eatwell plate 2016

It’s not just our two main political parties that have descended into open warfare during the turbulent events of recent weeks - the health lobby has been having a spectacular stab at it too.

As the Childhood Obesity Strategy was shelved once again this week, competing health factions are meanwhile embroiled in a row that some among them fear could derail the war on sugar forever.

It reached boiling point last week when more than 20 NGOs released a joint statement in support of the reviewed Eatwell Guide, recently unveiled by Public Health England (PHE).

Bodies including Action on Sugar (AOS) and the UK Health Forum said the new guide, which urges consumers to cut down on sugar but remains, like the former version, largely based on spuds, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbs, was the result of a “comprehensive” review of the evidence”.

The statement warned of “confusion” from conflicting views released by the medical community in recent weeks, an allusion to controversial claims by leading consultant cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra.

Diabetes timebomb

Malhotra, who described PHE’s recommendations as “a joke”, caused mayhem after he and a breakaway group of doctors ridiculed the new Eatwell Guide as a diabetes “timebomb” and urged the government to tell consumers to “bring back the fat” to their diets.

The outspoken doctor, now axed by Action on Sugar as an adviser, claims official advice on fat is wrong. His new faction, the Public Health Collaboration, released his claims in a joint statement with the National Obesity Forum, resulting in several of its members quitting in protest at the message being sent out that “fat is your friend”.

This week doctors lined up to attack Malhotra’s claims. AOS chairman Professor Graham MacGregor accuses his fellow heart specialist of being “bonkers”. “Clearly we made a great mistake in taking him,” says Macgregor. “He’s got these extraordinary views and he’s been going round talking nonsense without any evidence. Malhotra comes across well on TV, but he’s dangerous.”

Malhotra stands firmly by his claims, however. “I don’t think my intervention is damaging,” he tells The Grocer.

“Much more damaging is the fact that we’ve been demonising fat for no good reason. It’s caused great harm.

“As a cardiologist I have seen clear evidence that many of the products that are beneficial to cardiovascular health are high in fat, whereas, especially for those at risk of Type 2 diabetes, they need to be cutting down on diets high in starchy carbohydrates.”

Malhotra has the support of a long list of medical experts from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US, including the “godfather” of the war on sugar, Professor Robert Lustig.

Professor David Haslam, NOF chair, also backed Malhotra’s stance, claiming PHE guidelines were “deeply flawed”.

NOF spokesman Tam Fry adds: “The Haslam/Malhotra document was horrendously handled. It was not an NOF document and it was quite rightly lambasted. However, it did spell out a number of real concerns and reflected a large body of opinion, which says official guidance around fat is flawed.”

Experts from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition are currently exploring the “case for fat”. Fry admits scientists openly fighting over the science will lead to only one thing - even more consumer confusion. “Of course the big danger is that this will just be exploited by the food and drink industry who will use it as an excuse to do nothing.”