We wanted to make sure that you had the information you need to teach your students about grain-based food, so we contacted Nicky Gillet, a nutritionist Allied Mills, to answer the questions you put forward.
Is it important for children to eat carbohydrates (such as bread) as part of a balanced diet? If so, why?
Yes it is important! The government has developed a guide to eating healthily - the Eatwell guide - and from the age of five, everyone's diet should be based on it.
They recommend that meals are based on starchy carbohydrates (such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals); we should also eat plenty of fruit & veg, as well as some protein and dairy foods. It’s great to get them eating a variety of different carbohydrate foods and where possible to choose higher fibre varieties.
The reason for including starchy foods is that not only are they a good source of energy for growing children but they also provide a range of essential nutrients in our diet, such as fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.
Are particular types of bread, such as granary or wholemeal, better for you? Is this because they are 'slower releasing'?
All bread has a valuable role to play in our diet as it provides protein, B vitamins and minerals such as calcium and iron. Did you know that white bread provides 10% of the calcium and 8% of the fibre we have in our diet*? The difference with wholemeal and seeded varieties is that they have higher levels of fibre and for most of us this is something that is lacking in our diets. Government guidelines published in July 2015 say that we should be eating 30g a day but most of us are only eating about 17.5-19g day. Children under the age of 16 don't need as much fibre in their diet but they still need more than they get currently.
Fibre is not only about a healthy digestive system and helping us to feel full, it also is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer so it is an incredibly important part of our diet. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and higher fibre starchy foods (for example choosing wholemeal options and potatoes with the skins on) are easy ways to help to increase our daily fibre intakes.
*Based on NDNS Year 7-8
How many slices of bread or grams of carbohydrate should children eat per meal (on average)? Are portion sizes dependent on your age/size and activity levels?
You are right to say that portions need to vary depending on age and activity levels, which is why it isn’t possible to give a definitive answer. However, it is generally recommended that starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals should make up just over a third of the food we eat.
Some of my students are avoiding bread because they are worried about eating carbs; highly-processed foods; and/or gluten (they have fewer worries about eating doughnuts or chocolate!). Are their fears grounded?
First of all if you have Coeliac Disease then the only treatment is life-long avoidance of all wheat wherever it may appear, but for those with no allergies or intolerances then going gluten-free is not always the best policy. Gluten in itself is not damaging to health; it is simply the natural protein in wheat, and by avoiding wheat and gluten they are missing out on fibre and other valuable nutrients.
Bread and flour are not highly processed foods. Flour is made by crushing grains of wheat and bread is made by mixing the ingredients together, letting the dough rise and then baking it. Personally, I think that besides all the nutritional arguments, it’s hard to beat a great tasting sandwich or some hot buttered toast, so the only question is does it make you put on weight? Well the truth is that carbohydrates, protein, fat and alcohol all provide calories. Any extra (unneeded) energy we eat will be converted by the body to fat no matter what the source, so it is more about looking at your total calorie intake than looking at specific foods or nutrients.
Nicky is Nutrition & Health Development Manager at Allied Bakeries, with a wealth of experience including new product development and product reformation.