Should foods or nutrients be the focus of guidelines to promote healthful eating?

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A variety of different dietary patterns can achieve the nutrient goals for a given population and therefore be considered as healthful. This means that guidelines for a healthy diet can be tailored to suit different cultures and food preferences. Although food-based dietary guidelines are used worldwide, there is also authoritative dietary advice in relation to single nutrients, especially those of public health relevance. This includes recommendations to eat less salt, free sugars and ‘saturates’ as well as more fibre. However, it can be difficult for consumers to make simultaneous reductions in salt, sugars and saturated fatty acids as well as increases in dietary fibre, given that food choices are made according to a variety of considerations, including taste preferences, culture, convenience and cost, as well as health. In addition, media coverage of new scientific findings, especially those that challenge current dietary guidelines, can confuse consumers and hamper efforts to eat healthfully. Both food-based dietary guidelines and recommended nutrient intakes can help consumers eat healthfully, providing they are supported by sound nutrition science, communicated well and delivered in a way that promotes beneficial changes in behaviour.

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