The latest NDNS report, covering the nine year period from 2008 to 2017, reveals trends in food consumption, nutrient intake and nutritional status for adults and children in the UK.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Results suggest that children are eating less sugar and fewer children are drinking sugary drinks, so that’s good.
However, there’s been little change in the intake of fruit and vegetables with less than a third of adults and only one in ten 11-18 year olds meeting the government’s five-a-day recommendation. This government campaign is based on advice from the World Health Organisation, which recommends eating a minimum of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables a day to lower the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke and some types of cancer.
There was a downward trend in the intakes of most vitamins and minerals over this period with vitamin A and folate being of particular concern. Many people – especially girls and women – are falling short on iron and there was a small drop in calcium intake for most people too. For other nutrients, there was evidence of low intakes in some people including iodine, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
On the up side, the intake of red and processed meat is continuing to fall. For teenagers, there was a drop of 15 grams a day over the nine year period. However, the average consumption for adult men remains above the recommended maximum of 70 grams a day.
More good news was the steady fall in the intake of unhealthy trans-fats. Low levels of trans-fats are found naturally in dairy products, lamb and beef fat and larger amounts can often be found in processed foods.
Nutrition and income
The report also looked at nutrient intake in relation to income and found that intakes of fruit and vegetables and most nutrients, especially fiber, vitamin A, vitamin D and folate, tended to increase with increasing income suggesting that people on a lower income may be more likely to have a poor diet.
Average vitamin D levels were lowest in the winter months – January to March, and highest in the summer months – July to September. During these winter months, 19 percent of children aged 4 to 10 years, 37 per cent of children aged 11 to 18 years and nearly a third of all adults had low vitamin D levels indicating risk of deficiency.
While the decreases in red and processed meat, trans-fats, sugar and sugary drinks are welcome, there is still much that could be improved including the need to increase the intake of fruit and vegetables, fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Many of these nutrients can be easily obtained from pulses, wholegrains and nuts and seeds.
The frequently cited concern that vegans may be ‘missing out’ seems woefully misguided given that the average UK diet, that contain meat and dairy, is clearly failing to provide even the basic level of some important nutrients.