I recently attended a very interesting Members’ Health Event about nutrition at St Peter’s Hospital. The presentation began with nutritious snacks and a display indicating how much fat we eat from a variety of different foods.
Liz Hedges introduced the team explaining that all qualified dieticians are registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC), unlike some other nutritional advisors who may claim to be experts. She briefly explained the department’s different aspects: diabetes, obesity, paediatrics, special tube feeding, mental health (eating disorders), and how they receive referrals for both inpatients and outpatients with dietary problems.
She spoke about the concept of the “Eatwell Plate”, which shows the proportions different ‘food groups’ should represent in our diets. Unsurprisingly, the biggest contributions should come from starchy carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, and the smallest from high sugar and fatty foods, such as sweets, chocolates and pastries!
Catherine Casewell treats children from birth to 18. She talked about the importance of babies receiving a good diet as poor nutrition at birth and in childhood can cause lifelong problems. She described the challenges that some parents can face in providing a healthy diet and the impact of some common medical problems in children, such as obesity, faltering growth, allergies, diseases (Coeliac, Diabetes, Cystic Fibrosis), constipation, and eating disorders.
She also talked about the importance of iron and Vitamin D and how rickets can still be a problem, causing poor growth and seizures in infants. Whilst it’s always important to be ‘sun safe’ children still need some exposure to sunlight, as well as a good intake of vitamins.
Julie Flemings then described some of the food fallacies out there – for example, honey is not actually healthier than sugar and pregnant ladies should not eat for two! She also talked about obesity and how it is a growing worldwide problem affecting every generation. The sensible approach is a measured one – maintain portion control, use healthy eating principles and take regular exercise (a daily 30 minute walk suffices) and avoid ‘fad’ diets .
Caroline Goodger stated that a third of common cancers are preventable by diet. Cancers can take more than 10 years to develop, so a change in diet with less processed foods can have long-term health benefits. Even small weight losses can make a big difference, as well as limiting salt and alcohol, following the five-a-day fruit and vegetable rule and including lots of fibre.
Liz Bowey talked further about the “Eatwell Plate” and how it can help healthy ageing. There are one million elderly people in the UK who suffer from malnutrition and eat less than one meal a day – introducing food little and often can help.
So the key messages… make sure you use trustworthy sources of information; don’t believe everything in the media; encourage good eating habits in the young; plenty of calcium and Vitamin D for children, good nutrition is vital throughout life and finally - we should all enjoy what we eat!
Written by Suzanne Lockwood, Public Governor for Runnymede