Laura ClarkNutritional information is more accessible than ever but does Google leave people more confused than enlightened? How we are interpreting this information for our own diet and health is one thing but what about our children?

Here are a few common assumptions and my thoughts on the right messages to be giving to our offspring by dietitian Laura Clark.

Assumption 1: Red meat causes cancer

Forever in the press and forever the bad guy but it is only at intakes of over 500g cooked red meat per week that it becomes riskier to health – and that’s a lot of meat! It is such a valuable source of iron for non-vegetarian youngsters. Its versatility in many child-friendly dishes make it a welcome contribution to the diet – a typical child’s portion would be around 2-5 tablespoons of mince for example, supporting a child’s brain function, energy levels and preventing anaemia.

The healthy reality is a diet including 1-2 portions of red meat a week together with a variety of white meats, fish and meat free days will be well balanced and risk free!

Assumption 2: Gluten is enemy number one!

A recent report found 14% of parents were cutting down on the amount of gluten they gave their children. Coeliac Disease, a condition in which gluten attacks the lining of the gut, is not on the rise in this country. Instead I fear the #freefrom craze is making us unnecessarily doubt the most basic staples in the British diet.

Children are growing at a rapid rate and often have bursts of high intensity activity meaning their bodies rely heavily on carbohydrate as a readily available source of energy. Some will come from simple sugars (more on this later) but the majority should come from complex carbs such as wholemeal bread, pasta, couscous, basmati rice or quinoa: these carry higher levels of protein, B vitamins and often fibre with them and are important to include at each meal. Whether they contain gluten or not is irrelevant.

Assumption 3: Sugar is the route of all evil.

43% of the UK population are currently trying to lose weight – there’s a fair chance a lot of these people will be parents. What influence do our own dietary motives have on the diets of our children? Are certain foods banned from the house or eaten in secret? Often our desire to shield our children from the realities of our own eating habits can perpetuate further unhelpful habits for ourselves. Does snacking excessively in front of the TV at night after having been ‘good’ all day sound familiar?

We are also bombarded with messages that the diets of our young children are loaded with too much sugar – and yes for some this is true. 4-18 year olds have the highest population levels, with the majority coming from sugary drinks. High intakes of sugar are associated with dental caries and an increased calorie intake which can lead to obesity.

Interestingly sugar fears have led to a decline in the intake of breakfast cereals and yogurts and yet 70% of our free sugar intake comes from confectionary and soft drinks – sales of these are going strong!

Sugar coated cereals and yogurts with added sugar should of course be limited but many are not high in sugar and are valuable sources of fibre, B vitamins, iron, vitamin D and calcium – all the nutrients that are so vital for our children’s growth and development.

Do look at food labels and keep ‘of which sugars’ under or around 15g/100g when possible.

Remember sugar alternatives like agave syrup or honey are no healthier. They are all simple sugars digested in the same way and the gut doesn’t care if they sound posh! I also believe it’s a good rule of thumb for everyone not to drink their calories.

Finally I end with a confession – we have a ‘doughnut day’ tradition in our family on Sunday’s when we’re home! This does mean I often say no to requests for chocolate and sweets at various times in the week especially when it is likely to spoil appetite right before dinner. Treats are part of the diet and there to be enjoyed. They are not to be demonised and they are not solely to blame for any weight issues we as parents might be suffering with.

It is our responsibility to educate children about savouring and enjoying food in the right quantities, the benefits of eating a healthy balance and the value in always asking for evidence when it comes to deciphering nutrition sense from #nutribabble!


Through evidence based nutrition expertise Laura aims to educate, motivate and inspire people to lead healthy balanced lives. Laura has a wealth of experience having worked in the health service in the UK and abroad for 14 years. Her private practice and consultancy, LEC Nutrition was established in 2005. She is a media spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association and also enjoys contributing to mainstream press, television and radio.

Follow Laura on twitter.

Copyright of photo Laura Clark.

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21 Responses

  1. Kat | Beau Twins

    Such a great post hun. For so long now I have really wanted to tackle my “sugar issue” I used to be so healthy and careful what I ate. Obvious priorities have taken over and I think it’ll only be a matter of time it’ll become my next project! I will most definitley be coming to your blog for inspiration. Xx

    • Honest Mum

      Thanks darling, such a great post by Laura, I’ve been the same lately, I reached for sugar and comfort food in times of stress but am trying to cut back again and get back to healthy eating as I did before. Hope you’re OK and thanks for your comment xx

  2. Mummy Tries

    Really interesting post hon! It cements my feelings even more than we should get used to having a LOT less sweet things in our lives. I can go days and days without a single treat, but that’s only because I have been through GAPS! I know very few that eat as little sugar as I do, or feel as strongly about their kids having it (natural or refined). It’s yet another controversial matter, where I can end up feeling like the bad guy or weirdo 🙁 You might like my most recent post, which talks about all this xx

