It's been a noisy year in the world of nutrition. Niki Bezzant rounds up the good, the bad and the controversial.
Sugar has been a hot topic for a couple of years, but early this year the need to reduce our sugar intake had heavyweight backing from the World Health Organisation, when it released its sugar recommendations.
The WHO says we should reduce our daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of our total energy intake. Reducing to below 5 per cent - roughly 25g (6tsp) a day - would, it says, provide additional health benefits. Free sugars, incidentally, are the white stuff - as well as fruit juice, fruit puree, syrups and honey, and "healthy" sugars like coconut sugar, too. This doesn't mean we have to give up all sweet things, but it does mean being careful. Eating a healthy plant-based diet and keeping an eye on the sugar in packaged foods will leave room for an occasional treat.
Paleo goes big
It's been brewing for a while, but this has felt like the year of paleo everything, from recipe books to pet food. Australian chef Pete Evans has led the charge of the paleo diet into the mainstream, attracting fans and criticism. Others have jumped on that wagon, leading to an interesting array of paleo-friendly products on our shelves. I like some of the paleo cereals and breads, even if I dislike the name, and would find it difficult to justify the cost on a regular basis. Some paleo-friendly treats - raw slices, cake mix, chocolate - are unlikely to be any better than non-paleo equivalents. It will be interesting to see where this trend goes. According to Nielsen data, about 1.5 per cent of Kiwis say they eat paleo, about the same as those who follow a halal diet, which goes to show that sometimes the attention things get is out of step with the reality.
Health bloggers get in trouble
Online wellness warriors came to the fore this year. These days it seems anyone with a story of "it worked for me" can be the dispenser of nutrition advice.
That's fine if it helps people, but every now and then it can backfire. Pete Evans' book on paleo baby and toddler food was pulled by the publishers before it went on sale because recipes were potentially harmful to babies. Instagram sensation Belle Gibson's The Whole Kitchen empire came crashing down after it was revealed her story of curing herself of cancer through a wholefood diet was a fabrication.
Cancer, bacon and confusion
The WHO review of meat and cancer risk caused a rash of misleading headlines and left carnivores despondent over the news that processed meat, including bacon, is now classified as carcinogenic. This was confusingly reported and had people thinking that bacon was as bad as smoking (not the case). In short, bacon slightly increases your risk of cancer and we should probably not have it every day. The advice on red meat and cancer was nothing new; we already knew that keeping portion sizes sensible and including a range of alternatives to red meat was a good idea. Again, it boils down to good old moderation.
In November, we got new Healthy Eating and Activity Guidelines from the Ministry of Health. Gone are the unfriendly nutrient-focused guidelines of the past. The new guidelines are food-based and easy to understand. It is great to see the advice to choose "whole and less processed foods", and distinctions being made between refined and less-refined grains. The ministry no longer recommends fruit juice as a fruit serve, instead recommending water as the best drink choice.
And we're still getting fatter
We haven't got any smaller as a nation this year. Our obesity rate continues to rise and still we don't have a comprehensive strategy to deal with it. The Government's childhood obesity plan, announced in October, included voluntary industry and DHB initiatives that were happening anyway and ignored healthy food in schools and a tax on sugary drinks. Here's hoping we'll see more action in 2016.