Eat Balanced comments and provides opinion on topical subjects related to nutrition

Supporting Healthy Choices Framework in Scotland

We’re delighted to be the first start-up to have partnered with the Scottish Government and Food Standards Agency in Scotland on Supporting Healthy Choices (SHC),  a framework whereby Partner organisations to commitments that aim to improve Scotland’s diet and reduce health inequalities.

We believe that the food and drink industry (manufacturers, retailers, food service and brands) should play their part, not just a token effort! At Eat Balanced,  here’s what we’re dedicated to doing:

Commitment 3
Provide and incentivise healthier meal deals, especially where customers include school-age children purchasing lunch.

Our Promise: To make it easier for children to enjoy a balanced meal at school lunch times.  That’s why we’ve launched our Pizza Power Kids multi-serve pizza as a nutritious, tasty and cost effective option for schools.

Commitment 4
Rebalance their food and drink offering and promotions, both in-store and online, to positively support consumers to make healthier choices.

Our Promise: To support caterers to positively promote Pizza Power Kids, that are lower in fat, salt and sugar without negatively affecting their profits.

Commitment 6
Encourage healthier components in meal promotions.

Our Promise:  to provide information to help caterers choose healthy toppings, side portions and drinks, to go alongside our Pizza Power Kids main meal, to promote a healthy balanced diet in line with the Eatwell plate and the Scottish Dietary goals.

Commitment 8
Work with Scottish Government to consider how we can build upon existing practice on the responsible marketing of food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar in order to reduce children’s exposure to messaging.

Our promise: To educate and engage children on the importance of eating a balanced diet.  We’re committed to hosting talks to kids about the important of a healthy diet.  If you’re hosting a Healthy Eating day or event, please contact us.

Commitment 10
Roll-out energy and, where possible, nutritional information on menus and displays (in print and online) across Scotland on an ongoing basis.

Our promise: to provide full nutritional information breakdown on all products in our Pizza Power Kids range to caterers.

Commitment 12
Work towards reducing calories, fats, salt and added sugars.

Our promise: to work with the Scottish Government and other influential partners in the food industry, to work towards reducing, calories, fats, salt and sugars.

Commitment 13
Work towards the HealthyLiving Award on an ongoing basis.

Our Promise: to continue to make our products compliant with the HealthyLiving Award.

Pizza and 5-a-day – Our opinion

Can pizza be one of your 5 a day?

The potential for pizza providing one of your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg has been in the news a lot over the last day or so (Telegraph, Daily Mail).  Essentially, Public Health England has been considering whether the vegetable (or fruit) content in pizzas could be counted as one of your recommended portion intakes.  As we type, they are just at the consultancy stage, and a no decisions have been made.

What are the facts about 5 a day?

  • The five-a-day recommendations were announced in the UK in 2002 as a result of World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines to increase the global fruit and vegetable consumption in order to try to improve overall health.
  • One “portion” is suggested to be the equivalent of 80g of the fruit or vegetable.
  • The portion can be in various forms (e.g. fresh, frozen, boiled, cooked, dehydrated, juiced)
  • There is a list of what items count as one of your five a day on the NHS page here.
  • It is recommended that you eat more vegetables than fruit, mainly due to the higher sugar content of fruit.  Therefore, 3 veg and 2 fruit would be preferable to 5 fruit.
  • Not all portions of fruit and veg are made equal.  For example, one portion of kale will be far more nutritious than a glass of apple juice, even though both qualify.
  • Although consuming all of your 5 a day is a good achievement, it does not mean that you have eaten a perfect diet that day.
  • You will NOT have achieved a balanced diet by eating all of your five a day.
  • More recent recommendations by academics at University College London are that we should be eating 10 portions.
  • The five a day recommendations where originally intended to encourage people to eat more fruit and veg in their natural form, or as close as possible to that.  Over the last 12 years since they have been launched, more and more companies are jumping on the back of this opportunity to make their products sound more healthy.  However, many of those products have high levels of salt, fats and/or sugars, which can be more damaging than having that portion of fruit or veg in the product.

Not all pizzas are made equal

As you know, by being on this page, not all pizzas are made equal!  As far as we know, we are the only nutritionally balanced pizzas in the world. The vast majority of pizzas are too high in salt and saturated fat.

