Agenda: Making small diet changes now can support a healthier future

IT seems as though diet and nutrition experts have been debating the definition of “healthy eating” for decades. In truth, however, the composition of a healthy balanced diet has remained broadly the same for years.

Whilst our advice has not changed much, the global food system has evolved exponentially. The days are largely gone when our grannies would cook everything from scratch, wasting nothing to create the heart-warming home-cooked meals we remember so well decades later. While it would be great to see these bygone days return, the truth is, it’s not likely. We have to accept that times have changed and that most of us are time-poor with a multitude of competing priorities.

However, we do know that Scotland’s diet remains poor. Our dietary goals have, for the most part, have been missed for more than 20 years. With 66 per cent adults over 16 living with overweight or obesity and 30% of children at risk of being overweight or obesity, something has to change.

Even pre-pandemic, the consequences of Scotland’s diet and associated health outcomes were well known. It’s something which we at Food Standards Scotland are acutely aware of and have been working with stakeholders and partners since our creation in 2016 to change. What has become all too clear though is that our combined efforts are yet to have the desired impact.

The environment in which we live our lives has a huge impact on the food and drink choices we make – making it harder to make healthy choices.

These impacts are also felt by us in different ways. We face different pressures, have different likes and dislikes, as well as financial and social situations. What we need is a new approach, one that moves away from the “all-or-nothing”.

The overriding message from research, conducted by FSS with practitioners and consumers, is that there is a strong appetite for dietary guidelines based on accepted fundamental principles and taking a different tack. It’s about taking small steps now and building on these to encourage a healthier future.

Making small changes is the central theme of a new campaign FSS launched this week which focuses on a new online guide, Eat Well, Your Way.

Offering simple, practical advice on how to encourage a healthier diet, Eat Well, Your Way can provide a realistic way to help people work towards new healthier food goals.

As a parent I know how tricky it can be to make sure our kids are eating as well as possible and it can be difficult to limit the number of sweet treats they have. This was definitely put to the test over the last two years when many of us were stuck at home working, home schooling and keeping youngsters occupied.

But if you have something every day, or multiple times each day, can it really be classed a treat?

It’s time to take stock of where we are in relation to our diet and health. It’s clear than making drastic changes to our diet can be unsustainable and counterproductive in the long run. However, making small changes now could be the way forward.

Dr Gillian Purdon is Head of Diet and Nutrition at Food Standards Scotland

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