    • Honest Mum

      Will have a read chick, I think it’s amazing you feel strongly about it, it makes a huge difference to yours and your family’s health x

  3. Pamela | Life With Munchers

    Great post! Sugar is such difficult thing to avoid. I think educating kids to make the right choices is key. I’m so lucky that Munch hates fizzy pop…I was addicted to it and used to drink a 2ltr bottle of coke everyday at high school x

    • Honest Mum

      Wow, I remember drinking far too much coke in the 90’s although my folks were super strict (brother and I smuggled it in). It is so important to teach our kids what’s best isn’t it?! x

  4. Amanda

    This is a great post. And I agree about the gluten comment – if you cut things out completely you are more likely to develop an intolerance. Sugar is a bit more of a tricky one – I hate that there are so many hidden sugars in things like stir fry sauces for example. I kind of disagree about more natural sugars being just as bad though as although they are still sugars, honey and maple syrup actually have nutrients in them. They have also been through much of a less chemical/refinement process in how they are extracted. We try to eat clean and naturally – natural sugars are good, as are a lot of carbs like brown rice and sweet potatoes. If we want cake, we eat it as a treat and we know it will be full of sugar, but that’s not a hidden sugar so we know we are being naughty. Sorry this comment has become so long oooooops haha

    • Laura Clark

      Hi Amanda – glad you like my post. I agree sugar is a tricky one and often hidden like you say. Free sugars are defined as those sugars added to food or those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices, but excludes lactose in milk and milk products.’ Maple syrup is largely sucrose with some glucose and fructose. Honey is glucose and fructose. And table sugar is sucrose. They’re all simple sugars (monosaccharides or disaccharides) and as such have the same nutritional properties. Slight variations in trace element contents are negligible especially when consuming them as we should be in small amounts. The man made versions such as glucose-fructose syrups are only potentially more troublesome due to the amounts added to products by manufacturers for many reasons – taste obviously and sometimes texture- and this may be ‘hidden’. From a simple sugar perspective they are no different and do not behave differently in the body. As you say the carbs that pack a decent nutrition punch are the wholegrains and the amount of all free sugars is what we need to be careful of.

      • Amanda

        Thanks so much Laura – one thing I notice is that if I change from refined sugars to natural sugars I don’t get heartburn. I have no idea why that is – perhaps because of the products added by manufacturers like you say. When I said nutrients, i think I meant antioxidants as I’m sure I’d read from the likes of deliciously ella and Hemsley Sisters this was the case? It’s sometimes so confusing when there are so many varying views on things. I’d love to hear your thoughts on fats and oils – which are best for cooking. Again opinions on this seem to differ. For example Rape seed oil for cooking… is it ok or not? xx

      • Laura Clark

        Hey Amanda – mmmm not convinced there are any antioxidants in ‘natural’ sugars – I’d like to see their evidence for that! Richest source of those would of course be fruit and veg. Oils – yes also subject to much debate and controversy – check out my thoughts here:

      • Amanda

        Just a couple of links i’ve seen from good old doctor google haha

        thanks for that link – i’ll check it out!

  5. Eat Like You Love Yourself

    Great post. Everything in moderation is key. I’m so proud though that my son eats a really varied diet. His favourite foods are salmon, roast meat and vegetables (sprouts are his favourite) and traditional puddings like apple crumble. We allow a bit of sugar nowadays but he never has fizzy drinks and tends to just drink water and milk at home.

  6. Franki ~ Little Luca & Me

    I can’t tell you how much I love this post! Common sense and back to eating ‘normally’ is the message that comes across. The diet and food crazes that seem to be everywhere and changing week to week drive me absolutely insane! It’s so nice to hear a positive message about food rather than a negative one like the majority we are bombarded with, thank you!
    My favourite collaboration yet Vicki and I will be eagerly anticipating the next post from Laura. Well done ladies! Xx

    • Honest Mum

      Aw thanks so much Franki, such useful advice huh, every week the food crazes change and I admit to being easily influenced. I need to read this as much as I needed to post it. Thanks for your kind words, Laura is brilliant isn’t she?! x

    • Laura Clark

      Thanks Franki – I find writing blogs quite therapeutic as some of the trends out there make me so frustrated! If you have anything in particular you’d like to hear more on please let us know! 🙂

  7. Juliet McGrattan

    Thank you Laura and Vicky. Excellent advice. Sometimes I think the world’s gone mad when it comes to food. We all want to do what’s best for our children and sometimes with all the conflicting dietary advice we get it can be so hard to know what that is.

    • Laura Clark

      Thanks Juliet – I agree, it’s important to keep a clear head amongst all the controversy and quite often I think thank goodness I have qualifications in this otherwise I too would be completely confused!


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