Dietary Guidance

Diet­ary guid­ance is com­plic­ated and ever chan­ging. We show a simple traffic light type sum­mary for the main mac­ronu­tri­ent groups but as this isn’t always the most use­ful inform­a­tion we also have a full nutri­tion break­down when view­ing full recipes. Even this needs quite deep know­ledge to make full use of though. Below is a sum­mary of the best inform­a­tion we can find to help make some sense of it all.

Energy Density

This is not a label you will typ­ic­ally find on most foods. Most foods and meals imply list the total cal­or­ies which gen­er­ally isn’t actu­ally very help­ful in most cases. We do show the cal­or­ies per por­tion (hov­er over the energy dens­ity traffic light) but we don’t emphas­ise it. Cal­or­ie Dens­ity is an attempt to indic­ate how energy-dense the food is — i.e. how many cal­or­ies you get for each gram of food. The advant­age is that foods with a low cal­or­ie dens­ity will fill you up without hav­ing many cal­or­ies — which is more use­ful than foods with low cal­or­ies that don’t fill you up because of your you’re likely to just at more of those! Cal­or­ies them­selves are not an ideal meas­ure, but since they are all we usu­ally have to work with we use them with the por­tion size to get a decent ball­park. Typ­ic­ally recipes high in fat, sug­ar and pro­cessed ingredi­ents will be energy dense, and foods high in fibre, water and with less pro­cessing will be lower energy dens­ity. Com­bined with sug­ar con­tent this inform­a­tion can be use­ful for people with dia­betes or people on diets. Just beware that recipes high in fats can get pen­al­ised in energy dens­ity, but this does­n’t reflect that fats are also much bet­ter at trig­ger­ing how full you feel and health­i­er than refined sug­ar which has a lower energy density.

Fat & Saturates

Fat is an abso­lute mine­field. Once demon­ised it is increas­ingly recog­nised that fat is not the enemy it once was seen as. How­ever some fats (e.g. trans fats) are def­in­itely undesir­able and there is good reas­on to think that all things being equal unsat­ur­ated fats are health­i­er than sat­ur­ated fats. There is a full break­down of fats in the full recipe page. Gen­er­ally your home cooked foods should not con­tain any trans fats. If you want to know more about cook­ing with fats you need to be aware of 2 factors that are repor­ted to affect the health­i­ness of dif­fer­ent fats dur­ing cook­ing: the smoke point; and the read­i­ness with which a fat oxid­ises aka it’s oxid­at­ive sta­bil­ity. It appears to us that oxid­at­ive sta­bil­ity is more import­ant than smoke point and we have con­cluded that in most cir­cum­stances extra vir­gin olive oil is a good choice. The longev­ity of pop­u­la­tions in parts of Italy and Greece also appears to sup­port this. Olive oil may not be ideally suited to high tem­per­at­ure deep-fat fry­ing (although this is mostly due to rel­at­ive price and not reusing oil) but for most oth­er uses it is one of the health­i­est oils to use — just ensure you do not burn it. If you do burn it you should dis­card it and start again. Anoth­er of the reas­ons olive oil is often held above oth­er oils in terms of health is due to the high level of poly­phen­ols it con­tains (which is also related to its oxid­at­ive sta­bil­ity). With uncooked fats a good fall-back rule of thumb is that the less pro­cessed some­thing is the health­i­er it is likely to be. Extra vir­gin oils are at the top end and dehyd­ro­gen­ated fats should be com­pletely avoided. Oth­er oils with good oxid­at­ive sta­bil­ity are coconut oil and pea­nut oil although it should be noted that coconut oil is very high in sat­ur­ated fat and both are much lower in anti­ox­id­ants than olive oil.


