Adding nutrients to food won’t help weight control

spoonful of vitamins

There is no evidence that adding nutrients to poor food choices will address the problem of obesity, a dietary expert says.

Dr Rosemary Stanton wrote in an editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia today that the approach to Australia’s dietary guidelines, which are based on evidence around whole foods rather than individual nutrients, is an approach supplement manufacturers and the food industry prefers not to take.

“This approach is not popular with the food industry, which opposes suggestions that we should eat less of any food, and prefers to improve diet quality by adding nutrients,” Dr Stanton writes.

“This results in an increasing range of highly processed foods with added vitamins, minerals, protein concentrates, omega-3 fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics, and various phytonutrients.

“Such foods cannot make up for the fact that just 5.5% of Australians have an adequate usual intake of vegetables and fruit, and most consume less than half the recommended quantity of wholegrains.

There is no evidence this assists with weight control, she says.

Concentrating on individual nutrients also benefits supplier of dietary supplements, Dr Stanton writes.

“Whole supermarket aisles are now piled with pills and powders containing nutrients and herbal concoctions in various combinations for different ages and stages of life. These products are also providing a profitable export market and many are also sold by gyms, fitness centres and pharmacies, often with endorsement from celebrity and sports stars.

“Again, there is no evidence that they assist with weight control.

“Nutrient-enriched foods will not solve Australia’s weight problem. Adding vitamins and minerals to sugary cereals or chocolate-flavoured powders to stir into milk or sprinkle over ice cream is worse than useless.”

Processed foods enriched with supplements often carry a subtle message that they are safe to eat a greater amount of, she says. This goes against the grain of efforts to encourage people to eat less.

“Nutrient supplements are also problematic when advertised or used to balance a poor diet,” Dr Stanton writes.

Last week Complementary Medicines Australia chief executive Carl Gibson said that while it is important to emphasise that vitamins and minerals are not a substitute for a good diet, supplements have an important role to play alongside a healthy diet and exercise.

“Australia’s eating habits are less than ideal, with most Australians not meeting the minimum recommended serves for the five major food groups,” he said.

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