Sunday 11 December 2016

Humble spud will be downgraded under new healthy eating guidelines

Published 18/06/2016 | 02:30

Carbohydrates, including potatoes, will be overtaken for the first time by fruit and vegetable as the recommended biggest staple of our daily diet
Carbohydrates, including potatoes, will be overtaken for the first time by fruit and vegetable as the recommended biggest staple of our daily diet

The humble potato - for generations our staple food - is being downgraded in the new national guide to a balanced diet.

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The food pyramid is set for a major overhaul based on old and new science.

Carbohydrates including bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals will be overtaken for the first time by fruit and vegetable as the recommended biggest staple of our daily diet.

The changes - drawn up by the Department of Health - will feature in a new updated basis for healthy nutrition to be launched as part of the national obesity action plan next month.

The pyramid suggests the correct amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals we should be eating daily to maintain good health.

The last food pyramid- which is divided into six shelves - was produced in 2010 (pictured). It placed carbohydrates, a good source of nutrients and fibre, at the bottom shelf level. This meant it was the food group we could eat most of in the day.

It could comprise six or more servings of energy-providing carbohydrates such as porridge, potatoes, pasta, brown bread and rice.

However, under the new guide, this highest bulk group will be replaced by fruit and vegetables, Minister of State for Health Promotion Marcella Corcoran Kennedy told the Irish Independent.

Instead, we will be advised to cut carbohydrates to around five or more portions a day.

The top shelf of the pyramid currently features foods we should limit to one serving a day such as ice cream or chocolate as they can be high in fat, sugar and salt. The next layer we should restrict to small amounts are spreads like butter.

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts should be restricted to two servings a day. The advice is to limit milk, yogurt and cheese to three servings a day.

The guidelines will emphasise the importance of limiting portion sizes.

Commenting on the planned changes Prof Ivan Perry, Professor of Public Health in UCC, said he welcomed the greater emphasis on fruit and vegetables. "They are convincingly linked with better health in terms of prevention of disease like cancer," he said.

"We all need to eat more and they have fewer calories so we are less inclined to put on weight if we are consuming them. Food pyramids in all countries are a compromise between science, the Government and food sector. The idea that they are purely based on nutritional science is not true.

"We have a strong beef and dairy industry and that is always going to influence the food pyramid."

He said eating guides in different countries have to reflect cultural preferences.

Potatoes are a rich source of carbohydrates, vitamin C, some B vitamins and trace minerals.

They are healthiest when boiled or baked. But they are no longer an essential ingredient of our daily dinner and face competition from pasta and rice.

Our expanding waistlines have left Ireland as one of the worst countries in Europe for obesity. Some 66pc of men and over half of women are classed as overweight or obese.

Irish Independent

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