What would we recommend?

For Public Health England:

We would recommend that the 5-a-day portion should only be granted if the product does not have levels of salt, fat and sugars that are too high (red traffic lights).

For you:

1) If you are keen that you, or your kids, consume one of your five a day, try to keep it in the closest to it’s natural state as possible, because the more processed it is, the fewer the nutrients (e.g. vitamin C is lost with high heat, fibre is lost when juiced or strained)

2) Aim for a balanced diet by understanding why you need all of the nutrients, and where to find them.  See our guide here (https://www.eatbalanced.com/why-eat-balanced/)

 

Vitamin pills for kids: short-cut to good health or a danger?

Vitamin Pills for Kids

The essential nutrients that your body needs can be put into pills, and they are very valuable for some people, in medically-defined situations: when there is proved deficiency or risk of deficiency, when capacity to absorb vitamins is impaired e.g. with coeliac disease or after bowel surgery.

Vitamin pills may be useful for kids who don’t eat properly balanced diets, such as extremely fussy eaters, but a vitamin pill cannot deliver the same range of nutrients as foods can.  They can also be dangerous.

Fat soluble vitamins tend to accumulate in the body so high dose supplements could potentially cause toxicity.  This is known to happen with Vitamin A and D, but only at extreme levels of intake.

Because it is known that people with poor diets have more heart disease, strokes and cancers, many people go out and buy vitamin pills, especially the so-called antioxidant vitamins, A, C and E.  But, when the research was properly done, in huge numbers of people, it turns out that taking these extra vitamins actually caused MORE heart disease and earlier deaths!

Medical advice is therefore not to take extra vitamins.  It is not clear why supermarkets and so-called ‘health-food shops’ are allowed to continue to sell vitamin pills without prescriptions.  Many people will have heart disease as a consequence, and a legal challenge is probably required.

The best course, without doubt, is to avoid vitamin pills, in fact avoid illness and the need for any pills if possible, and to Eat Balanced!

Seaweed: could it become a popular food?

As people are becoming increasingly health conscious, getting ‘back to basics’ with all natural ingredients makes sense. So how about a tasty health giving meal, with flavours straight from the sea?

The food of the future

The Research Councils UK has identified seaweed as one of their big ideas for the future!  Seaweed provides a number of benefits ranging from:

  • Specific nutrition and health benefits
  • New dimension of flavour
  • Sustainable food source
seaweed varieties

Different types of seaweed

Range of edible seaweed

Seaweed comes in a range of varieties, colours and textures. Each variety has different nutritional values:

• Kombu – excellent for adding flavour to your stock
It is prized as a source of iodine, which is needed to produce the two key thyroid hormones that control metabolism. The kelp is also rich in fucoidan, a phytochemical that acts as a blood-thinning anticoagulant; a 2011 study found that kombu contains properties that stop clots from forming in blood vessels-which may make it a promising subject for cardiovascular research.

• Nori – these dried sheets are commonly used in your sushi rolls
Among the marine flora, nori is one of the richest in protein (up to 50 percent of the plant’s dry weight), and one sheet has as much fiber as a cup of raw spinach and more omega-3 fatty acids than a cup of avocado. Nori contains vitamin C (a potent antioxidant) and B12 (crucial for cognitive function) and the compound taurine, which helps control cholesterol.

• Arame – Long, thin, sweet-tasting strands Provides a good amount of potassium, a mineral known among athletes for preventing muscle cramps. Research has shown that arame might have antiviral properties, too, and may even have an antiobesity effect: In a 2010 experiment, researchers discovered that mice on a high-fat diet experienced less weight gain when their food was supplemented with arame powder.

• Wakame – Pappardella-like leaves with a salty-sweet zest
Known as the woman’s seaweed because it is loaded with osteoporosis-preventing calcium and magnesium and acts as a diuretic which discourages fluid retention and help reduce bloating.

Did you know?

Eat Balanced use a sprinkling of human food quality seaweed in our pizza bases. Not only does this greatly improve their nutritional value but seaweed has a tenth of the sodium compared to salt and adds amazing flavour.

A big idea for the future

We posed a question to Dr Craig Rose – do you think that seaweed will start to replace salt within the food industry?

