The Eatwell plate was a visual guide, in pie-chart form, of the government’s recommended intakes of specified food groups. The chart remained largely unchanged for 20 years. But in October 2014, Public Health England announced that it would update the plate in the light of new recommendations on sugar and fibre from the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.
Following the announcement, Kremlin Wickramasinghe and I wrote an article for The Conversation arguing that the Eatwell plate actually needed a complete overhaul. We argued that the food groups shown in the plate should be revised, that healthier and less healthy foods within food groups should be identified and very unhealthy foods should not be shown at all. In addition, the angles of the segments of the plate – showing how much of each of the food groups we should eat – should be changed and the environmental sustainability of foods as well as their healthiness should be taken into account.
In March 2016, PHE finally launched an updated Eatwell plate – now called the Eatwell Guide.
So did Public Health England (PHE) take up our recommendations? In some ways, yes. PHE has slightly revised the food groups and they have stopped showing very unhealthy foods (the old Eatwell plate infamously displayed a can of cola). They have commissioned some calculations on the environmental sustainability of the Eatwell Guide diet and it’s certainly an improvement. But most importantly they have changed the angles of the segments of the pie chart to take into account all of the government’s nutrient recommendations – not only the new recommendations on sugar and fibre, but also all the old recommendations for, in particular, fat, saturated fat and salt.
In 2014 we also suggested that the segment for meat, fish and alternatives needed to be smaller than it had been because of the growing evidence for the detrimental effects of meat consumption on health, particularly red and processed meat. But in this we were wrong. It was 12% of the pie in the old Eatwell plate and is still 12% of the pie in the new Eatwell Guide. Twelve percent turns out to be correct because, while we do indeed need to cut down on meat more than we thought 20 years ago, we also need to compensate for that reduction and get our protein from vegetarian alternatives such as beans and pulses. A fifth of our current diet comes from meat, fish and alternatives, so the new Eatwell Guide indicates we still need to reduce that consumption by nearly a half.
All the other angles of the pie chart have changed. The fruit and vegetable segment has increased from 33% to 39%. The bread, other cereals and potatoes segment has increased from 33% to 37%. The fatty and sugary foods segment has been reduced from 8% to 4%. And, controversially, the segment representing milk and dairy foods has nearly halved – from 15% to 8%.