I think I’ve talked before about the Bel Group Advisory Board. You know Bel, right? They make great cheese, like Mini Babybel and Boursin and they’re a lovely and very well meaning company. They get together every so often to have this meeting and talk about health issues surrounding their products. My role is really to represent the consumer, and let them know what parents are talking and thinking about when it comes to food (this time it was the worrying trend of the ‘wellbeing expert’, and our worries over cutting down on the amount of sugar we consume).
I’ll be honest, a lot of the more complicated nutrition and regulatory stuff goes over my head, but it’s a fascinating meeting and I always learn loads, especially from my fellow advisory panel members: registered dietitian, Juliette Kellow and Dr Claire Robertson, senior lecturer in nutrition and public health at the University of Westminster. As well as being very lovely, these girls know their stuff.
A lot of the meeting was taken up discussing The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) report on carbohydrates, including sugars and fibre in our diets. This very meaty report had some very interesting recommendations, including that:
- 50% of our calories should come from starchy carbs, wholegrain if possible (CARBS! Those terrible, awful things that we’re always avoiding! Remember carbs include fruit, veg, wholegrains, lentils and pulses.)
- We should be increasing our fibre intake (from fruit, veg and wholegrain foods) to 30g per day.
- Free sugars (that’s literally the grainy white stuff that we add to our food, plus those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices) should account for no more than 5% of our calories (that’s about 7 sugar cubes)
Interesting stuff, right? There was much debate about the fact that, really, it’s better for you to eat the whole of the fruit and that fruit juice should possibly not be included in one of our 5 a day.
Here are some other interesting things I learned:
- Be VERY careful with smoothies. Fructose becomes glucose in the body and is processed just like free sugar, so if you’re drinking a lot of smoothies, you’re consuming a lot of hidden sugar. And sugar = tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Make sure your smoothies are milk based, and have only a small glass a day.
- This goes for honey, agave or any other sugar substitute, which are often higher in calories. And don’t be fooled by ‘natural’ on a label – remember sugar is natural too!
- Fibre fills you up, and so does dairy. So cheese with a wholewheat cracker is probably the perfect snack food.
- A gluten free diet is of absolutely no benefit to you unless you have Coeliac disease or some other medical reason diagnosed by your doctor. Making a radical change to your diet without medical supervision deprives you of vitamins and much-needed fibre that you need to keep you healthy. Read what my new food hero, Anna Jones, has to say about bread on one of my favourite websites, The Pool: I have first-hand experience of how bread is baked in supermarkets: I worked a couple of days in a supermarket bakery, so I know the bread is made from mostly low-nutrient, bleached white flour and flour improvers and stabilisers, and that the bread is risen very quickly, meaning the yeast hasn’t quite done all its fermenting before it’s baked, which means the last part of the fermentation process happens in your stomach. Both of these things can account for the heaviness and bloating a lot of people associate with bread. Also, read this article on why a grain-free diet isn’t good for you OR the planet by Maria Speck, which basically nails exactly why I felt better during my brief attempt at going gluten free (I ate less white bread and cake and more veg. Duh).
- Beware of so-called ‘wellbeing experts’ that are not qualified, giving dodgy – and sometimes dangerous – advice and advocating the free-eating of ‘natural’ ingredients like Medjool dates, which contain 63g of sugar per 100g and WILL MAKE YOU FAT (and rot your teeth).
And talking of teeth, we had a really interesting presentation from Juliette Reeves, a dental hygienist and Clinical Director of Perio-Nutrition, who gave us some great advice including:
- It’s really important to keep a neutral pH in the mouth. Fruit acid – particularly citrus fruit juice – softens the enamel of your teeth and makes it lose some of its mineral content.
- Breakfast is a particularly dangerous time. If you consume fruit juice and sugar at breakfast, then brush straight away, while your enamel is still softened by the acid, you risk making the damage worse. You need to wait at least an hour before brushing, and either rinse with water, chew gum or eat cheese to cancel out the acid and get the saliva pH balance back to a healthy level.
- Avoid a morning ritual which includes drinking hot water and lemon. The fruit acid is really bad for your teeth and the heat exacerbates the problem. Try a slice of ginger or a sprig of mint instead.
- As a parent, beware of ‘healthy’ snacks. Children are often encouraged to pop cherry tomatoes, slices of apple, etc in their mouths, but they’re potentially high in acid and dangerous for the teeth. Try veggie sticks, and less acidic fruits like bananas and pears – or of course a cube of cheese (but not raisins, they’re sticky and full of sugar).
Fascinating, isn’t it? Hearing it from the experts really brought home to me just how much rubbish information we’re given (albeit sometimes well-meaning). Oh, and by the way? I’m no expert – the above is what I gleaned from a meeting, so if I passed on any duff information, the fault is entirely my own!