Intended for healthcare professionals

Food for thought 2020

How do we maintain a healthy diet? The question is simple, the answer is long, and one which many of us clearly get wrong. We know nutrition is one of the key drivers of chronic disease; yet there is great controversy as to what constitutes a healthy diet and how we should encourage individuals to eat well.

In 2018, The BMJ and Swiss Re Institute worked together to publish a landmark series of articles on the science and politics of nutrition. Building on this success, The BMJ and Swiss Re Institute have come together once again to explore how nutrition can lead to better health outcomes and greater societal resilience against disease.

Join the conversation on Twitter: #Food4Thought20

Series articles


Making nutrition guidelines fit for purpose
Guidelines must ask the right questions and incorporate complexity to improve their relevance and quality, argue Lisa Bero and colleagues.

Diet, nutrition, and cancer risk: what do we know and what is the way forward?
Timothy Key and colleagues describe the evidence linking diet and nutrition to cancer risk, concluding that obesity and alcohol are the most important factors.

What role should the commercial food system play in promoting health through better diet?
Martin White and coauthors consider that the commercial food system has the potential to show leadership and support for dietary public health, but systemic change is needed first and this is likely to require governmental action.

Can nutrition support healthy cognitive ageing and reduce dementia risk?
Amy Jennings and colleagues describe the evidence and potential for food and food bioactive components to reduce the population prevalence of dementia.

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Sodium and health—concordance and controversy
Nancy Cook and colleagues describe the sources of agreement and disagreement about the health effects of sodium and how they might be resolved.

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Public health response to ultra-processed food and drinks
Growing evidence confirms a link between consumption of ultra-processed food and drinks and non-communicable diseases. Jean Adams and colleagues explore the implications for public health action.

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Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing?
Poor nutrition may be a causal factor in the experience of low mood, and improving diet may help to protect not only the physical health but also the mental health of the population, say Joseph Firth and colleagues.

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Food is medicine: actions to integrate food and nutrition into healthcare
Sarah Downer and colleagues review new efforts to incorporate food and nutrition into prevention, management, and treatment of diet related disease in healthcare systems.

Health effects of vitamin and mineral supplements
Growing numbers of healthy people are taking dietary supplements but there is little evidence that they protect against non-communicable diseases, say Fang Fang Zhang and colleagues.

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Environmental approaches to promote healthy eating: Is ensuring affordability and availability enough?
Pablo Monsivais and colleagues reflect on the evidence for interventions to improve access to healthy food and discuss considerations for evidence generation.

Nutritional basis of type 2 diabetes remission
Roy Taylor and colleagues explain how type 2 diabetes can be reversed by weight loss and avoidance of weight regain.

Fibre intake for optimal health: how can healthcare professionals support people to reach dietary recommendations?
Nicola M McKeown and colleagues advocate for the importance of translating the health impact of high fibre diets to patients and clients, with emphasis placed on incorporating a variety of plant based foods to achieve dietary fibre recommendations


Challenges and opportunities for better nutrition science
The path to conducting better nutrition science entails recognising previous and inherent limitations and challenges and building on recent developments and opportunities, say Tim Spector and Christopher Gardner.

Ultra-processed foods and the corporate capture of nutrition
Food corporations have exploited the dominant model in nutrition science to shape the way their ultra-processed products are defended, promoted, and regulated. Gyorgy Scrinis examines their scientific strategies and suggests ways to reframe the debate.

The Food for Thought 2020 virtual conference took place on 29th-30th June 2020. You can view recordings of the sessions below and access the event website for more information.

What did we learn from Food for Thought 2018?

Should current salt guidelines be taken with a "pinch of salt"?

Food for mind and body: The impact of nutrition on mental well-being

Reimagining food systems to promote health in the wake of COVID-19

Improving nutritional research and conflicts of interest

The BMJ thanks our series advisers, Nita Forouhi, Anna Lartey and Dariush Mozaffarian, for valuable advice and guiding selection of topics in the series.

These articles are part of a series commissioned by The BMJ. Open access fees for the series were funded by The Swiss Re Institute, which had no input in to the commissioning or peer review of the articles.

This new series of articles was launched at a virtual event co-hosted by The BMJ and the Swiss Re Institute June 2020, bringing together nutritional researchers, clinicians, and policy makers to discuss the topics covered in the series.

View the Food for Thought 2018 collection: