Right now, all over the internet, there are headlines saying "It's not the fat that's making us fat, it's the sugar!" or "it's not the fat, it's the carbs!"

Usually this is coupled with the assertion that health experts have had it wrong for years, telling us to eat less saturated fat when we should all be focusing on cutting carbs and enjoying loads of butter and cream.

The problem with that - apart from being a poor representation of the nuanced science on the topic - is people tend to pick up on one half of the message; usually the "eat more butter" part. And that advice on its own is unlikely to serve anyone's health.

I'm tired of the debate about what we should eat being framed as "fat versus sugar". In fact, I'm tired of it being a debate at all. Despite what the headlines might suggest, there is little debate among health professionals about what makes a healthy diet. Most agree that neither too much fat (especially saturated fat) nor too much sugar is ideal.

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But, more importantly, they agree the solution to being healthier does not lie in focusing on a single component of our food.

Yes, focusing on one thing for weight loss will probably work. You will lose weight if you cut out carbs or fat or sugar or grains. There are two main reasons. First, when you cut something out of your diet, no matter what it is, it's very likely you'll eat less overall, even when you're not trying to.

Second, any diet - no matter which - will have you focusing on what you eat, paying more attention than you normally would and, hopefully, eating less rubbish.

But just cutting carbs or fat is no guarantee of a healthy diet. At atkins.com - the home of the best-known low-carb diet - I can buy highly-processed food products such as the Advantage Cookies & Cream bar, "the perfect low-carb protein snack". In the supermarket I can buy "99% fat-free" Starburst Rattlesnakes lollies.

Neither of these is healthy. No health expert would recommend them. Both are examples of the kind of foods a clever industry comes up with when we focus on a single nutrient to the exclusion of the bigger picture.

Whether they recommend low-carb, paleo, vegan, Mediterranean or sugar-free, diet gurus are all on the same page about the fact that we should be eating more plant-based, whole, minimally processed foods.

Eating lots of veges is the health advice everyone agrees on. There's discussion about the exact makeup of the rest of the diet - how much meat, how much fat, how much carbohydrate, etc - but the basic message to eat lots of veges and not too much rubbish can't and shouldn't be denied. We don't all have to eat the same way. If you want to give up sugar, go for your life. Just don't insist that's the only way for everyone to eat.

The healthiest people in the world do not all eat the same way. Their diets are remarkably varied, from the Okinawans with their tofu, rice and fish to the Costa Ricans with their beans and corn tortillas. But they all eat diets rich in plant foods, and none of them worry about individual nutrients. They don't worry if they're eating too many carbs or too much fat. They think about food. They give food importance and value, and they enjoy it as part of an overall pattern of social interaction and activity. We can learn from this.

Let's think bigger picture, focus on good food, and the nutrients will take care of themselves.


Niki Bezzant is editor-in-chief of Healthy Food Guide magazine.