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Big Fat Lies
Government Diet Advice – Big Fat Lies?

Is the diet and healthy eating advice given by the government making us fat? Hannah Sutter, author of Big Fat Lies thinks so. Here, Dietitian Juliette Kellow looks at Hannah’s book and tells us if our diet advice is right.

Is the Diet Advice from the Government Big Fat Lies?

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

Is the government really responsible for making us fat? Is the diet and healthy eating advice they give us stopping our weight loss? Dietitian Juliette Kellow delves deeper into Hannah Sutter’s Big Fat Lies, the latest food book to catch the attention of slimmers and healthy eaters alike…

According to Hannah Sutter, author of Big Fat Lies: Is Your Government Making You Fat?, us Brits are the victims of some of the worst diet advice in history. Quite simply, she says, current healthy eating advice recommended by the government is doing nothing to slim down our waistlines, and in fact, is actually making us fatter.

The key areas she has issue with are at the very heart of the diet advice given by most health professionals to help us lose weight, that is

  • take in fewer calories
  • eat more starchy foods
  • cut down on saturates
  • do more exercise.

If you want to find out how many calories you need to lose weight, and see if you’re eating a healthy balanced diet, try the food diary and nutrition tools in Weight Loss Resources - free for 24hrs.

Hannah Sutter’s statements on diet advice are certainly controversial in light of the fact that around six out of 10 of us are currently overweight or obese and therefore putting our health at risk. But Sutter argues that the nation’s weight problem really only began when the government started promoting it’s current healthy eating guidelines.

The result: the government has actually made us fat! So with such strong accusations, we take a look at Sutter’s main beliefs and see whether we should be concerned.

Big Fat Lie 1 – Eat Less

Is the advice to eat less – especially to eat fewer calories – wrong? Hannah Sutter thinks so. She claims that as a nation, we are already taking in fewer calories now than we were in the 1970’s, yet we are fatter. Dietitian Juliette Kellow looks at the claims and determines if the backbone of weight loss advice (to eat less calories) is wrong…

Big Fat Lie 2 – Eat a diet according to the Eatwell plate

Sutter is not a fan of the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) Eatwell Plate – a visual image at the centre of current healthy eating advice. It shows a plate divided into various food groups, indicating the types of food we should be eating the most (and least) of. Is she right to disregard healthy diet advice based on the Eatwell Plate? Juliette Kellow takes a look…

Big Fat Lie 3 – Get active and exercise more

Sutter strongly argues that exercise doesn’t help with weight loss (although she recognises it has other health benefits and says it’s an excellent tool for weight maintenance). She says that most people would struggle with the government's current guidelines. We look at the benefits of exercise when dieting and take on Hannah’s opinion…

Should Sutter be giving diet advice?

Well let’s start with the facts. Hannah Sutter is not a nutritionist or a scientist or a doctor. She is, in fact, an ex-lawyer. This, if nothing else, means she’s very good at putting forward a compelling argument and bringing people around to her way of thinking.

Interestingly, Sutter comes across as having sufficient dietary knowledge to single-handedly dismiss decades of scientific research and healthy eating advice recommended by government’s throughout the Western World. It therefore seems strange that she needed a nutritionist to help her write the nutrition section of her book as outlined in her acknowledgments.

Whilst Sutter does a very good job at pulling to pieces the credentials of the scientists who work on putting together healthy eating advice for the nation, she conveniently gives little acknowledgment to the fact that she runs a ‘diet’ company called Go Lower.

This company offers a weight loss programme based on a home-delivery low-carb diet. Sign up to the plan, which costs between £7.23 and £10 a day, and you get low-carb ready meals delivered to your door. For someone who argues that cutting calories won’t help you lose weight, it’s interesting to see that the meals advertised on her website are incredibly low in calories – of the five lunches on the website the calories range from 78 to 195 calories, whilst the 16 dinners range from just 91 to 365 calories.

If you follow the advice in her book, to lose weight each day you should eat just meat, fish, eggs or other protein with one handful of berries, one handful of green veg (except peas), two handfuls of nuts or seeds, and one glass of full-fat milk. It’s unlikely that such a diet would include more than 1,200 calories!

In reality, lawyers are experts at creating a case to suit their client. In this case, the lawyer and the client are one and the same: the client is promoting a range of low-carb meals and the lawyer is providing a case for them by suggesting that carbs are the enemy, and calorie counting and exercising are a waste of time.

Should the client have decided to launch a range of high-carb, fibre-rich foods, it’s likely that the lawyer would have dug deep and provided just as compelling an argument to defend them – although it wouldn’t have had quite the same impact on the public.

