What's more, it is not obvious that the problem will worsen.
Shoppers' behaviour suggests the opposite. It is not just the flight from carbohydrates prompted by the Atkins diet; there is a broader shift going on. Britain, the world's biggest chocolate-eater, seems to be going off the stuff.
Companies are edging away from fattening foods. That's down to a half. The rest is mostly juice. Supermarkets say that people are buying healthier food.
Sales of fruit and vegetables are growing faster than overall sales, too. That may be partly because fresh produce is getting more various, more is available all year round and better supply boosts demand.
Five years ago Tesco stocked six or seven varieties of tomato. Now it stocks The spread of big supermarkets, which offer better produce than the mouldy stuff at the corner shop, may improve diets. A study carried out by the University of Southampton on a big new supermarket in a poor part of Leeds concluded that after it opened, two-thirds of those with the worst diets ate more fruit and vegetables. McDonalds, which introduced fruit salad a year ago, has sold 10m portions since. But it isn't just eating too much fatty stuff that makes people fat. It's indolence, too.
That may be changing. Gym membership figures suggest that more Britons at least intend to get off their sofas. According to Mintel, a market-research company, there were 3. So why isn't all this virtue showing up in the figures? Richard McKenzie is the Walter B. His most recent strictly academic books include Predictably Rational?
Perhaps reducing fat in the diet might lead to an increase in carbohydrates, they suggested. In fact, this is precisely what happened. Grains, pasta, rice and potatoes replaced meat, cheese, and eggs on dinner plates. Breakfasts of eggs and fried kippers ceded to bowls of cereal and orange juice. The British now eat 46 per cent less saturated fat than they did in Meanwhile, UK authorities recommended that two-thirds of calories should come from carbohydrates. The problem, as researchers have suggested since the s, is that carbohydrates are uniquely fattening.
Meanwhile, fructose, the main sugar in fruit, causes the liver to generate triglycerides and other lipids in the blood that are altogether bad news. Excessive carbohydrates lead not only to obesity but also, over time, to Type 2 diabetes and, very likely, heart disease. The best possible science from the past decade now indicates that too many carbs overall — even of the supposedly healthy, whole-grain kind — increase the risk of these diseases compared with a diet low in carbohydrates.
In other words, too much whole-grain cereal for breakfast and whole-grain pasta for dinner, with fruit snacks in between, add up to a less healthy diet than one of eggs and sausage, followed by fish. And scientists are now exploring the idea that sugar might have a particularly toxic effect. Here again, a British scientist led the fight against Keys.
In the early s, John Yudkin, a professor of physiology at Queen Elizabeth College, first posited that sugar might cause obesity and other diseases. Keys, ever alert to any challenges to his own hypothesis, jumped on Yudkin and repeatedly attacked him in scientific journals.
Remarkably, it turned out that a reanalysis of the Seven Countries Study data many years later found that sugar intake correlated better with heart-disease risk than any other nutrient. Despite half-a-billion pounds spent trying to prove his hypothesis, the evidence of its health benefits has never been produced.
Meanwhile, rates of obesity and diabetes are rising and heart disease remains a leading cause of death. And if alternative ideas are to be considered, nutrition science must, like any science, provide an open, civil and unbiased climate for genuine debate. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Want to discuss real-world problems, be involved in the most engaging discussions and hear from the journalists? Start your Independent Premium subscription today. Independent Premium Comments can be posted by members of our membership scheme, Independent Premium.
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