Looking back, it’s difficult not to get nostalgic over how quickly things have evolved in society and our health. Editor-at-large Niki Bezzant takes a bittersweet journey down memory lane.
Fifteen years ago, I got a call from publisher, Phil ryan. “I’ve got a new project”, he said. “I think you might be interested.”
That project turned out to be Healthy Food Guide.
Fifteen years ago, the smartphone hadn’t been invented. Facebook had only just been created and it would be years before most of us heard of it, let alone joined. Instagram and Twitter were not even thought of.
Fifteen years ago, the only evidence-based nutrition advice around came from the Government, and it was pretty uninspiring.
Enter Healthy Food Guide: A magazine about nutrition that was interesting, inspiring and evidence based. It broke new ground as there are still no other magazines that print references like an academic journal, and only publish recipes that meet specific nutrition criteria. HFG also did a bunch of other things that were unique in the industry, including starting separate sister titles in Australia and the UK.
The rest is history, as they say. HFG became the country’s top-selling food magazine, won multiple awards and gained hundreds of thousands of loyal readers.
Our world has changed, though. We now have all the knowledge (and all the nonsense) in the world in our pockets. We are connected 24/7. We consume media in vastly different ways to how we used to. Far fewer of us buy print publications like magazines and newspapers. We get news, entertainment and, yes, nutrition advice, from social media. And those big tech companies like facebook and Google have sucked up most of the money companies used to spend on advertising in print. Those are not the only reasons HFG will no longer be published in print, but they’re big contributors.
So, I’m feeling reflective, as you might expect. What have I learnt and what has changed, in 15 years?
Diet and food trends cycle around
When we started HFG, the Atkins diet was all the rage. It was low carb, high fat, and everyone was doing it. Until they couldn’t keep it up anymore, and that trend waned. Things have cycled around through various other trends and now the diet everyone’s keen on is keto, which is, oh yeah, low carb, high fat. I wonder what will be next? I bet it won’t be ‘everything in moderation’.
We’re getting fatter and sicker.
In one generation, according to a recent study, our obesity rates have tripled. More than a third of us are obese now; add in overweight and that goes up to two-thirds. And along with the weight increase comes a health decline. Type 2 diabetes rates have steadily climbed in 15 years, rising by over 100,000.
It’s estimated one in four of us has pre-diabetes, many of us without knowing it. Despite success with helping lots of people lose weight and lower their disease risk, often without them really trying, our little magazine hasn’t been able to make a dent in these numbers. It’s hard to fight an obesogenic environment.
We’ve got more food issues
Fifteen years ago, gluten was something most people had never heard of. Now, gluten-free food is commonplace, along with food catering to allergies and intolerances to a wide range of ingredients. Diagnosis, both medical and self, has vastly increased. I’d like to think we helped draw attention to these food-related issues when we started publishing gluten-free and allergy-friendly content in 2005 and never stopped.
Nuances in fat and sugar
As with everything in nutrition science, evidence and understanding about fat and its role in health has emerged in the past 15 years, and advice has slowly become more nuanced. HFG ditched its ‘low-fat’ recipe badge a few years back, and (hopefully) we all know now it’s not about how much fat we eat, but the type of fat. Sugar, ditto: we’ve had lots of confusion, but hopefully we all know that lollies are a problem, fruit is not.
Gut health growth
The research into the gut, its bacteria and what they do has exploded. We now know the health of our gut affects almost every other system in the body, and there’s a huge range of foods aimed at boosting our gut bugs. Likewise, interesting new evidence and treatments for common gut conditions like IBS has emerged over the years. HFG was probably the first place you heard about FODMAPs — our first feature on that was in 2010.
Plants and whole foods rule
If there’s one thing that’s been consistent in the past 15 years, it’s the importance of plant foods — vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes — to human health. It’s also one of the few things everyone in the nutrition community can agree on.
The health of people and the planet are inextricably linked
We’ve always known it, now it’s front and centre. We can’t separate sustainability issues from health issues anymore.
Everyone’s an expert
It’s hard to overstate the effect social media has had on how healthy eating information is spread. Anyone, now, can publish anything, accurate or not, about nutrition, and publish they do, whether they have any nutrition expertise or not. Often with a narrative that ‘they’, meaning the scientific establishment, don’t want you to know about this, and ‘they’ are really behind the times. It’s nothing new. In 2004 it was viral emails bearing dire warnings about the dangers of microwaving, and that margarine is ‘just one molecule away from plastic’.
Nutrition is complex!
And so are humans. food is not just fuel. It’s emotional. It’s tied up with family and community and self-image. What and how we eat is meaningful and personal. There is no one perfect diet. one size, still, definitely does not fit all. I hope we all realise that one day.
For many years, we have been advertising in the Healthy Food Guide. Who we work with is extremely important to us, and to their credit, HFG has always remained a reputable resource for evidence based healthy eating. We wish the team all the best and hope that as readers you continue to follow their journey online.
Article sources and references
- Ministry of Health. Virtual Diabetes Register (VDR), health.govt.nz Accessed October 2019https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/diabetes/about-diabetes/virtual-diabetes-register-vdr
- University of Otago. 5 July 2018. Otago research reveals alarming rise of obesity in New Zealand, otago.ac.nz/newshttps://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago690496.html
- Wilson R & Abbot JH. 2018. Age, period and cohort effects on body mass index in New Zealand, 1997–2038. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 42:396-402https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29972270