Is the government’s advice wrong?

One question that remains unanswered – and indeed isn’t even touched upon – is what benefit is there to be had by the government recommending a diet that will actually make us obese and therefore at risk of numerous health problems?

There seems to be no logical reason for the government to issue guidelines that put additional pressure on an already overworked healthcare system by encouraging us to eat a diet that results in illness and effectively pushes us into hospital beds! Also, surely we have to ask ourselves, are major healthcare organisations such as Diabetes UK, the Food Standards Agency, the British Dietetic Association and the NHS all wrong in the advice they give for eating a healthy diet?

As Sutter points out, you, as members of the public, are the jury – the accused is the government for promoting what decades of research suggests is a healthy balanced diet. In our opinion the verdict is not guilty. But ultimately, it’s up to you to pass your verdict by choosing what you put into your shopping trolley.

Here’s what the experts say:

Andrew Wadge

Chief Scientist for the Food Standards Agency

“Despite the absurdity of Hannah Sutter’s proclamation in Saturday’s Daily Mail, that government advice to ‘exercise more and eat fewer calories’ is making people fat, I felt I had to respond. She claims that our advice to base meals on carbohydrates isn’t right for the sedentary lifestyles we lead today. She explains exactly how the white rice, pasta and bread we are filling up on is converted into fat around our middles, whilst providing very little in the way of nutrients. Well yes, if we stuff ourselves with pasta and don’t take any exercise, then of course we’ll put on weight. Any energy that we take in – not just that from carbohydrates – will be stored as fat if we don’t burn it off. That’s why we recommend people eat less and move more. The problem is that people aren’t eating the right amount of food for how active they are. However, I should also point out that we advise people to choose wholegrain over refined carbohydrates, because they contain more nutrients and provide a slower energy release,”

He added, “Interestingly, the Mail failed to point out that Hannah Sutter, a lawyer and not a scientist by trade, has a vested interest in this subject – she has her own website selling a weight loss programme based on the theory of ketosis. This is yet another example of a fad diet that won’t lead to established healthy eating habits because it’s unrealistic and difficult to stick to for any length of time. Government advice to eat a healthy balanced diet based on a range of foods, in roughly the right proportions, is however realistic for the long-term. I’m surprised that Ms Sutter didn’t consider that perhaps it’s the people who aren’t following government advice are ones who are getting fatter.”

Spokesperson

for the Department of Health

“Obesity is one of the biggest health challenges we face and it is wrong to suggest Government advice on healthy eating and exercise is misleading the public. The Government recommends that in order to maintain a healthy weight, adults should eat a healthy, balanced diet and do at least 30 minutes of physical activity, five times a week. As part of the Government's strategy to reduce obesity, we are promoting healthier food choices and helping to raise public awareness of the importance of maintaining an appropriate energy balance – including energy in and energy out. The Government's Change4Life campaign is an internationally recognised strategy that has kick-started a lifestyle revolution to help every family eat well, move more and live longer. The latest evidence suggests childhood obesity rates may be levelling off.”

Catherine Collins

Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association

“The Mediterranean-style of eating has proved over the last 50 years or so to be the nutritional blueprint to keep us in good health and also protect us from chronic disease. Of all the foods recommended to eat as part of a healthy Med-style diet, fruits, vegetables, and cereals – all carbohydrate-based – make up the largest proportion. Whilst its right to highlight that an excess of calories – from carbs or not – will lead to weight gain, it is wrong to suggest that the metabolic rate of carbs means that weight gain is inevitable. This is simply not true as many research articles focussing on carb-rich, fat-rich or protein-rich weight-reducing diets have shown. Some carbs will release their energy slowly to curb appetites and their contribution to the dinner plate can offset other calorie-dense foods such as meat, cheese and other fat-containing foods. They also provide the main source of dietary fibre in the diet, both the roughage type, and the gel-type that’s associated with cholesterol lowering. It may well be that some of us enjoy too many carbs and so gain weight – that extra slice of French bread, a toasted panini instead of a 2-slice sandwich, etc. But it’s not the fault of carb-rich foods – it’s our interpretation of what an average serving is, or how many portions we should have each day,”

She continued, “Whenever we review dietary opinion it needs to be put into context, which this book has failed to do. It’s right to suggest that perhaps we enjoy our carbs too much, but wrong to imply that they are the main cause of increasing obesity levels in the UK.”

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More Info

The Food Standards Agency – find out what current government diet advice is, and take a look for yourself at the Eatwell Plate.

British Nutrition Foundation – Healthy eating, diet and nutrition information and resources.

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