Consumers confused about healthy dietsSome don't know what 'five a day' can include

17 September 2007

Consumers are confused about what makes up a healthy, balanced diet, according to the official food watchdog.

Conflicting messages from different weight-loss diets could be one reason behind this, according to the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

Many people do not realise it is important to eat lots of starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta.

Five a day

And there is confusion over which products do and do not count towards the target "five a day" intake of fruit and vegetables.

Only 11% of people correctly said it was important to eat lots of starchy foods, an FSA survey of 2,094 people found.

Just 45% of respondents realised that tinned fruit and vegetables count towards the "five a day".

Similarly, only 54% correctly said frozen fruit and vegetables could be "five a day" portions and only 53% realised dried fruit could be part of the target intake.

Nearly three quarters (73%) recognised the importance of eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

But 19% wrongly thought eating plenty of fruit and veg could "outweigh" the consumption of fatty, sugary foods.

Fat and sugar

More than half (58%) realised that foods high in fat and sugar should only be eaten occasionally.

The FSA has re-designed the image it uses to show what makes up a healthy diet for the first time since 1994 in order to make it clearer.

The recommended intake of different food groups has not changed. But the newly designed "eatwell plate" uses photos of different foods and renames some food groups.

FSA head of nutrition Rosemary Hignett said consumers ought to know the proportions of each food group needed for a healthy balanced diet.

'It's not a 10-minute fad. It's a diet for life that we know will help reduce the number of diet-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers which are on the rise in the UK,' she said.

Balanced diet

'This is about a simple, straightforward approach that allows us to enjoy a varied diet that includes foods from all groups.'

According to the FSA, potatoes do not count towards the target "five a day" portions of fruit and vegetables although a serving of mushy peas or baked beans does.

A healthy, balanced diet should be made up of around one third fruit and vegetables; one third bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods; 15% milk and dairy foods; 12% meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein; and just 8% food and drink high in fat or sugar.

These proportions relate to ongoing diet rather than having to be met with every meal, the FSA says.

The eatwell plate will be available for consumers to download from the FSA's website.

Its predecessor - called the "balance of good health" is used by dieticians, nutritionists, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence and a range of other organisations, as an explanatory tool.

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