Old vs. new diet advice

Judith Wills / 11 September 2015

Diet and weight loss blogger Judith Wills takes a look at the conflicting popular diet advice from the last few decades.



Remember the old saying, what goes around comes around? Well it's certainly like that with healthy eating and weight, isn't it?

Old diet advice

Back in the '80s when I was editing a magazine called Slimmer, there were certain mantras that all good dieters (in those days healthy eating was less of a 'thing', for some reason and five a day wasn't even heard of) tended to stick to despite the fact there was little or no proper scientific evidence to back them up. Indeed, much of the advice was stuff we learned from our mothers back in the '60s and '70s.

Commands such as:

  • Drink water before every meal
  • Chew your food thoroughly
  • Count your calories
  • Always eat sitting down
  • Don't snack between meals

New diet advice

Such ideas were based on 'common sense' but by the '90s common sense in weight control had been replaced by fads, trends and new ideas that were somehow more glamorous but again had little science behind them.

  • Green tea will help you lose weight!
  • Starch blocker pills are what you need!
  • Do try Dr Atkins and his high protein low carb regime!
  • No, diet according to your blood group!
  • No, do a juice fast!

Weight control advice in more recent years has been a strange mix of sensible and surreal, with a few new ideas hurled in for good measure - the 'fasting two days a week' idea being the most famous by a mile with 'clean eating', the gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, additive-free, most everything-free regime running a close second.

Read our tips for eating less sugar.

Latest findings

But now, here's the funny part. Just when we, yes even we older people, have forgotten all about the ancient, i.e. pre-1990s, ideas on the right ways to lose weight – lo and behold, what do I find? Most of those old-fashioned things we tried to live by are turning out to be, actually, correct. With actual science behind them.

Just recently, researchers at Birmingham University found that people who drink 500ml of water before a meal lose more weight in the same period than people who don't, because the water curbs hunger. Similarly, chewing food well means the speed of eating is slowed down and this helps us signal 'full' when our meal is finished, while sitting down to eat with a knife and fork rather than eating on the hoof is another way to eat slower and achieve a similar effect.

Calorie counting, for several years now regarded by many as a rubbish way to lose weight, is strongly backed by Public Health England, as 'overwhelming evidence' supports calorie reduction as a necessary part of slimming.

And, people who snack on sweet fatty foods and sugary drinks between meals are known to be more at risk of obesity and ill health than those who don't.

Some of the ideas of the '90s are also proving to be correct – green tea has recently been found to help block the digestion of starch as well as hindering fat absorption, and a high-protein diet is no longer the big baddie it was back in the day when every doctor worth his or her salt said it was the worst way to diet ever.

And talking of salt – I'm slightly sad, as a bit of a salt fan (it's calorie-free after all), to hear the news yesterday that salt may make you fat. Yes, just one extra gram a day has been linked, says a study in the journal Hypertension, with increased risk of obesity.

But the good news is that the study's already been more or less trashed by other professionals who call the findings unreliable.

I've therefore got a horrid feeling that in ten or twenty years time a low-salt diet will probably turn out to be proved conclusively to be the best way to lose weight. As long as you're sitting down to eat and chewing it thoroughly, of course.

Hit the weight loss plateau? Read our tips for staying on track.

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