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What the UK is really eating

french toast breakfast

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey looks at the nation’s diet to find out what food we eat on a daily basis and how healthy it is for us. We take a look at the highlights, and find out where we’re falling short when it comes to healthier eating

The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS) is the only survey that looks at individuals, rather than what we eat as a family or put in our shopping baskets, and it analyses a cross-section of the population aged 18 months and older. The latest results show there is some good news, plus some ‘could do better’ areas.

It seems the advice on eating less sugar is getting through. The figures show a drop in sugar consumption in adult men and in children and young people aged four to 18, with a reduction in the number of sugary drinks a key factor. However, we’re still eating too much sugar overall.

Despite concerns in recent years about a lack of iodine in our diet, particularly among pregnant women, iodine status was found to be adequate in all age groups. Iodine is needed to make the thyroid hormones, which are needed for growth, regulating metabolism and the development of a baby’s brain during pregnancy and early life. Milk, dairy products and fish are the main sources of iodine in our diet, so if you are vegan or prefer not to eat dairy, you may want to discuss taking a supplement with your GP or a nutritionist. Find out more information on iodine and non-dairy milks here.

breakfast granola with milk

Fibre intakes have fallen and all age groups eat less than the recommended daily amount (30g per day in adults). A low-fibre diet is associated with constipation and some gut diseases, such as bowel cancer. A high-fibre diet can help reduce cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes and can help protect against weight gain. If you do need to eat a low-fibre diet for medical reasons, there are ways to make it nutritious and tasty; find out more here.

The survey shows we’re still not eating sufficient fresh fruit and vegetables – 69 per cent of adults and 92 per cent of 11- to 18-year-olds are not achieving the 5-a-day target. A good tip is to add an extra dose of freshness to the meals you already eat, so a sprinkle of blueberries or sliced banana on your breakfast cereal; sliced tomato and cucumber in your lunchtime sandwich; and some peas or spinach stirred in a Bolognese sauce. Or try our Nourish Green Juice & Smoothie.

kale spinach celery smoothie

Despite advice to eat oily fish, most of us aren’t eating the recommended one portion per week. Try mashed sardines on toast, smoked mackerel and bean salad, grilled pesto-topped salmon, or a bowl of spaghetti with sardines, chilli and lemon. Or our simple Roast Mackerel with Potatoes & Thyme.

roast mackerel

Over half (54 per cent) of girls had low intakes of iron and nine per cent of 11- to 18-year-old girls had iron-deficiency anaemia and low iron stores. This age group is more likely to be avoiding meat and also eating low amounts of other iron-containing foods, such as pulses and leafy green vegetables. Iron helps blood cells carry oxygen, which is needed for energy throughout the body. Insufficient intake can lead to headaches and fatigue. Vitamin C can help your body to absorb iron from the food you eat, so try having fresh fruit after a meal that contains red meat (once or twice a week), eggs, pulses or green leafy vegetables.

The survey showed over 90 per cent of women of childbearing age had low amounts of folate in their blood. During pregnancy, folate can help to prevent neural tube defects in the baby. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has advised that flour should be fortified with folic acid (as it is in some other countries) to help raise folate intakes across the UK but that isn’t current policy. Instead, you can boost your folate intake by eating more dark green leafy vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, nuts, beans, dairy products, meat, eggs and grains.


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