Nutrition faqs

Our team of experts answer your most frequently asked nutrition questions, from food myths to cooking for kids

Allergies and special diets

Q: What kind of recipes should I follow if I suffer from diabetes?
A: Unlike some food allergies and intolerances, diabetes is not a simple, easy-to-label condition, and dietary restrictions vary from case to case. For this reason, we are unable to prescribe recipes specifically for those with diabetes, we can only encourage a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. You can find out more in our lifestyle and special diet guidance section.
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Q: Can you give me some delicious recipes for a gluten-free diet?
A: Gluten-free diets are adopted for a variety of reasons, with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance being the most common. Whenever we develop new recipes, we always try to include a good selection of gluten-free options, as well as providing alternatives to common foods traditionally made with gluten, such as bread and pasta. See more gluten-free recipes, or read about whether or not a gluten-free diet is right for you.  
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Q: I am lactose intolerant. Do you have any tips or recipes for those following a dairy-free diet?
A: We have worked hard to make sure we’re catering for those who are lactose intolerant, have an allergy to cow’s milk, or choose to follow a dairy-free diet, by putting as much love into our dairy-free recipes as we do every other recipe.
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Q: Do you have many vegetarian recipes available?
A: Yes – we have a huge selection of exciting, flavour-packed vegetarian recipes for you to try. Inspiring people to embrace meat-free alternatives and to strike a healthy balance across their meals, without losing out on flavour, is something we work hard to achieve. Please note that we have included recipes containing Parmesan within our vegetarian recipe category, so make sure you choose a vegetarian alternative.
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Allergies and special diets

Q: What kind of recipes should I follow if I suffer from diabetes?
A: Unlike some food allergies and intolerances, diabetes is not a simple, easy-to-label condition, and dietary restrictions vary from case to case. For this reason, we are unable to prescribe recipes specifically for those with diabetes, we can only encourage a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet. You can find out more in our lifestyle and special diet guidance section.
READ MORE
Q: Can you give me some delicious recipes for a gluten-free diet?
A: Gluten-free diets are adopted for a variety of reasons, with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance being the most common. Whenever we develop new recipes, we always try to include a good selection of gluten-free options, as well as providing alternatives to common foods traditionally made with gluten, such as bread and pasta. See more gluten-free recipes, or read about whether or not a gluten-free diet is right for you.  
READ MORE
Q: I am lactose intolerant. Do you have any tips or recipes for those following a dairy-free diet?
A: We have worked hard to make sure we’re catering for those who are lactose intolerant, have an allergy to cow’s milk, or choose to follow a dairy-free diet, by putting as much love into our dairy-free recipes as we do every other recipe.
READ MORE
Q: Do you have many vegetarian recipes available?
A: Yes – we have a huge selection of exciting, flavour-packed vegetarian recipes for you to try. Inspiring people to embrace meat-free alternatives and to strike a healthy balance across their meals, without losing out on flavour, is something we work hard to achieve. Please note that we have included recipes containing Parmesan within our vegetarian recipe category, so make sure you choose a vegetarian alternative.
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Nutrition for kids

Q: I’m a new mum starting to wean my baby, do you have any advice on things to avoid?
A: Visit the weaning section of our Family Food hub for lots of handy tips and tricks, nutritional info, and a whole collection of super-quick, budget-friendly, nutritious recipes for busy parents.
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Q: How can I find out how many calories my child needs?
A: The Department of Health does not give set reference intakes for children because their requirements vary depending on age, gender and activity levels. If using adult recipes when cooking for children, it’s important to adjust the seasoning and portion size accordingly, and to avoid recipes that contain a lot of naturally salty ingredients. For more info, read our guide to basic family nutrition.
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Q: I’m trying to introduce healthier ingredients into my children’s diet. Could you recommend some simple, delicious swaps?
A:

There are lots of super-easy swaps that you can make to benefit your family’s health. For example, choosing wholemeal or wholegrain carbohydrates over white refined carbohydrates will up your fibre and general nutrient intake, and picking low-fat dairy products will help reduce your intake of saturated fat – just make sure that what you’re buying isn’t full of added sugar. For more healthy swaps, check out these brilliant healthy snack ideas for kids, as well as our top tips for new parents.

