Who’s teaching our children about ‘nutrition’?

I came across a school book for GCSE in Home Economics: Food & Nutrition recently. As someone who has studied nutrition extensively – and found virtually everything being taught to be wrong – I was naturally curious.

Kellogg’s & Coco-pops

I picked up the main textbook “Examining Food & Nutrition” by Jenny Ridgwell (1996). The age of the book was bad enough, but I was then absolutely horrified to have the book open on a picture of Kellogg’s Coco-Pops – the very product against which the fabulous Children’s Food Campaign have been campaigning so passionately. I have also blogged on this in the past. Flicking to the very next page and almost half of this page was covered by a picture of Bran Flakes (see the scans of the pages below). (The Children’s Food Campaign have also done a brilliant expose of the way in which the food & drink industry are feeding junk messages to their next generation of consumers).

In disbelief, I turned to the inside cover to try to understand how this could be allowed. The companies thanked at the beginning of the book included: the Food & Drink Federation (members include every food & drink company in the UK that you can think of – Cadbury, Coca-cola, Kellogg’s, Mars, Pepsi, Unilever, United Biscuits – as examples, as well as more ‘federations’ like The sugar Bureau, The Federation of Bakers etc) and Sainsbury’s. Kellogg’s & Unilever are also especially singled out for thanks in the first paragraph. The second paragraph goes on to thank: The Federation of Bakers; The Co-op; Kellogg’s again; Lo Salt; Quorn makers Marlow Foods; National Dairy Council; Sainsbury’s again and Whole Earth. Most of the companies are thanked for allowing their product placement pictures to be used – what?! Kellogg’s should be thanking the publisher and a GCSE curriculum should not touch this blatant marketing to children in any circumstance.

A balanced diet

The books starts teaching our children nonsense as early as the first page of content. Under the heading “What is a balanced diet”? the entire text (literally – every single word under this heading – all that children apparently need to know about a balanced diet) reads as follows: “A balanced diet provides all the necessary nutrients in the appropriate proportions and quantities to meet our needs. One way to follow a balanced diet is to make sure we eat a variety of foods which supply a range of nutrients. Carbohydrates in the form of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, cereals and potatoes should be a major part of a balanced diet. We should also aim to eat at least five portions of fruit or vegetables each day.

No mention of essential fats. No mention of essential proteins. The only macro nutrient singled out to form the “major part” of a ‘balanced diet’ is carbohydrates – ironically – the only macro nutrient that is not essential in any way. Get the bread, pasta, cereals and potatoes – things forming the major part of processed foods – mentioned on the first page. And why five a day? Why teach children things that have no evidence base and were started by fruit and veg companies as a marketing campaign? (In 1991) Does the book author even know this? Does she care?

On P10, we have the old (1994) “Balance of Good Health” plate, which has a prominent picture of puffed wheat cereal and breakfast flakes cereal – a quick glance and it passes for Bran Flakes no problem. We have the usual appalling array of processed food, which is still featured on the Eatbadly Plate – the September 2007 replacement for the BOGH plate. On the BOGH version of the plate in our children’s book, we have white bread, white rice, sugary baked beans, sugary yoghurt, crisps, lemonade, cake and man-made spreads (don’t put nature’s butter on view, whatever happens).

On P13 (scan below) we have a picture of Bran Flakes – beautifully positioned – full length all the way down the right hand side of the page. You can’t miss it. On p23 we have a tub of low fat spread and this fat-phobic section of the book stresses that we should choose (Unilever) low fat spreads and not (nature’s) butter.

There is one interesting fact that this section states correctly (I was surprised a) that they knew this and b) that they admitted it) “cholesterol in food has very little effect on blood cholesterol levels.” For “very little” read “none”. However, the text goes on to say “saturated fats from the food we eat are important factors which affect blood cholesterol levels.” This is the subject of significant debate, which the book should have known about even in 1996 when it was published, but all the more reason to have school textbooks as up to date as possible – particularly in an evolving topic, such as nutrition. (I would like the book to explain, biochemically, precisely how any real fat eaten in real food can raise cholesterol. I would also like the book to explain, given that cholesterol is only found in animal foods – meat, fish, eggs, dairy – and given that eating these has no impact on cholesterol in the blood – why are children/people told that these will raise cholesterol levels when we know that they don’t).