“Seaweed is already replacing salt within the food industry, as well as providing many other benefits.  Seaweed is a massively underutilised and sustainable resource, with nutritional benefits that are unparalleled when compared with land plants.  Seaweeds is increasingly being recognised as a multi-purpose food ingredient for salt replacement, providing new flavours, enhancing nutrition, and even for weight management.” 

Not only is seaweed a great condiment and ingredient in our food, it is now trending as a popular snack. Being naturally salty makes it a perfect snack. Soon you may see more people snacking on squares of toasted nori as opposed to bags of potato crisps.

Can you imagine a future where we consume seaweed on a daily basis in the UK? What about a future where it replaces the salt on your table?

 References

“Archives of Pharmaceutical Research”; Protective Effects of Fucoidan Against γ-Radiation-induced Damage of Blood Cells; K.H. Rhee, et al.; April 2011
FAO Document Repository: Seaweeds Used as Human Foods
“Phytotherapy Research”; Antithrombotic Effect of a Polysaccharide Fraction from Laminaria japonica from the South China Sea; L. Xie, et al.; February 21, 2011
“Pharmaceutical Biology”; Hypolipidemic Effect of Fucoidan From Laminaria Japonica in Hyperlipidemic Rats; L. Huang; April 2010
“Journal of Ethnopharmacology”; Effects of Soluble Sodium Alginate on Cholesterol Excretion and Glucose Tolerance in Rats; Y. Kimura; October 1996
“Toxicology in Vitro”; A Glycoprotein from Laminaria japonica Induces Apoptosis in HT-29 Colon Cancer Cells; H. Go, et al.; September 2010

Is 5 a day campaign all lies?

The 5 a day challenge sits within 25 countries, across three continents, urging people to eat more fruits and veggies, and some people are more likely to purchase a food item if it has the 5 a day message on it.  But what does the 5 a day logo really mean for our health?

5 a day lies

The big worry with the 5 a day scheme, is that it has not been properly regulated and provides an open playing field for food companies.

McDonalds, the official sponsors of the London 2012 Olympics,   I hate to point fingers, but come on, a fizzy ‘healthy’ kid’s drink they’re flogging as one of your five a day portions, yet has 12 teaspoons of sugar in it!  No chance.  Parents need to remember that fruit juice – while being high in Vitamin C – is also full of sugar.

Keep it above board

The official logo, shown below, is regulated by the Department of Health and can only be displayed on foods that don’t contain added salt, sugar or fat.  But this logo is rarely seen in the supermarkets.  Instead food companies have created their own versions, which is not subject to the same regulations.

Analysis of the 5 a day campaign

One ready-meal bearing a ‘one of your 5-a-day’ logo contained almost 8 grams of salt – more than the recommended allowance for the entire day.

Your health

Even if you do get your five 80g portion of fruit and vegetables that doesn’t mean you’re getting all the right nutrition for good health.  People are convinced that fruit and vegetables are a particularly good source of vitamins and minerals.

There are 14 vitamins and 17 minerals that our body needs and fruit is good for only one of each, vitamin C and potassium.

Vegetables offer some vitamins – vitamin C and the vegetable form of the fat-soluble vitamins A and vitamin K1 – but your body will be able to absorb these only if you add some fat, such as butter or olive oil.

So what I’m saying is that there’s a lot more to good nutrition than just your 5 a day and when buying packaged foods, even if it does have a portion of your five a day, one you can’t be certain this is true, if not labelled with the official logo, and two you need to watch out for salt, sugar and fat levels.

Eat Balanced Views

So the 5 a day mantra is not the be-all-and-end-all of healthy eating, it’s just part of a balanced diet.  We’ve chosen to stay clear of using the 5 a day logo.  Our products can provide so much more than just this!  And we’re proud to be different!

Food labels on nutrition – confused?

Are you fed up with misleading food claims and back of pack nutrition information?  According to market research by Neilson, 60% of consumers worldwide are confused by food labels.  With the weekly food shop becoming a dreaded task. more work is needed to help people understand the pros and cons of the nutritional information.

Misleading food labels

Organic

Food labelled as organic, is perceived to be healthier according to research.  In a comparison test, participants thought organic labelled food tasted lower in calories and fat, and perceived the foods to be higher in fibre.  The non-organic labelled food was in fact, almost identical in terms of calories, fat and fibre.

