by Hannah Sutter
Just how much of your diet should be made up of carbohydrates and how much of fat? The long running advice that carbs should form the basis of a healthy balanced diet has recently been coming under heavy attack – here (Why demonising fat is daft) and here (Saturated fat is not the major issue) for instance. So is there any chance that official advice might change?
Unknown to all but a few experts, a government committee has been investigating this question for an astonishing five years. Hannah Sutter, an ex-corporate lawyer with a detailed knowledge of nutrition has been investigating that committee and has been appalled by what she has found.
About ten years ago for various personal reasons I became interested in the benefits of an Atkins-type low carbohydrate diet. I read a lot of research material, talked to many experts and became convinced that the advice to follow a low fat/high carbohydrate diet has been disastrous for our national health. I now run an organisation called Natural Ketosis which helps about 200 people a month follow a proper controlled low carbohydrate/high fat diet and I’ve seen dramatic health benefits as a result.
However I was always astounded at the apparent refusal of those supporting the classic low fat diet to consider the mounting evidence against it. So putting my investigative lawyer’s hat back on I set out to discover where in the government labyrinth this policy was monitored. This was how I discovered the little known Department of Health’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) which is overseen by the Food Standards Agency.
Since 2008 it has been leisurely considering just how much carbohydrate we should be getting. It meets every few months and the minutes of their meetings are available on line, although also not easy to find. For an ostensibly public body, you need to be pretty determined to find out about SACN’s activities and what I found was alarming.
I acknowledge my own prejudice but I believe I’m a good enough lawyer to be able to weigh up evidence impartially. I was amazed at the gaps in the expertise of the committee, their clear commercial interests and the way they evaluated evidence. All suggested that it was not fit to make an informed judgement about the benefits of a high or low carbohydrate diet.
Conflict of Interest
The first thing that jumped out from the data was that the majority of the members of this committee, directly or indirectly, receive income from companies that make money out of carbohydrates or low fat products, in which some or part of the fat is often replaced by a carbohydrate, usually sugar. Here is a table of members’ declared interests:
|Prof Tim Key||Veterinary medicine. Epidemiology||Vegan and vegetarian|
|Prof Julie Lovegrove||Nutritionist||GSK consultancy ;Unilever; Jordan Cereals; Sainsburys; Sugar Nutrtiion UK|
|Dr David Mela||Eating Behaviours||Employee and shareholder of Unilever|
|Prof Angus Walls||Dental Expert||GSK pay a consultancy fee and research funding|
|Prof Ian Young||Clinical pathologist||No interests declared|
|Prof Ian MacDonald||Metabolic physiology||Mars; Unilever; Coca Cola –research funding|
|Prof Ian Johnson||Nutritionist||Barry Callebaut (world’s largest chocolate manufacturer) – consultant|
It’s worth noting that this information is not easily available from just visiting the site. You have to hunt for it. The fact that a conflict of interest is declared does not delete the conflict.