P26 & 27 are the  Unilever thank you pages – a double page spread of spreads. Ha ha. “Gold low fat spread” (I did say this was an out of date textbook); “Gold unsalted low fat spread” and “Gold lowest low fat spread.” There is then a table comparing two Unilever “Gold” products with a Waitrose spread and two from their rival St Ivel. Unilever win the calorie count (the focus of the table) by a mile. Go Unilever! (Butter was not in the table and the table did not measure natural levels of vitamins A and D, or butter would have cleaned up. Go away Nature!)

Then we have the p34 Coco-Pops and P36 Bran Flakes promotions to children. Because these foods have little to no natural nutrition, they are invariably fortified. The textbook fronts this off by saying “Some foods are fortified with vitamins which are manufactured. These are identical in structure to vitamins found naturally in food and behave in the body in the same way.” Really? You don’t need fat to accompany fat soluble vitamins any more? I’ve seen numerous studies showing that the whole food, with the accompanying macro nutrients, antioxidants and phyto nutrients,  is the best way to get vitamins. And what about minerals? Or essential proteins? Or essential fats? Do we not need these?

This is what our children are being taught – lies to position food industry products as nutritious equals to real food. Mother Nature doesn’t need to fortify her foods – they are naturally abundant in nutrients. If cereals have to add vitamins in to have any nutritional value, what does this say about them? They are high calorie, sugary vitamin tablets – that’s what.

On p45, all about dietary fibre, the first four products listed are not the products highest in dietary fibre, nor the products in alphabetical order, they are the cereals – All Bran, Weetabix, Porridge oats and cornflakes. Only one of those can come in a natural form – oats. Tomatoes, lentils and peas are at the bottom of the list.

P99 devotes just one side (less than the space devoted to Bran Flakes packets) to eggs and cannot find a good thing to say about them. Salmonella and cross contamination are mentioned and eggs are described as little more than things that bind ingredients together. This is part of the dual strategy of cereal manufacturers 1) promote one’s own sugary products and 2) denigrate what people used to eat for breakfast, so that your products become the preferred alternative. It is disgraceful for a GCSE textbook to be supporting this propaganda.

What caused the obesity epidemic?

I could go on turning the pages with misinformation after misinformation. No mention of the difference between retinol and carotene and the necessary, and not always possible, conversion to obtain vitamin A in the right form; margarine claimed to be a good source of vitamin D – not naturally it isn’t. That’s an even higher calorie vitamin tablet. No mention of vitamin K1 and K2, or the need to get both plant and animal forms of this vitamin. Vitamin E is declared as “deficiency rare.” Last time I looked at the UK Family Food Survey, the average Brit was getting barely the ridiculous UK Recommended Daily Allowance (we are apparently only ‘allowed’ a certain level of nutrition) and this, 10mg per day, is two thirds of the minimum USA ‘allowance’ – unless we need less of this vital antioxidant than our American friends? There is no mention that vitamin B12 is the unique nutrient that is only found in animal foods (hence why humans are not intended to be vegan). Instead, the textbook tells children that B12 is found in breakfast cereals – the high calorie vitamin tablets again. Not naturally it isn’t – again.

My favourite page is p173 where there is a highly revealing graph (the one on the right hand side of the page scan below), which tells us lots about the obesity epidemic, but the book doesn’t realise that it is sat on a gem. Rather amusingly, the text next to the graph says “The chart below shows how our eating habits are changing. We are slowly changing to a healthier diet.”

The graph then shows that, between the years of 1971 and 1991 (don’t forget how out of date this is) the index of breakfast cereal consumption has gone up from 100 to about 170; the index of white meat (think KFC) has gone up to approximately 175. The index of red meat (beef and veal – quality stuff) has gone down from 100 to approximately 60 and the index for eggs has more than halved from 100 to less than 50. So – having breakfast cereals for breakfast is apparently healthier than eggs. Just one thing – obesity for men was 2.7% in 1972 and 22.6% in 1999 and obesity for women was 2.7% in 1972 and 25.8% in 1999. So, during this time when our diet was ‘healthier’ – according to the companies funding our children’s text books – obesity multiplied almost ten fold, diabetes type 2 has reached almost epidemic levels and childhood obesity has become a household term.

