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15 Aug 2016

Health messages demonising sugar, fat and other nutrients are too simplistic and are hampering efforts to tackle the obesity crisis and its related health problems, according to scientists urging an overhaul in the approach to human diets.

In what researchers from the University of Sydney are calling “a radical rethinking of human nutrition science”, they have developed a ‘nutrition geometry’ model which considers how mixtures of nutrients and other dietary components together influence health and disease, rather than focusing on any one nutrient in isolation.

The researchers hope the new approach will assist health professionals, dieticians and researchers to better understand and manage the complexities of obesity.

Lead researcher, Professor Stephen Simpson, said that the framework challenges prevailing thinking in the field of human nutrition and proposes that an approach based on nutrient balance will be more helpful in understanding the causes of complex chronic conditions diseases than the current single nutrient focus.

The traditional approach is no longer useful in the face of modern nutrition-related diseases which are driven by an overabundance of food, an evolved fondness for foods containing particular blends of nutrients, and clever marketing by the food industry, the researchers said.

“Conventional thinking that demonises fat, carbohydrate, or sugar in isolation as causes of the obesity crisis, known as the single nutrient approach, has now run its course,” Professor Simpson said.

“We’ve provided a framework for not only thinking about, but also experimentally testing, issues around dietary balance. “

The ‘nutritional geometry’ frameworks assists in plotting foods, diets, and dietary patterns together based on their nutritional composition. This helps observe otherwise overlooked patterns in the links between certain diets, health and disease.

The new model enables complex problems like obesity to be viewed from a variety of perspectives.

The researchers plotted data regarding the composition of 116 diets, compiled from previous published studies examining macronutrient ratios (carbohydrate, fats and protein) and energy intake.

“Although at face value more complex than the single nutrient model, our ‘nutritional geometry’ framework can simplify the study of human nutrition in the long run by helping to identify those subsets of factors and interactions that are driving negative health and environmental outcomes in our rapidly changing environments,” Professor Simpson said.

The study was published in the Annual Review of Nutrition.

Kirsty Waterford


Published: 15 Aug 2016