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Healthy eating

Q: Is breakfast really all that important?
A: What we eat for breakfast sets us up for the day, and nourishes our bodies after around 10 hours without food, so it’s incredibly important not to skip it – make sure it’s packed with good stuff, too! A great breakfast should contain lots of fibre to help keep us feeling full until lunch. Porridge is a great choice – it’s made from oats, which are not only rich in fibre, but are also wonderfully versatile and can be easily made with different toppings or milks to keep things interesting. Check out our healthy breakfast guide for delicious tips and ideas.
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Q: How can my diet affect my cholesterol?
A: Saturated fat is the macronutrient most heavily linked to blood cholesterol, particularly the type associated with heart disease, and is found in animal fats, such as butter, lard, suet, and fats from meat. Being mindful of these fats in your diet and making sure you aren’t going over the recommended 20g per day is a good step towards achieving a healthy cholesterol. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats will make the biggest difference to your health. Unsaturated fats are found in liquid vegetable oils, as well as in nuts, seeds, legumes, avocados, and omega-3 rich oily fish that’s rich in omega-3. These foods will help to lower the bad cholesterol, and raise the levels of good cholesterol.
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Q: How do I get more fibre into my diet?
A: Fibre is a macronutrient that is super-important for keeping our bowels healthy. It also helps to protect against heart disease by keeping cholesterol levels in check, and plays a role in weight control by helping to keep us feeling full and preventing us from overeating. Most of us don’t get enough fibre – we should be aiming for 24g a day, but in reality most of us are only getting between 11-15g. Small changes can make a big difference to the fibre levels in your diet. A third of our diet should be made up from starchy carbohydrates, so making a switch from refined carbohydrates to wholemeal or wholegrain varieties will really help to significantly increase your intake. Start by swapping white bread for brown and white pasta for wholemeal – even doing this once or twice a week will still make a massive difference! Other high-fibre ingredients include oats, quinoa, beans and pulses, plus certain seeds, such as linseeds and chia seeds.
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Q: How do I cut down on my sugar intake?
A: Sugar is added to all sorts of foods to make them taste sweeter, and to preserve (or sometimes disguise) flavour. It’s not just found in the things you’d expect, such as cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks and desserts, but is often hiding in everyday foods, such as ketchup, bread and cereal. To avoid consuming unnecessary amounts of sugar, start checking the labels on all the foods you buy – you might be surprised! It can sometimes be tricky to spot, so look out for agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, honey, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose, and molasses, which are all alternative names used for sugar.
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Q: How do I cut back on the salt in my diet?
A: Too much salt can be harmful, and it’s easy to go overboard without realising. To make things simple, we’ve pulled a whole load of useful info together to help you minimise your intake. Salt is something that we have to be especially careful with when cooking for children, especially when they’re very young. For this reason, we only season with a tiny pinch, (0.5g), and calculate our nutritional information based on this. We also avoid added salt in children’s dishes where salty ingredients, such as anchovies or feta have been used. Read the full article.
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Sugar

Q: Why are sugary foods considered to be empty calories?
A: Sugary foods, such as soft drinks, biscuits, cakes and sweets are usually considered to be empty calories, as we often choose them over food rich in nutrients such as protein, fibre and other micronutrients. Sugary foods usually do not contain any other nutritional benefit apart from the energy that comes from the sugar. There is nothing wrong with having the occasional sugary treat, but it’s best to focus the rest of your diet on nutrient-rich foods, such as fruit and vegetables, wholegrain bread, cereals, rice and pasta, lean meats, fish, pulses and dairy foods.
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Q: Why are fruit juice sugars considered to be free sugars, when sugars from a whole piece of fruit aren’t?
A: Eating fruit whole does not count towards our free sugar intake, as the sugars that are found within the fruit cell structure haven’t been found to have any adverse effect on our health. Plus, whole fruit also has the benefit of providing our bodies with fibre, which, as a nation, we are not currently eating enough of. Eating fruit in its natural form will help you towards achieving the recommended intake of 30g of fibre a day. Drinking a glass (150ml) of unsweetened fruit juice is still a great way to help clock up one of your 5-a-day, but it’s best to limit yourself to one glass per day and to drink it at meal times, as the sugars and acid in the juice are harmful to your teeth. Even better, dilute it with the same amount of water to make it go further.
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Q: Should I be following a sugar-free diet?
A: It is possible to manage your sugar intake through a healthy, balanced diet, and, like most things, sugar is OK in moderation. However, what’s clear from Jamie’s Sugar Rush documentary, is that most people in the UK are consuming too much free sugar, and can definitely afford to reduce that intake. Remember, it’s free sugars you want to keep to a minimum – the majority of your sugar intake should come from fresh fruit and vegetables, and from milk, as they also provide other nutrients to our bodies, such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.
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Q: How do I know how much sugar there is in my food and drink?
A: It’s really important to understand what you’re eating and drinking, where it’s come from and how it affects your body. You can educate yourself about the sugar content in your food and drink by checking the information on the labels. Things to look out for: – Added sugar or free sugars – the ones we want to cut down on – aren’t always labelled as sugar, so can be tricky to spot. Keep an eye out for the following in ingredients lists, which are all sugars: agave nectar, corn sweetener, dextrose, honey, corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, glucose and molasses. – Food labels list ingredients in descending order, so in general, the higher sugar appears in the list, the more sugar that product contains. – For extra clarity, use the nutritional information panel on the back of the pack. Sugar is listed as ‘of which sugars’ and is the total sugar content per serving and/or per 100g. But, this figure doesn’t distinguish between free and naturally occurring sugars, so also check the ingredients list to get a feel for what type of sugars are actually in the product. – In the UK, many food and drink manufacturers now use traffic light labelling on the front of their packs as well, signposting key nutrient values – including sugar, saturated fat and salt – as green, amber or red (low, medium or high). As a general rule, most of the time you should aim to choose food and drinks that are mainly green and amber across all values, not just sugar.
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Q: What’s the difference between free sugars, naturally occurring sugars and total sugars?
A: Sugar is classed in two ways: FREE SUGARS – sugar added to food and drink, either by ourselves, manufacturers or cooks, as well as sugar found naturally in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. It is free sugars in particular that many of us need to consume less of NATURALLY OCCURRING SUGARS – sugar found naturally in fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen or dried) or dairy products (milk, plain yoghurt and cheese) “Total sugars” is the value given on food labels, that includes all sugars, regardless of the source. In other words, it includes those naturally present and those added to the food or drink.
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