WJEC Board

The WJEC specifications for teaching this Home Economics: Food & Nutrition GCSE include in their specification of tasks (p17):

Cereals make an important contribution to the diet.
(a) Investigate the role of cereals in the diet.
(b) Develop a range of ideas for dishes using cereals.
(c) Plan a course of action for making a selection of dishes using cereals.
(d) Make and present the selection of dishes.
(e) Evaluate your work.

I could understand if they wanted children to know about the super foods liver, eggs or spinach, but fortified cereals?

And finally, because the exam is what this is all about at the end of the day, take a look at this specimen exam: one mark for knowing that strawberry milk shake is higher in calcium than orange & mango juice and another point for knowing that the fruit juice is higher in vitamin C. Question 4 is all about how can we eat at least 4 slices of bread a day – that should fuel the Federation of Baker profits and childhood obesity nicely. Question 9 beggars belief – “Explain how the addition of modified starch is of benefit to the consumer.” Would I get any marks for saying – it is of no benefit to the consumer.  The chemically altered FrankenFood that is modified starch is of great benefit to the producer because it extends shelf life, it is cheap, it speeds up the thickening process (saves more costs) and it takes lumps out of things otherwise so hideous that people probably wouldn’t eat them.

Next time you’re at parents evening – start asking the teachers about how and what they are teaching, not how your little darling is performing. I hope that your little treasure skips nutrition class – better to learn nothing than to learn these appalling, conflicted messages.

14 thoughts on “Who’s teaching our children about ‘nutrition’?

  • avatar
    July 12, 2015 at 1:54 am
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    I’m going to be honest here. I have species dysphoria and a touch of misanthropy. In other words, I feel as though I was born into the incorrect species and also have some disdain for human nature. I have decided to call my “misanthropy” as “mispsychconsciouphoria” that is, the dislike or hatred of how the conscious mind works. I mean, we have subconscious that knows what we need and what is going on with us, but it’s the conscious part of our brain that has to learn just what these various things mean.

    As a result, trial and error, lives are taken, confirmation bias sets in, greed takes over and we become blocked off from seeing the real issues. All in all, we have become blind and deaf to our true instincts and, in my mind, even lost connection with our innermost selves that tell us “this is NOT good for you!” and go about our poor eating habits and pill popping.

    It pains me deeply to know that we are a species that has to LEARN basic health and what is really causing us such misery and suffering. We cannot feel symptom and go “oh! it’s because I’ve been eating shitty food! Now off to get some nice, high calorie, fat loaded fuel…” instead we have to wonder why we feel so terrible or at worst, just accept it as “who we are” or take out on the person that says “it’s because you’re eating the wrong foods” or “just life” when what we need is right there waiting to be eaten…or not taken at all!

    We teach our children this, they grow up believing these lies and then pass it down to the next generation. It takes years, if not generations, crippled and taken lives to negate the things we learn, but would be so much better off just knowing on a conscious scale instead of a bodily/subconscious one.

    If we simply had the ability to taste unhealthy foods or substances (or had an automatic reject system for that kind of thing) we might not be faced with such scandal and propaganda by the food companies or drug companies.

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  • avatar
    April 16, 2014 at 10:54 pm
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    I’m always so angry with how I’m being taught in school and how my friends just go along with being taught like this. I tell my friends about all this crap in our food and how fats are good but they see me as crazy or stupid. I’m sick of it but glad my mom has taught me otherwise about not eating like this. I’m also thankful about websites that teach the truth.

