The Importance of Nutrition

By Val Cocksedge

NCWQ Nutrition Adviser


The early childhood years are important in laying the foundation for future health and well-being. Eating patterns, preferences and behaviours learnt in early childhood may be sustained into adult life. Recent reports, however, suggest that in general, children’s diets are not meeting the healthy guidelines due to inadequate consumption of fruit and vegetables and excessive consumption of saturated fat, sugar and salt (Ros Sambel, Dr. Amanda Devine and Dr.Johnny Leo) – paper presented at the 2014 HEIA Conference.

The Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA) maintains breakfast helps you maintain a healthy weight. Eating a healthy breakfast means you are less likely to snack on high-energy, high fat foods. A healthy breakfast provides energy and leads to a higher intake of essential nutrients (carbohydrates, dietary fibre, certain vitamins and minerals). Eating breakfast has been linked to an improvement in literacy and numeracy in school children.

Many people eat badly because far too much of their energy is provided by nutritionally worthless junk food and drinks. Of course, we must take responsibility for what we choose but when sugary, salty, fatty items dominate what is offered in supermarkets, school and work canteens, sporting venues, service stations, motel dining rooms, clubs and even hospitals, they become an easy choice. The food industry uses advertising and promotions to “normalise” the consumption of highly processed foods and drinks and its lobbying power to resist regulation.

Nutrition Australia (Aloysa Hourigan) said an ideal breakfast included protein and calcium. In this busy world, liquid breakfast in a carton can seem to be a perfect choice. According to the packaging they’re nutritious as well as easy to “grab and go”. Some health experts aren’t convinced they should replace breakfast on a regular basis. They should be considered an occasional food. They have some nutritional value but mostly are too high in sugar, low in fat and kilojoules to constitute a healthy breakfast. One in seven children are not eating breakfast before going to school (Dr. Rosemary Stanton and Dr. Christina Pollard – (The conversation 2014). Foodbank’s Social Return on Investment Report shows breakfast cereal was most in demand for those struggling financially. Foodbank Australia has joined with Kellogg’s Australia to provide six million serves of breakfast cereal for children going without.

The State Government will give at least $2 million to the C.W.A to spread healthy cooking and eating to the most remote parts of the state. The C.W.A volunteers and staff will drive across Queensland in vehicles two at a time, spreading the message at local shows, cooking demonstrations and other community forums.

The typical supermarket now stocks about 30,000 items up from between 600-800 in the 60’s. Companies are in the business to make a profit. Sugar, refined starches and fat are chap additives used to dilute more nutritious e.g. many fruit drinks contain just 25% juice with added sugar and water.

Sugars, added starches, saturated fat and salt are cheap, so the more added, the more budget benefit left for persuading customers, including children to choose their product.

Marketing costs are tax deductible in Australia. Basic foods such as fruits and vegetables which have little or no packaging or value padding have only a small budget for promotion so their consumption in correspondingly low (Dr. R. Stanton and Dr. C. Pollard).

A Deakin University study provides evidence that sugary drinks and fatty foods are linked to the growing rate of obesity in Australian children, more than half Australian toddlers have excessive salt intake, putting them at risk of high blood pressure, and stroke.

Because salt is added to many of our basic foods, parents are unintentionally feeding them diets too high in salt. Taste preferences are set in early life, so acquiring preference for salty foods then, leads to preferences in adult life.

Increasing portion size make an offering more attractive to many, but then competitors do the same, all offerings become large, leading to health problems and obesity.

50% of office workers, working through lunch hours are eating, drinking ready available food rather than eating a healthy lunch in a healthier atmosphere outdoors.

Foods with questionable health claims including those promoted by prominent sports people are being addressed by the Cancer Council. On pack promotions such as celebrity endorsements and nutrient claims such as “rich in protein”, “packed with fibre”, “lunch box friendly”, and “baked not fried” can sway parents and children’s food preferences. Dr. Paul Bates from the Bupa Health Foundation said “Counter advertising could encourage parents of young children to make healthier food choices”

The Obesity Policy Coalition made up of peak health groups including the Cancer Council and Diabetes Australia, raised concerns after a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) proposal to allow electrolyte drinks to carry health claims. Sports drinks are generally too sugary and salty for non-athletes. The Australian Institute of Sport states carbohydrate replenishment tis not need during exercise less than 45 minutes duration and only small amounts are required for sustained high intense exercise of up to 75 minutes.

Consumer watchdogs are fighting to stop grocery firms hiding details of product sizes on the back of packaging. The Australian Food and Grocery Council is advocating for the rules of front of packets, boxes and bottles to be scrapped in favour of more flexible requirements currently in force in Europe. Consumer organisations draw attention to companies quietly shrinking the size of products but not price.

Some food companies are dodging television advertising restrictions by targeting children on social media. More than 13 million Australians a month are engaging in the Facebook pages of foods such as ice cream, chocolate, pizza, burgers, fired chicken according to a study. These consumers are able to order some of the products on line, to be delivered to their door. Photographs, logos, trademarks and brand colours are used. Celebrity photos, videos, competitions, polls and quizzes, discounting vouchers are used to attract Facebook users.   Many sites ask consumers to photograph themselves using the products which all then shared on the company’s Facebook page.


McDonalds Australia will begin home delivery in the greater Brisbane area next month as a trial. Customers wanting to use the service will be able to choose from an almost full list of menu items, placing the order through the company’s website with a minimum order of $25.

Date marking provides a guide to the shelf life of a food. “Use by” indicates the last date on which the food may be safely eaten. “Best before” indicating the food maybe safe to eat but the quality may have lessened providing it has been stored according to stated storage conditions and the package is unopened / damaged.

Ancient grains such as quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah), Amaranth, Buck wheat, Freekah, Ferro and Millet are being promoted. As well as providing a variety to meals, these grains are bursting with essential nutrients for health and well-being. These grains are available at local supermarkets as well as speciality stores. For more information visit the “grains and Legumes Nutrition Council” and for information and recipes check Catherine Saxelby’s book – “Ancient Grains-Whole Food Recipes for Modern Table”.

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