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With shelves stacked top to bottom with hundreds of brightly coloured boxes competing for your attention, the supermarket aisle of breakfast cereals can sometimes feel like walking through a minefield.
Make the wrong choice and you or your child could end up with a breakfast cereal high in sugar, fat or salt, which if eaten too often can contribute to weight gain and health problems, including tooth decay and high blood pressure.
But whether it's puffed, baked or flaked, cereal can still form part of a healthy balanced diet. We've enlisted dietitian Azmina Govindji to sort the shredded wheat from the chaff to help you make a healthier choice.
"While it's important to make healthier choices when it comes to breakfast, it's equally just as important to make sure you eat breakfast regularly and that you enjoy it," says Govindji.
For a healthier option, choose breakfast cereals that contain wholegrains and are lower in sugar, fat and salt. Examples include:
Wholegrains contain fibre and B vitamins, among other nutrients. Fibre helps keep our digestive systems healthy, and research suggests a diet high in fibre may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
"Avoid always going for the same brand as manufacturers regularly modify their recipes," says Govindji. "Try looking at the nutrition label, and compare brands so you opt for the healthier version."
Mueslis, which usually contain wholegrains and fruit, are often seen as a healthier option, but check the label first – many can be relatively high in fat, added sugar and, in some cases, salt.
Food labels can help you choose between brands and avoid breakfast cereals high in sugar, fat and salt. All nutrition information is provided per 100g and "per serving", which can be helpful when comparing one cereal with another.
Some brands also use red, amber and green colour coding on the front of the packet, sometimes known as traffic lights. The more greens on the label, the healthier the choice. Find out more about food labels.
You can use the per 100g information on the nutrition label to identify breakfast cereals that are:
High in sugar, fat or salt
Low in sugar, fat or salt
Having breakfast cereal is a good opportunity to add calcium to the diet if you serve it with milk or yoghurt. Go for semi-skimmed, 1% or skimmed milk, or lower-fat yoghurt. "Milk and yoghurt are good sources of calcium and protein," says Govindji. Find out what types of milk are suitable for young children.
Having cereal is also a good opportunity to get some fruit in the diet. Raisins, dried apricots, bananas and strawberries are popular choices, and can be added to any cereal, depending on your tastes.
"Adding fruit to cereals is a great way to get kids to eat more fruit," says Govindji. "It also helps them enjoy less sugary cereals, as you get sweetness from the fruit."
You could wash down breakfast with a small glass (150ml) of 100% fruit juice, which also counts towards your 5 A DAY.
A helpful rule of thumb to maintain a healthy weight is to follow the 400-600-600 approach. That means having about:
That leaves you with just enough left over to enjoy a few healthy drinks and snacks throughout the day. This advice is based on a woman's daily recommended calorie intake of 2,000kcal.
"You might get about 150kcal from a 40g serving of cereal," says Govindji. "You could add a medium sliced banana and 200ml of semi-skimmed milk, which all together would provide about 350kcals.
"You need fuel in the morning, and starting the day with a filling breakfast can help you avoid reaching for a less healthy mid-morning snack to keep you going until lunch."
If you want to get your child off sugary cereals, Govindji recommends mixing sugary cereals with similar looking lower-sugar ones. You could then gradually increase the amount of lower-sugar cereal over time to get kids used to them. Or you could let your child pick from a selection of, say, three healthier cereals.
"The fact that your child wants to have breakfast is already a healthy habit," says Govindji. "You don't want to jeopardise that by making breakfast seem suddenly unappealing."
It's a sign of the times that people are increasingly abandoning breakfast cereals, one of the earliest convenience foods, for more convenient "on-the-go" options, such as a breakfast muffin and a latte.
If you're short on time in the morning, how about setting the table the night before? You could also grab a pot of porridge on your way to work or have your cereal when you get in.
"Cereals are still one of the best value breakfasts out there," says Govindji. "A bowl of fortified breakfast cereal with milk gives you more nutrients for your penny when compared to most on-the-go breakfast options."
Enter the first part of your postcode in the search box above to find a running event near you.
The box, powered by findarace.com, sorts through thousands of events nationwide to help you find your next challenge.
You can refine your search by selecting your preferred distance, terrain and date, and view results as a list or on a map.
Working towards a goal, such as a running event, is one of the most effective ways to stay motivated for regular exercise.
If you have recently completed the NHS Couch to 5K (C25K) plan, signing up for a running event is one way to keep going.
Whatever your goal, findarace.com’s extensive listings will have an event for you – from family-friendly and fancy dress events, to non-scary triathlons and night-time runs.
Launched in 2012, findarace.com is the brainchild of childhood friends and thrill-seekers Rob Munday, David Wearn and Richard Ward.
As rowers, they had grown weary of 5.30am wake-ups and wanted to explore new ways of enjoying the outdoors.
The next few years were spent falling off mountain bikes in Wiltshire, paddling punctured kayaks in Kent and spraining ankles in Snowdonia.
They found that, as well as being accident prone, it was often hard to find the next challenge. There was no one website where they could look up any sport and enter an event.
“You had to search through a handful of different sport-specific sites, none of which were easy to use or comprehensive,” says Wearn.
This could be done better, they thought.
“We wanted to create a cross-sport listings site with the sole purpose of making it easier to find races and events,” says Wearn.
A few years later, findarace.com was born. The site currently boasts some 5,000 events to choose from across the UK and is used by thousands of people every month.
Most people put on weight because they eat and drink more calories than they burn through everyday movement and body functions.
But in some cases, your weight gain may be due to an underlying health condition. Here are nine medical reasons that can cause weight gain.