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    • avatar
      April 17, 2014 at 8:14 am
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      Hi Harmony – stay angry – the world needs the open and questioning minds. We have enough closed and unquestioning ones!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

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    July 3, 2012 at 11:10 am
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    Hi, Zoe – that specimen exam paper is terrifying, I think. The fact that some schools are using a textbook which is 17 years old, and therefore totally out of date in respect of current nutritional views (valid or otherwise)is outrageous. I never did Food and Nutrition at school – it didn’t exist in the late 1970s, we had “Home Economics”. I am coming to the conclusion that nutrition should not be a subject that is separated from science lessons – I believe I am correct in thinking it is a science in itself? I can remember learning about enzymes and what they act upon in my biology lessons, so surely how our food is digested and then used by our bodies, and how it benefits or damages us, should be something included in the curriculum? Perhaps, in preparing the textbooks, it would be realised what a load of tripe has been taught for the last 25 years!!

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  • avatar
    July 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm
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    Hi Darren the graph is scanned in the blog above – it’s from the nutrition book not the UK Family Food Survey – hope this helps – Zoe

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    July 2, 2012 at 11:00 am
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    hi zoe i was very interested in the graph you showed in the above blog but when i went to the UKFFS reference you posted i could not find that graph. Do you have another link or a copy of that graph please?

    Thanks so much. Loved the blog on the Swedish Study by the way, great stuff

    Darren

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  • avatar
    October 23, 2011 at 8:24 pm
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    I was so interested in your talk on the Food Programme about calories and the contribution of carbohydrates to our diet, that to keep myself up to date I clicked on your website. Only to find your comments about my book Examining Food and Nutrition published in 1996. Any book on food and nutrition written 17 years ago (I started it in 1994) will contain out of date charts and old nutrition information, so I think it is unfair of you to expect 17 year old data to reflect current thinking. The second edition published in 2009 is a complete rewrite as a great deal has changed in food and nutrition thinking during those years.
    Let me defend myself against your comments. I write my textbooks to match exam board specifications and research extensively and use sources such as The Food Standards Agency, the British Nutrition Foundation and The Department of Health, quoting their definitions for things such as a balanced diet which you highlight. In 1994 these organisations had different names and the data used throughout the text is from official sites and referenced in the text. I do not invent or alter the information provided, nor do I offer my opinion. So your comments on the balanced diet are based upon statements by the Health Education Authority and MAFF which functioned 17 years ago.
    You comment on my use of food labels on pages 26 and 27 – a double page headed ‘Designing fats and spreads’. These pages focus on how the food industry is developing new fat spread products. I’ve used real food labels for students to analyse, and the labels also show the range of ingredients used to make these products, which are open to comment by teachers. You state they are out of date – well the book is 17 years old. You ask why I’ve not mentioned butter. Because the pages are about new fat spreads not about butter which is described on pages 24,25 and 96 and more. In 1991 the COMA report recommended that no more 11% of food energy should come from saturated fatty acids, so this was an issue when the book was written and is reflected in the text.
    p 99 you say I haven’t said a good thing about eggs.
    My first question on page 99 for students asks
    ‘1. What valuable nutrients are provided by eggs?’ and there is a food label with the nutritional information of eggs as well as the statement
    ‘Eggs can provide the main protein for a meal.’
    So I don’t understand what is not a’good thing’ about those statements.
    You state ‘It is disgraceful for a GCSE textbook to be supporting this propaganda.’
    My textbooks are written independently, you are questioning my integrity and say that I ‘don’t care’. I have been teaching and writing about food since 1970 and care a great deal about the importance of the subject. I believe in writing a textbook that reflects the real world around me. Food labels are the ones that students see on supermarket shelves, and there is much to learn from the details they supply. You may consider that I am supporting propaganda but I disagree. As a food teacher, food labels provide me with fascinating information and I used them to help my students to question the contents of the foods they are eating. At no point in the text have I supported eating any kind of food, and if Mother Nature supplied food labels with its products I would have used them too.
    You say that I have thanked the food companies. When publishing any image, it is a standard requirement for permission to be obtained as the image is their copyright. This is listed in the Acknowledgement section and the list is a page long. It includes companies you have not mentioned – the Royal Society of Chemistry, National Heart Forum, Which?, Food Hygiene Laboratory, ASA, HMSO, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers, Central Public Health Laboratory – as well as food producers and supermarkets. Many professional people in the food industry helped me with the extensive research for this book – but you are criticising text, data, food labels and nutritional thinking that is 17 years old, and this is an easy target and very unfair.
    I welcome your comments and look forward to your advice on what is the government’s current recommendation for the food energy supplied by carbohydrates.
    The UK Food Standards Agency issues guidance on dietary recommendations on behalf of the Department of Health for the general public. The current government recommendations are Total Carbohydrates Increase to more than 50% of food energy (currently at 48.1%) and I have to use official recommendations in the text that I write.

