What's on your child's plate? What you should be feeding your family (and what to avoid)
Just when you’d managed to get the kids eating their five-a-day fruit and veg, and cutting down on saturated fat, a new book is claiming that’s not quite the right way to go.
A trio of experts insist that while vegetables are indeed good for kids, fruit should only be eaten in moderation because of its high sugar content, but they can eat as much cream, butter and cheese as they like.
Chef Jonno Proudfoot, who wrote the book Super Food For Superchildren with sport and exercise scientist Professor Tim Noakes and paediatric dietitian Bridget Surtees, says: “If the authorities suggest five fruits and five vegetables are the same thing, I think they’ve made the rules too simple.
“Five fruits is certainly better than five cokes, but five vegetable portions will be infinitely better. I think five-a-day could live harmoniously within this realm of eating, provided it was five veggies and an occasional fruit.”
And as for the long-demonised saturated fat, the authors insist early studies suggesting ‘saturated fat is bad’ were “flawed and contradictory”, pointing out that the argument saturated fat raises blood cholesterol concentrations which directly cause heart disease is “at best a gross oversimplification and at worst just plain wrong”, and that children need fat for healthy growth and development.
The book, which features plenty of healthy, low-sugar recipes for children, identifies three ‘golden rules’ for children’s eating, largely based on nutritional advice outlined in the authors’ first book, for adults, The Real Meal Revolution.
The rules are simply: no added sugar; no refined carbs; keep it real.
No added sugar
It’s been known for decades that high sugar consumption causes dental problems and is a cause of obesity, says the book, which points out that sugar offers no nutritional benefit, but is addictive and too much over the long-term can lead to health problems including diabetes, and complications linked to obesity including heart disease and strokes.
The World Health Organisation recommends a total of three to eight teaspoons of sugar a day for children, depending on age, but the book advises aiming for the lower end, promising that following the no added sugar rule will make an “unimaginable difference” to a child’s long-term health and wellbeing, and stressing: “How bad is sugar? To put it in perspective, think of it as cocaine for your kids.”
No refined carbs
Refined carbs are carbohydrates that have been broken down during food processing. A good example of a refined carb is flour, which is created when a grain, usually wheat, is finely ground. This removes the fibrous outer layer, which contains most of its vitamins and minerals, and the remaining glucose spikes blood glucose levels, says the book, while providing little or no nutritional value.
The authors point out that if a child eats a bowl of sugar-coated rice-based cereal, for example, the refined carbs in the rice will break down to sugar too, so the child effectively eats a bowl of sugar.
“This is the path to future obesity and ill-health, so steer clear of all refined carbs,” they advise.
Keep it real
Real, non-processed whole foods are the basis of healthy eating, says the book, pointing out that processed foods are packed with sugars and refined carbs, plus various additives “that really shouldn’t be passing through your child’s body”.
Food traffic lights
The book divides foods into Red, Orange and Green lists, which indicate how often they should be eaten by children aged over three who are a healthy weight. Included are:
Children can eat freely: vegetables (apart from potatoes), eggs, all meats, poultry, game, fish and shellfish, butter, double cream, hard and soft cheeses (for calcium), cream cheese.
Children should only consume in moderation: all whole and dried fruit, potatoes, grains such as rice, quinoa and oats, honey.
Children should avoid wherever practical: all confectionery, ice-cream, crisps, commercial breakfast cereals, all breads made from grains containing gluten, commercially-breaded or battered food like chicken nuggets, highly-processed sausages and luncheon meats, all soft drinks and fruit juices.
If this new way of eating seems daunting, Proudfoot says introducing it gradually is a lot better than not doing it at all.
“It would be best to dive right in, but there can only be benefits to removing even the smallest amounts of sugar and refined carbs from one’s diet,” he explains.
And all three authors stress: “This is a wake-up call to today’s parents. We’re advising a radical shift away from the nutrition orthodoxy that has produced overweight, unhealthy children at alarming rates in the last three decades.”
:: Super Food For Superchildren: Delicious, Low-sugar Recipes For Healthy, Happy Children, From Toddlers To Teens is published by Little Brown, priced £20. Available now