The world is really fat.
Eating a healthy diet is not just about having more energy, looking good naked or being more mentally sharp, for some people it can be the difference between life and death. The statistics are quite shocking, 39% of the world’s adults and 381 million children are considered to be overweight, a staggering number of 2 billion people have health problems because of their high weight.
If you are someone that consciously decided to lose weight or just want to adopt a healthier way of eating it can be difficult to actually figure out what you should eat with the internet being chock-full of articles and websites from reputable sources that seem to contradict each other. The aim of this article is to briefly introduce you to what the government and independent nutritionists are telling us a healthy diet looks like.
Disclaimer: I am not a licenced medical professional, do your own research and consult a licenced nutritionist or medical professional.
What everyone agrees on
Probably the only three things all nutrition specialists, whether government or private sector, agree on, is that sugar, white four and highly processed foods are bad for you and any foods that contain a lot of these ingredients should be limited.
Eating a lot of simple carbohydrates (sugar and white flour) quickly raises blood sugar (which is toxic to people), to bring these levels down insulin is produced to help the absorption of carbohydrates by the body, but since the body can only metabolise a certain amount of carbohydrates the liver starts converting carbohydrates into fat and stores it into our fat cells. If this process continues the fat cells grow and can become ‘greedy’, i.e. they release energy slower, because they grow accustomed to having a lot of energy stored up. Moreover, regular cells can become insulin resistant and insulin becomes less effective, this means less carbohydrates can be metabolised and even more are stored as fat. As this vicious cycle continues the body needs to produce more and more insulin to lower blood sugar levels, ultimately having trouble adjusting the blood sugar levels all together and increasing the risk of a person developing type 2 diabetes.
Highly processed foods are considered to be unhealthy because they are made with low quality ingredients and contain a lot of additives. Highly processed foods are made to be affordable, but for them to be affordable they need to be made from cheap ingredients and have a long shelf-life, therefore, they usually contain a lot of potentially harmful preservatives, extra sugar and sodium.
Apart from sugar, white flour and highly processed foods, nutritionists are debating what is healthy – should we eat lean or fatty foods, should we eat grains, should we eat dairy or fruits.
What the government is telling us
It seems governments haven‘t changed their guidelines by much since the introduction of the food pyramid in the 70‘s. The addition of wholegrain seems to be the only major change in these guidelines. To obtain a bigger picture, dietary guidelines of three different countries – USA, United Kingdom and Lithuania were looked at for this article. They all reinforce the same main points: wholegrains and starchy products should be your main staple, supplement that with vegetables and fruits, opt for lean meats and fish, avoid saturated fat (fatty meats and fatty dairy products), eat plant based oils and low fat dairy products.    Looking at the ease of use for these guidelines, USA‘s guidelines were the most convoluted, with different measurement methods for different food groups and no graphic representation making it more difficult to figure out what is healthy and at what amount. Lithuania‘s guidelines had no amounts what so ever, but it did have a visual graphic making matters a bit better. UK‘s guide seemed to be the most up-to-date with an interactive chart and a big push to eat fruits and vegetables.
With obesity figures increasing year by year some researchers debate that this traditional diet of calories acquired mainly from grains and avoidance of fats might not be the best approach. Past few years saw new research emerging which opposes these traditional guidelines, it suggests that more fat and less grain carbohydrates in the diet can lead to less heart disease and more manageable weight. This has gone by many names, but probably most recognisable as the Paleo and Ketogenic diets.
Low carbohydrate diets
With many positive publications, medical research and celebrity endorsements low carbohydrate diets have become popular in recent years. The two diets have similarities, but with some key differences. The Paleo diet consists of lean meat, fish, oils that have little to none saturated fat, nuts, seeds, veg, fruits and eggs. While the Ketogenic diet consists of meat (lean or fatty), fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, high fat dairy products, vegetables, low sugar berries, plant based and animal based fats.
The Paleo diet suggests that we have been modern humans for about 200.000 years, but we only had agriculture for about 12.000 years, meaning that our bodies did not have the time to adapt to our modern grain rich lifestyle. Therefore, the practitioners of the Paleo diet argue that we should try to eat as our ancestors did before we had agriculture. This would mean your meals would mainly consist of lean meat (our ancestors hunted wild animals, which were very rarely fatty), fish and sea food, vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds and plant based minimally processed oils. Paleo would prohibit from eating grains, sugar, anything highly processed, dairy products, beans, legumes and limit saturated fats.