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    • avatar
      October 24, 2011 at 11:42 am
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      Hi Jenny – The fact that this book is so out of date was my first point made. This is the textbook being used to teach my 15 year old step son about nutrition. I appreciate that this is not your fault, but everything in this blog above is applicable to my step son and all the other children still being taught from this textbook.

      As for your other points – it boils down to this: Do you believe what you wrote/write to be good advice? If so, don’t blame the government. If not, what are you doing writing it? I won’t write anything that I don’t believe. I will never do anything in association with the food and drink industry. Here’s the membership list for the British Nutrition Foundation – members and sustaining members. Do you really trust this as a source of information?

      I’ll just address one other point and the final question:
      1) We shouldn’t be teaching children how to read ‘food’ labels. We should be teaching them – if something requires a food label for you to know what it is, it ain’t food. (Mother nature doesn’t need to put labels on food).

      2) No government should set macro nutrient targets. They should prioritise micro nutrients and the macro nutrients will be what they will be (take care of the pennies etc). If we prioritised getting vitamins and minerals, we would naturally steer people towards meat, eggs and dairy from grass living animals; fish; nuts & seeds; vegetables and salads and fruits in season. There would be no room in our diet for the 400 calories of sugar and 730 calories of flour per person per day that is currently being consumed as a result of the eatbadly plate and the current dietary advice.

      Best wishes – Zoe

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  • avatar
    August 16, 2011 at 11:08 am
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    The British Heart Foundation has teaching resourses you should take a look at –

    http://www.bhf.org.uk/publications/view-publication.aspx?ps=1001259

    Download their free poster.

    Has some nice things to say about carbs and also how saturated fat is bad.

    It’s enough to make you want to bang your head against the wall, remember they are trying to save lives – if only.
    The kids are being programmed with the wrong info.

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  • avatar
    July 29, 2011 at 2:00 am
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    You guys should check out a movie called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. Yet another piece of evidence that counting calories doesn’t work. It’s on netflix.

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  • avatar
    July 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm
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    Teachers can use this website: http://www.grainchain.com as a resource.

    This is offered to teachers by TES (Times Educational Supplement) website (http://www.tes.co.uk/) which offers resourses for teachers to use in their teaching.

    Click on the “about us” and you get this:
    The Grain Chain programme is a collaboration of the HGCA, Federation of Bakers (FoB) and Flour Advisory Bureau (FAB).

    – and people wonder why our children have so many food related problems if they are being taught using rubbiish like this!

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    • avatar
      July 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm
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      OMG! Brilliant find Stephen – or should I say FAB?! This is sickening – and on the day we hear that anti-obesity drive vouchers are being handed out so that people can buy Warburton’s bread and Kellogg’s Rice Crispies.
      We’re on their case!
      Many thanks – Zoe

      Reply
  • avatar
    June 25, 2011 at 9:48 am
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    Spare a thought for the teachers who know better but have to teach this rubbish because the truth would fail their students in the GCSE!

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  • avatar
    June 18, 2011 at 8:33 pm
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    Zoe the last paragraph of this piece i think illustrates why the message is being drowned out. Following Carb restriction under whatever name is largely an individual experiment / experience ( incidentaly one which i support and practice ), For individuals to question the ” Collective Expert Wisdom ” will undoubtedly earn you the name of LO CARB TALIBAN and it takes a brave and Knowledgeable soul so to do. Although there are a host of websites forums and blogs supporting the view, the perception from the other side seems to be that it is something frequented by ” nutters and fanatics “.
    As an aside the Taliban and Americans are now in peace talks so the message might be keep up the pressure and you will get there ………….. eventually.

    Keep up the good work

    Reply

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