27 January 2017
Dr Ros Miller
So we heard last month that children are eating around half of the maximum recommended intake of sugars before the day has fully begun. However, with all the focus on sugars, it is easy for us to forget that breakfast can also provide a perfect opportunity to consume essential nutrients, including fibre.
Let’s face it, most of us could do with eating more fibre, including our kids. Yet sugars have dominated the news since the release of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition's (SACN) report on Carbohydrates and Health. Despite the report highlighting the importance of fibre on reducing the risk of many dietary-related diseases and SACN setting new higher recommendations, the media attention fibre has received has been fairly minimal.
In fact, for the first time in the UK, recommended intakes for fibre have been set for children, provided they have an adequate energy intake and they are growing well. However, these are far from being met. The average child could do with upping their intake by around 50% to reach the recommended fibre target. Clearly, more work needs to be done to help get the fibre message across.
In the past, it was advised that fibre-rich foods were only gradually introduced into the diet of a young child. This was due to concerns that high-fibre intakes would result in young children's small tummies getting full too quickly, potentially leading to poor growth and inadequate intake and absorption of some essential nutrients. Perhaps for some this message still resonates. But for the over 2's, this concern has not been well supported by research studies. Rather it has been suggested that, with the high rate of childhood obesity - in England, more than 1 in 5 children start primary school overweight or obese, rising to more than a third by the time they leave - increases in dietary fibre amongst children aged over 2 years may help in the battle against weight gain. We also know that food preferences can be shaped from a young age. So encouraging high-fibre foods to children - for example, providing high-fibre breakfast cereals, wholemeal breads, nut butters (if no nut allergy) and plenty of fruit and veg at breakfast - may help them on the road to making healthier food choices during their adult life, effectively helping to reduce their risk of certain diseases.
We know from dietary surveys the consumption of relatively low fibre breakfast goods is fairly commonplace within children’s breakfasts. Whilst some of these may be low in sugars, swapping to a wholegrain or higher-fibre bread or to a higher-fibre, low sugars cereal (like porridge or whole wheat cereal) could help to increase fibre without increasing sugars.
In essence, whilst important, there is more to think about than sugars in our children’s diet. The Change4Life Be Food Smart app, launched last month, has gone some way to broaden the focus out by helping to highlight to parents not just how much sugars are found in everyday food and drink but also saturated fat and salt. However, let’s not forget that many higher fibre foods, such as wholegrain and high-fibre starchy carbohydrates, pulses, fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, also contain important nutrients for our families - so let’s start including higher fibre foods for all at breakfast (and lunch and dinner)!