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Nutrition is in crisis and the new Academy won’t help

Nutrition science is in a crisis, with “evidence” confusing the public as much as it does conventional nutrition practitioners. Witness the absurd claims that six eggs a week is OK, but 7 will give you diabetes; continuing support for the cholesterol-heart disease hypothesis; the ongoing promotion of low-fat foods; and more recent conflicting evidence about whether eating meat is good for you or will kill you (and the planet).

So at this point the LAST thing the public needs is a new Academy of Nutrition Sciences.

Especially one dominated by the British Nutrition Foundation – always being criticised for its ties to the processed food industry – and the British Dietetics Association, who took until 2011 to tentatively agree that low-carb diets for diabetes were A Good Idea, still worry about the “long term” effects, and remain convinced (in the face of the evidence) that the key to improving diabetes is weight loss. (We did this in the first year.)

But that Academy was born last month (see news, page 5). At the launch, the new Academy’s Chair of Trustees, Prof Harry McArdle, had the nerve to say: “Ensuring the quality of public information on nutrition is a critical goal because people often struggle to access well-informed and safe advice”.

There’s not much hope the Academy will change that, with its promise to “advance the knowledge and application of evidence-based nutrition science”. The state of the evidence in what passes for nutrition “science” is appalling, littered with fraudulent claims and statistical trickery.

“What’s wrong is not the mediocre papers but rather the surprising number of really objectionable papers”, says Prof Richard David Feinman, founder and former editor of the journal Nutrition and Metabolism. “The medical literature is full of papers bordering on fraud, or at least, guilty of misrepresentation”.

“Evidence-based” nutrition, like medicine, is being led around by the nose by meta-analyses and statistical sleight-of-hand. Conventional nutrition science dismisses clinical evidence in favour of the supposed “gold standard” randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial, a device designed for testing drugs against a single, simple outcome.

No change on saturated fat

Prof McArdle is a main committee member of SACN, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, which advises the government and most recently reviewed the “evidence” on saturated fat and recommended “no change”: saturated fat should be reduced to no more than 10% (!) and should be substituted with unsaturated fats (PUFA or MUFA). It’s this kind of misinformation that helped design the very disturbing “Eatwell Plate” (core advice – “base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates”) – touted by the NHS, the BDA and presumably now the Academy, as the pinnacle of evidence-based healthy eating.

The Academy’s spokesperson is also a member of EFSA, the body responsible for enforcing EU regulations that have stifled and disrupted the UK’s supplement industry. He has been part of new regulations on “novel foods” – defined as “any food that was not consumed significantly prior to May 1997”. EFSA is also responsible for setting the often-ludicrous Dietary Reference Values for nutrients and Tolerable Upper Intake Levels.

With no invitation to BANT (the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine) to join, it is clear where the Academy is headed.

Simon Martin

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