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Food Pyramid a recipe for deficiency

Press Release September 12, 2005

Food Pyramid a recipe for deficiency

The New Zealand Food Pyramid is out-dated and doesn’t meet essential dietary needs, according to a top international nutritionist.

Diets based on the Pyramid may not provide adequate amounts of four fat-soluble nutrients – omega 3, omega 6, vitamin D and vitamin E, said Bill Shrapnel speaking at the New Zealand Dietetic Association (NZDA) conference last week.

“The concept of the Food Pyramid was created in Australia in the early 1970’s as ‘fat phobia’ began to dominate nutritional thinking. Nutritionists forgot that some fat is necessary in the diet to provide essential nutrients” said Mr Shrapnel.

His study showed surprising results – many ‘healthy’ low-fat diets based on fruit, vegetables, cereals, lean meats and low-fat dairy products were lacking in omega 3 and 6 and vitamins D and E.

“The low level of omega 3 and 6 in these diets was a particular concern as these nutrients have been scientifically shown to promote heart and circulatory health. Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and vitamin E is an important antioxidant in the body,” he said.

In Mr Shrapnel’s study, butter, various margarines and olive oil were added to the low fat diets to test their effects on levels of these nutrients.

“Sunflower oil-based margarine proved to have the best combination of omega 3 and 6, vitamin D and vitamin E. Just 25 grams of sunflower spread a day will ensure that most of these nutrient needs are met for women, men need a little more. Canola oil-based margarine performed fairly well, but was still low in essential omega 6,” Mr Shrapnel said.

“Olive oil and butter performed relatively poorly. To meet your dietary recommendations for omega 3 and 6 and vitamins D and E from olive oil or butter you have to eat quite a lot of them, which means eating a lot of fat. When it comes to fats we need quality, not quantity,” he said.

New Zealanders need advice on how to obtain these important nutrients, without eating too much fat, and a review of the Food Pyramid would help, Mr Shrapnel said.

The answer, he said, is for food guides to include a new food group called ‘healthy fats’ that includes margarines, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. These foods are generally rich in the essential nutrients, omega 3 and 6 and vitamins D and E, but relatively low in the ‘bad’ saturated fats.

“It must be clearly communicated that some fat in our diet is essential and healthy fats in the right quantity should be consumed on a daily basis, he said.

Leading Auckland dietitian Jeni Pearce agrees the NZ Food Pyramid is out of date and misleading. Ms Pearce said the Ministry of Health has contacted the NZ Heart Foundation to conduct a review.

Ms Pearce said the new food guide in the United States includes healthy fats and this is an example we could we follow.


Note to editors:

The NZDA conference will be held at Ellerslie Convention Centre from 7-9 September.

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