brittles bones – otherwise known as osteoporosis – are a silent epidemic among our ageing population. While everyone knows the risks of heart attacks and strokes, fewer people are aware of the risks of osteoporosis. More than half of post-menopausal women have it, and the Osteoporosis Society reports that one in four who suffer a broken femur (thigh bone) will die within 12 months.
The updated EatWell Guide, released in March 2016, gives equal weight to fresh produce and carbohydrates, but emphasises a reduced intake of dairy products. Things like cheese and whole milk are full of fat that can contribute towards heart attacks and strokes, but they’re also full of calcium that our bones need.
This is especially true after the menopause, when reduced levels of oestrogen accelerate the breakdown of bone tissue. It’s one of the reasons that women are at far greater risk of osteoporosis than men. One in five men over 50 will break a bone at some point, but as many as one in two women in the same age category will be affected.
Nutritional expert Helen Nichols argues that a woman’s risk of osteoporosis is far greater than her risk of heart disease or stroke, and that the new EatWell Guide’s ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t take into account the different dietary requirements of men and women:
“As a ‘one-size’ piece of advice, it’s pretty good. But cutting down on dairy products wouldn't be good advice for, say, a woman who is slim, doesn't smoke, and doesn't have heart disease or diabetes in her family. The dairy in her diet will be helping her use fat-soluble vitamins, helping her build the insulation for her nerve pathways, and most importantly giving her calcium to slow bone loss.”
She continues: “The truth is that dietary advice all depends on who you are, and in an ideal world would be fitted around the individual’s particular circumstances. Unfortunately, advice has to be pitched at the ‘standard human being’.”
”Limiting dairy and animal fats is essential for those with a high risk of heart attack and stroke, dubious advice for those without those risks, and probably very bad advice for those at risk of developing osteoporosis later in life. But that's still being studied.”
If you’re concerned about getting enough calcium in your diet, a dietary consultation can help you pinpoint ways to achieve this and get the more tailored approach you need, including the introduction of supplements to your daily intake.
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