Conversely the Ketogenic diet argues that we should mainly consume fats, saturated or not is not important. Ketogenic diet bases itself on the fact that our body can run on two different types of fuel, carbohydrates and fats. When a person restricts intake of carbohydrates the body looks for an alternative fuel source which is fat, when fat is broken down in the body ketones are produced which is said to be a superior energy source by the proponents of this diet. To be in this state of fat burning for energy it is recommended that 75% of the diet would be made up of fats with 10% for protein and 5% for carbohydrates.
There could be some concern for lack of fibre if following the Paleo diet, but it’s argued that the necessary amount of fibre can be acquired from fruits and vegetables.
The Ketogenic diet is radically different from the traditional governments’ guidelines stating that the bulk of our calories should come from fat and that saturated fat is safe to eat. Researchers are divided over the saturated fat claim. The main reason nutritionists are against saturated fat is because it is thought that saturated fat is linked to heart disease. In the 20th century researchers noticed that eating saturated fat caused an increase in cholesterol and having high cholesterol was linked to heart disease, therefore, an assumption was made that saturated fat is one of the causes of heart disease. Seems logical enough, but some scientists argue that there was not sufficient evidence to prove this link. It still seems to be a new, controversial topic that is not widely accepted. 
Obviously healthy eating is not enough, there has to be appropriate physical activity and proper rest. A healthy and sustainable diet should be a part of a puzzle, a part of a bigger picture. High quality sleep and moderate exercise should be a part of everyone’s daily routine to let your body function at maximum capacity. There is also new research emerging that suggests it might be important how often you eat. New research suggests that intermittent fasting can be beneficial for weight loss and immune system strengthening. Research speculates that involuntary fasting has been part of the modern human’s lifestyle for thousands of years and the stress of fasting helps the body grow stronger.
Lots of the studies used for this article state that it is also important to look at diet on an individual level. We are all different, with different genetics and different food tolerances, it is important to find what suits each individual the best. Consult your doctor and conduct safe experiments.
Sugar, processed flour and other highly processed foods are the main cause of this worldwide obesity epidemic. Although, wholegrains and starchy vegetables are considered safe to eat by governments’ dietary guidelines and are encouraged to be staple foods, new emerging studies are challenging these claims and suggesting to reduce the importance of this food group.
Blaming everything on fat seems to be shifting more towards carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates seem to be getting a bad reputation it is very unlikely that grains and starchy vegetables are going to be phased out due to their availability, affordable price and cultural norms. Also, it is apparent that governments want to offer citizens a diet that strikes a balance between affordability and nutritional benefits.
Eating grain carbohydrates is still a very viable way to eat and it can be healthy, but it seems the research is moving towards a trend of reducing the importance of this food group and if your budget allows it experiment yourself by following this trend or at the very least switch to wholegrain products.
Author bio: Zygimantas Jacikevicius freelance marketing specialist interested in health and nutrition.
 World health organization http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
 The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jun/12/being-overweight-not-just-obese-kills-millions-a-year-say-experts
 Leptin and Leptin Resistance: Everything You Need to Know https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/leptin-101
 Prediabetes & Insulin Resistance https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance
 Eating processed foods https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-are-processed-foods.aspx
 USDA A Closer Look Inside Healthy Eating Patterns https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#callout-seafood
 NHS Eat well guide https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/goodfood/Pages/the-eatwell-guide.aspx
 Lithuania‘s food pyramid http://sam.lrv.lt/lt/veiklos-sritys/visuomenes-sveikatos-prieziura/mityba-ir-fizinis-aktyvumas-2/sveikos-mitybos-rekomendacijos/maisto-pasirinkimo-piramide-plakatas
 The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet https://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/the-beginners-guide-to-the-paleo-diet/
 What are ketones https://www.perfectketo.com/what-are-ketones/
 What is a keto diet https://www.ruled.me/guide-keto-diet/#what-to-eat
 Ketogenic diet for beginners https://www.manvsweight.com/ketogenic-diet-for-beginners/
 Paleo and Fiber https://ultimatepaleoguide.com/paleo-and-fiber/
 What is saturated fat? https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/sugar-salt-and-fat/saturated-fat
 Dietary Fats Q&A https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/news/20140320/dietary-fats-q-a#2
 Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2010/01/13/ajcn.2009.27725.abstract
 Reduction in saturated fat intake for cardiovascular disease.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26068959
 Study says there’s no link between cholesterol and heart disease https://www.nhs.uk/news/heart-and-lungs/study-says-theres-no-link-between-cholesterol-and-heart-disease/
 Intermittent fasting: the science of going without https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3680567/