The new demon of the food world, prob­ably unfairly maligned nearly as much as fats were in the past. It is import­ant to note that “sug­ar” can have mul­tiple dif­fer­ent mean­ings. First there is sug­ar as in sug­ar cubes. This is bet­ter called “free sug­ar” and includes all pure added sug­ars like gluc­ose, fructose, and also honey and syr­up. This is some­thing that you should try to keep to a min­im­um where pos­sible as there does appear to be good evid­ence that most of us are con­sum­ing too much of this, mostly via ultra pro­cessed foods. There is no good nutri­tion data­base that has this inform­a­tion, how­ever we do estim­ate the free sug­ars (hov­er over the traffic light to see this).
Second there are the “sug­ars” that we refer to on our nutri­tion traffic light. This includes all the forms of simple sug­ar (sucrose, fructose, gluc­ose etc) that are in the food. Some of these may be “free sug­ars” but many may be nat­ur­al sug­ars — like those found in fruit. Nat­ur­ally occur­ing sug­ars have always been part of a healthy diet and do not deserve do be demon­ised in the same way as “free sug­ars”. Of course the mass food pro­du­cers are more than happy to try to con­fuse you. Com­mon sense tells you that a banana or an apple is not the equi­val­ent of a bar of chocol­ate, a pack of sweets, or a can of fizzy drink so don’t be fooled. There are many people who want to include fruit juices in the “evil sug­ar” camp but we see them as some­where in between — they aren’t as helath as unpro­cessed fruit, but a glass of orange juice is not the same as a can of fanta orange or a glass of orange cordial.
Sug­ars come in sev­er­al types. Per­haps the most imfam­ous is fructose (from high fructose corn syr­up). Sucrose (table sug­ar) is made from 1 fructose + 1 gluc­ose. Oth­er sug­ars (lactose, maltose) are less com­mon in most foods you think of as sweet. It may be worth lim­it­ing your intake of Fructose and Sucrose and pos­sibly Gluc­ose too. Nat­ur­al lactose and maltose of min­im­al or no con­cern at all. Do note that some products do now have added maltose which may (as all added sug­ars) be undesirable.
Lastly there are all car­bo­hydrates. Some faddy diets will try to per­suade you that these are sug­ars. In fact the inverse is a bet­ter mod­el — sug­ars are broken-down car­boy­hy­drates. Com­plex car­bo­hydrates at a molecu­lar level are long chains of sug­ars, but by the same token mar­ger­ine is very sim­il­ar at a molecu­lar level to plastic so wor­ry­ing about molecu­lar struc­ture wont get you any­where. If you are aim­ing to reduce the ‘sug­ar’ in your diet this will prove dif­fi­cult enough — try­ing to need­lessly exclude all car­bo­hydrates as well is set­ting your­self up to fail. It is also worth not­ing that fibre is tech­nic­ally a type of car­bo­hydrate and you almost cer­tainly do not want to reduce the amount of fibre in your diet.


We use salt in the most com­mon sense, that is, to mean sodi­um-chlor­ide. There are in fact many salts but the type you put on your fries and the kind that is over-con­sumed in the west­ern world is sodi­um-chlor­ide. The evid­ence of salt and health is not entirely clear-cut, and in hot cli­mates or where people spend their time doing heavy manu­al labour (and hence sweat a lot more) it may be ok to con­sume more salt than is typ­ic­ally recom­men­ded. How­ever there does appear to be a link between salt intake, blood pres­sure, and heart prob­lems so many people wish to man­age their salt intake.
There is fur­ther evid­ence how­ever that the ratio of sodi­um-based salt to potassi­um-based salt may be a more use­ful indic­at­or of health. Many of the foods we con­sume con­tain more sodi­um than potassi­um but there are some foods and recipes that are high­er in potassi­um. In these instances it may be ok to have high­er levels of sodi­um. As such we also show (via hov­er­ing over the salt inform­a­tion) how healthy the ratio between sodi­um and potassi­um is.


It is recom­men­ded to con­sume 30g of fibre per day, whilst most people con­sume no more than 20g. To make a traffic light sys­tem we work out fibre per cal­or­ies with a tar­get of 1g of fibre for every 75kcal. We also show the fibre con­tent in the full nutri­tion inform­a­tion. Fibre is good for your diges­tion. Insol­uble fibre helps food move through your digest­ive sys­tem as a health speed, whilst sol­uble fibre is fuel for the micro­bi­o­me in your gut, and with evid­ence increas­ingly sup­port­ing the idea of a strong link between gut micro­bi­o­me health and your immune sys­tem (and from there to every kind of health out­come you can ima­gine) it seems a very good idea to be try­ing to look after your gut microbes. We do not show a sep­ar­at­ing between sol­uble and insol­uble fibre as this data is not avail­able in the USDA food nutri­tion data­base cur­rently. Fibre is most often found with com­plex car­bo­hydrates and in whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green veget­ables. In almost all cir­cum­stances you can think of lots of fibre as being good for you. Recipes high in it will there­for be good for you. For a rough guide 1g of fibre for every 75 cal­or­ies is prob­ably a good sign. Enjoy!

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