The result of this is what’s called the ‘health halo’ affect and marketers use this to make foods seem better for you.  So what other tactics make you think a food tastes healthier?

Green Vs Red

In the highway code, the colour green means GO and the colour red means STOP.  But researchers have found these colours have a similar meaning in the food world.

People were shown images of chocolate bars labelled red and green, containing  information about the  nutritional value of the product, and asked to choose the least calories. The subjects felt that the green label indicated a more healthful product, rather than red, although the number of calories contained in them was the same.

Green_food_labels_healthier

Food Labels – Green Vs Red

This has huge implications on nutritional labelling as junk foods can hide behind green labels.  In the US, M&Ms and Snickers have green front of pack calorie flags, a dirty tactic which consumers are more vulnerable to at the checkouts.

What food labels mean?

We looked at different food labels with terms such as low fat, high fibre, low salt and what they mean in terms of your nutrition.

 

[table]Food Labelling term, What does it mean?
Reduced Fat, Less than half gram of fat to its original
Light, 50% less fat/sodium than the original product
Zero Trans Fats, Less than half a gram of trans fat per serving
Cholesterol Free, Less than 2mg of cholesterol per serving
Lean, Less than 10g of fat; 4.5 g of saturated fat; & 95 mg of cholesterol per 100 g
Low Fat, 3g or less of fat per serving
Good Source of, Minimum of 10% of RDAs
High Source of, Minimum of 20% of RDAs
Free Range, Animals allowed access to outside
Organic, 95% organic ingredients
Natural, No added colour; artificial flavours; or synthetic substances
Low Sodium, 140 or fewer mg of sodium per serving
Multigrain, More than one type of grain in the product
Whole wheat, Food with whole wheat flour[/table]

Hopefully we’ve managed to shed some light on food labels and what they really mean when it comes to your nutrition.

Children’s menu nutrition review

A meal out with the family is a great way to get a night off from cooking and spend some quality time together.  But are you happy with the children’s menu on offer?  Are restaurants doing enough to consider kid’s nutrition, particularly in terms of fat, sugar and salt?  We put a selection of children’s menu under the nutrition microscope.

US Restaurants

Popular restaurant chains have been under pressure to revamp their children’s menu and design kids recipes that encourage healthy eating.  In the US, they have made little progress to improve the nutritional profile of children’s meals.  Since meals were last analysed in 2008, a recent report found that 97% of nearly 3,500 meals failed to meet the standards set by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest for 4 to 8 year olds.

To meet the CSPI nutrition criteria, kid’s meals must not exceed:

  • 430 calories
  • 35% of calories from saturated fat plus trans fats
  • 35% added sugars

In addition, a full children’s meal must contain less than 770mg of salt.

UK Restaurants

So in the UK, have restaurants managed to remove the chicken nuggets and chips and replace it with chicken breast and potatoes?  Or is the unlimited ice cream and fizzy drinks still high on the menu, with vegetables and milk not getting a mention?  Let’s find out.

We reviewed the childrens’ menu from three popular restaurant chains, to see which offered the most in terms of kid’s nutrition.

Harvester Children’s Menu

The Harvester’s kids menu offered a good variety of options for fussy eaters and included calories beside each meal.  Vegetables included peas, corn and beans with an unlimited salad bar.  All meals would have come in with CSPI nutrition criteria with regards to calories however salt content was still too high.

Toby Carvery Children’s Menu

Although the menu contained no nutritional information, they offered a large selection of roast meats and vegetables.   The challenge with this restaurant is getting the kids to opt for the vegetables as they were not served on their plate.

Drinks included diluted fruit juice and water, a big tick in the box, with no fizzy drinks.

Wetherspoon Children’s Menu

This restaurant performed the worst out of the three, offering high calorie meals with few vegetables and a host of calorific desserts.  The highest calorie meal was chicken nuggets with chips and beans at 706 kcals and 3,200mg of salt.  The children’s banana spilt was 663 calories. Not only was the menu high in saturated fat and salt but the portion sizes were far too large.

How easy is it for you to get your kids to eat a balanced meal when your out for dinner?  Do you have any favourite restaurants, and why?  Tweet us @eatbalanced or leave a comment.