The Eatwell Guide: the new healthy eating model from Public Health England

In March 2016 Public Health England launched a new healthy eating model for the UK called the Eatwell Guide, which replaces the Eatwell Plate that has been used since 2007. This new guide has been designed to reflect recent changes to nutrient recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) around carbohydrates, free sugars and fibre, and places more emphasis on choosing sustainable food sources.  Similar to the previous Eatwell Plate, the new Eatwell Guide depicts the amounts and types of foods we should be eating (and those to consume less often and in small amounts), in order to have a healthy, balanced diet. Below we highlight what is new and what has changed compared to the previous guidance:

1. Name change for the model
The new healthy eating model is termed the Eatwell Guide as opposed to the Eatwell Plate, and no longer shows a knife and fork. These changes better reflects the purpose of the model, to illustrate what a whole diet should look like over the course of a day or week, rather than each individual meal.

2. Foods high in fat, salt and sugar are no longer included in the main image
Previously these foods were included in the purple segment of the Eatwell Plate, but in the new Eatwell Guide foods high in fat, salt and sugar, such as crisps, cakes, biscuits, condiments and confectionery, sit outside of the main image to emphasise that these foods are not part of a healthy, balanced diet and should be eaten less frequently and in small amounts. Most of us consume too many of these types of foods and need to reduce our intakes of fat, salt and sugar to avoid detrimental effects to our health. Eating too much fat and sugar can lead to an excess energy (calorie) intake and subsequent weight gain and obesity, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, whilst eating too much salt raises our blood pressure and puts us at increased risk of suffering from heart attacks and strokes.  Keeping these foods separate from the main image reinforces the message about the importance of reducing the amount of fat, salt and sugar we consume in our diets in order to achieve a healthy balance and maintain a healthy weight.

3. Added front of pack label
The Eatwell Guide includes an image of a front of pack label to help consumers recognise and choose healthier options when buying foods and drinks. The colour coding used on the label gives an indication as to how healthy a food is (i.e. more greens and ambers and fewer reds means it is lower in fat, sugars and salt). Most of the salt we eat is already added to the food we buy, so using food labels can help you to identify how much is in the product and choose foods that are lower in salt. To help make healthier choices, you can also use our free health app FoodSwitch, which suggests healthier alternatives within a similar category of food.

4. Smaller purple segment – now only includes spreads and oils
Unlike the Eatwell Plate, the new Eatwell Guide differentiates between unsaturated and saturated fat. Whilst we need some fat in our diets, this should be unsaturated fat (i.e. that found in vegetable and nut oils and lower fat spreads) rather than saturated fat (i.e. that found in butter, lard, meat and dairy products). This is due to the overwhelming evidence suggesting a link between increased saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease. Hence, the purple segment of the Eatwell Guide only shows oils and spreads which provide the type of fat that we need in our diets. However, because all oils and spreads are high in fat and contain a lot of energy, they should be used and consumed in small amounts, which is reflected by the small size of the segment.

5. Changes to segment names and sizes
The group formerly called meat, fish ,eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein on the Eatwell Plate is now called beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins. This was changed to encourage consumers to reduce their consumption of meat and choose healthier and more sustainable sources of protein like pulses instead.

The size of the segments of several food groups has also changed. The dairy segment has decreased in size by half, with emphasis on choosing lower fat and sugar options (e.g. skimmed, 1% fat or semi-skimmed milk, reduced fat cheese and plain, low fat yogurt). Meanwhile, the fruit and vegetables and starchy carbohydrates segments have both increased, following the new SACN recommendations to consume 30g of fibre per day. Our diets should be based around these foods, choosing wholegrain or higher fibre varieties of starchy carbohydrates with less added fat, salt and sugar.  Cereals and cereal products e.g. bread are the leading contributor to salt intakes in the UK diet, and therefore it is important to raise awareness of choosing lower salt options where possible.

6. Drinks now feature
Unlike the Eatwell Plate, the Eatwell Guide gives advice on how much to drink, and the types of drinks to consume as part of a healthy, balanced diet. Soft drinks are a major source of free sugars in the diet of children and adults in the UK and should be swapped for healthier, sugar-free alternatives instead, like water, low fat milk, and tea and coffee with no added sugar.

7. Fruit juice is no longer included in the fruit and vegetable segment
Although fruit juice provides vitamin C and does count towards one of our 5-A-DAY, it is still considered a source of free sugars, and therefore it should be limited to no more than 150ml per day (the same goes for smoothies). The Eatwell Guide encourages consumption of a variety of fresh, canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables, rather than juice, to contribute to your 5-A-DAY intake.

8. Calorie guidance is provided
There was no calorie information stated on the Eatwell Plate, but the Eatwell Guide displays the daily energy requirements for men and women, stating that this figure includes the total amount from all foods and drinks. Displaying figures for energy intakes sets a benchmark which can help consumers to manage their food and drink intake to avoid exceeding the recommendations.

9. Additional messaging
Additional messaging is included in the Eatwell Guide about the types of foods and drinks to choose, how much and how often to consume them. This was not included in the Eatwell Plate and so it was not clear which foods within a food group (if any) were better to choose and gave no indication about the number of servings. However, additional supportive wording, like that included underneath the beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins group of the Guide (eat more beans and pulses, 2 portions of sustainably sourced fish per week, one of which is oily. Eat less red and processed meat) indicates how much fish to consume, and the types of protein to consume more/less of, which provides further guidance and clarification to help consumers to make healthier choices.

More information regarding the EatWell Guide can be found here.