Confusion reigns over important areas of nutrition

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

School children are confused about important areas of nutrition
School children are confused about important areas of nutrition

Related tags Ingredients & nutrition

Widespread confusion about important areas of nutrition exists among UK consumers of all ages, according to the findings of a new survey from the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF).

Launched at the start of Healthy Eating Week​ from 13-17 June, the survey suggests 24% of primary schoolchildren aged 7-11 years and 17% of children aged 11-16 years think chicken counts towards your 5-a-day. And a fifth of primary school children think cheese can be one of your 5-a-day. 

Fewer than two fifths of all British adults and fewer than one quarter of older children know carrots contain fibre. But only three fifths of schoolchildren and just over one third of primary schoolchildren believe wholemeal bread is a source of fibre. Nearly a quarter of all schoolchildren think chicken is a source of fibre, although it provides no fibre at all. 

Almost eight out of ten adults, just over nine out of ten secondary schoolchildren and seven out of ten primary schoolchildren correctly say that chicken provides protein. But only half of all adults, fewer than half of older children and fewer than three in ten younger children think chickpeas are a source of protein. That's despite the fact that canned chickpeas are a rich source of protein, with an average adult portion providing around a fifth of the average adult’s recommended intake per day (45g for females and 56g for males). 

Never tried plant-based foods

The survey also suggests many people do not currently eat, or have never tried, a range of plant-based foods, such as beans and lentils, which provide essential nutrients like protein and fibre. One third of adults and more than half of schoolchildren reported that they had never tried lentils, one third of adults and less than half of schoolchildren had never tried chickpeas and more than a quarter of adults and almost half of children had never tried kidney beans. 

“Government advice is for us all to eat more plant-based foods because they’re good for us and for the environment," said BNF science director Sara Stanner. "It is concerning that there is confusion across the UK about the nutritional contents of some common foods, including plant-based foods. Lack of knowledge means people are less empowered to make informed choices, and achieving a healthy diet, with a good balance of the right types of foods, is more difficult if you don’t know which key nutrients the foods that we eat provide.”​ 

The survey findings also reveal a mixed picture when it comes to how people most commonly manage their food waste. A quarter of all adults say they put their food waste in the general waste bin. Fewer than one in five use a compost bin, and only just over a quarter freeze left over food to eat at a later date. Nearly a third of adults say that they use ‘what they can’ of unused foods, cutting off mouldy bits and eating the remainder, while three in ten say that they look for a recipe to help use leftovers up.

Healthier and more sustainable diets

Now in its tenth year, the BNF’s Healthy Eating Week will involve millions of adults and children in daily challenges linked to the theme ‘Eat well for you and the planet’. The week aims to raise awareness about healthier and more sustainable diets and empower people to make positive changes. 

Stanner added: “From varying our protein sources, to increasing our fibre intake, to reducing food waste, there’s a wide range of ways people in the UK can adjust their eating habits for the benefit of themselves and the planet. But why is healthy eating so important? 

“If we think about fibre, eating plenty as part of a healthy, balanced diet is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer, and choosing fibre-rich foods may also help you to feel fuller for longer, which can help support weight management. Most people in the UK do not get enough fibre - adults are recommended to have 30g of fibre each day, but we are currently only eating 19.7g on average.

Sources of fibre, protein and 5-a-day

“Pulses, such as chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils, are all great sources of fibre and provide protein. They also have a low environmental impact and are relatively cheap to buy and cook. One portion of pulses even counts towards your 5-a-day, yet their nutritional value is often underestimated and many people do not even think to eat them. This Healthy Eating Week, we hope participants will be able to get involved in our challenges, learn something new about healthier and more sustainable eating and develop new ways to improve their diets.”

The challenges people across the UK will be undertaking this week as part of the BNF's Healthy Eating Week include: Focus on fibre – for meals and snacks; Get at least 5-a-day - put plenty on your plate; Stay hydrated - fill up from the tap; Vary your protein – be more creative; and Reduce food waste - know your portions.

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