An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) means that your thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones, which play a central role in regulating your metabolism. Although an underactive thyroid can occur at any age and in either sex, it is most common in older women. “Without enough thyroid hormone, the body’s metabolism slows down, which can lead to weight gain,” says dietitian Catherine Collins. The condition is usually treated with daily hormone-replacement tablets, called levothyroxine.
Weight gain is a common side effect for people who take insulin to manage their diabetes. Insulin helps to control your blood sugar level. It’s not uncommon for people with longstanding diabetes to eat a diet that "matches" their insulin dose, which can mean they’re eating more than they need to in order to prevent low blood sugar – also known as hypoglycaemia or "hypo" – from developing.
“Excessive snacking to prevent a hypo contributes to an excessive calorie intake and overall weight gain,” says Collins, who recommends becoming an "expert patient" by attending a diabetes education course such as DESMOND for people with type 2 diabetes or DAFNE for type 1 diabetes, to help make your diabetes fit your lifestyle – not the other way round.
People begin to lose modest amounts of muscle as they get older, largely because they become less active. Muscles are an efficient calorie burner, so a loss of muscle mass can mean you burn fewer calories. If you’re eating and drinking the same amount as you always have and are less physically active, this can lead to weight gain. “To reduce muscle loss, you should stay active and try to do regular muscle-strengthening exercises,” says Collins.
Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are used to treat a variety of conditions, including asthma and arthritis. Long-term use of corticosteroid tablets seems to increase appetite in some people, leading to weight gain. “The higher the dose and the longer you are on steroids, the more weight you are likely to put on,” says Collins. “This is because steroids make you feel hungry, affecting the areas in the brain that control feelings of hunger and satiety.”
She says that being extra careful about what you eat during your steroid course will help you not to eat more than you normally do. It’s not a good idea to reduce or stop your steroid treatment. If you’re worried about weight gain, chat to your GP about help to control your weight.
Cushing's syndrome is very rare, affecting around one in 50,000 people, and is caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol. It can develop as a side effect of long-term steroid treatment (iatogenic Cushing's syndrome) or as a result of a tumour (endogenous Cushing’s syndrome). Weight gain is a common symptom, particularly on the chest, face and stomach. It occurs because cortisol causes fat to be redistributed to these areas. Depending on the cause, treatment typically involves either reducing or withdrawing the use of steroids, or surgery to remove the tumour.
People respond differently to stress, anxiety and depressed mood. Some people may lose weight, while others may gain weight. “People can turn to food as a coping mechanism,” says Collins. “It can lead to a vicious circle. Weight gain from depression can make you more depressed, which can lead to further weight gain. If you know you’re an emotional eater, you need to find other forms of distraction, such as exercise or a hobby, calling a friend, going for a walk or having a soothing bath.”
Some studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day may be more likely to be overweight than those who get nine hours of sleep or more. It’s not clear why, but one theory suggests that sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin, the chemical that makes you feel full, and higher levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone. “If you’re always feeling tired, you are more likely to reach for high-calorie snacks to keep your energy levels up throughout the day and do less physical activity, which means you burn fewer calories,” says Collins.
Fluid retention (oedema) causes parts of the body to become swollen, which translates into weight gain. This gain is caused by fluid accumulating in the body. Some types of fluid retention are not uncommon – for example, if you're standing for long periods or are pre-menstrual. The swelling can occur in one particular part of the body, such as the ankles, or it can be more general.
“More severe fluid retention can also cause breathlessness,” says Collins. “If you notice that you have swollen ankles during the day, have to get up to pee overnight, and have to sleep on a few pillows to avoid breathlessness, you should see your GP, as these examples of fluid retention can indicate heart or kidney problems that need assessment.”
PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. Symptoms can include irregular periods, trouble getting pregnant, excess hair and weight gain. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but it's thought to be hormone-related, including too much insulin and testosterone. “Women with PCOS typically put on weight around their waist,” says Collins. “The more weight you put on, the more insulin you produce, which causes further weight gain.” Weight loss through dietary changes and exercise, and in some cases medication such as orlistat, will help to break the cycle."
One in 20 children in the UK will experience child sexual abuse. Here are the signs to be aware of and what to do if you suspect a child is being sexually abused.
Child sexual abuse is illegal in the UK and covers a range of sexual activities, including:
Both boys and girls can be victims of sexual abuse, but girls are six times more likely to be affected.
People who sexually abuse children can be adult, adolescent or a child themselves. Most abusers are male but females sometimes abuse children too. Forty percent of child sexual abuse is carried out by other (usually older) children or young people.
Nine out of 10 children know or are related to their abuser. Eighty percent of child sex abuse happens either in the child’s home or the abuser’s. Boys are more likely to be abused outside the home, for example, at leisure and sports clubs.
“Child sex abusers often present as engaging, charming individuals,” says John Cameron, Head of Child Protection Operations at the National Society for the Prevention for Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
“If someone wants to sexually abuse a child, they usually have to build up a relationship of trust before they go ahead. People often doubt their own eyes and ears because the abuser appears to be a decent person.”
You may notice that an abuser gives a child special treatment, offering them gifts, treats and outings. They may seek out opportunities to be alone with the child.
Any child can be sexually abused, but there are some factors that increase the risk. Children are more vulnerable if they have already experienced abuse of some kind. Children who live in families where there is child neglect, for example, are more at risk.
Disabled children are three times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, especially if they have difficulties with speech or language.
Children can also be at risk when using the internet. Social media, chat rooms and web forums are all used by child sex abusers to groom potential victims.
See how to protect your child from abuse.
Child sexual abuse can be difficult to identify. Research suggests that one in three children who are sexually abused don’t speak out about it at the time.
Children often don’t talk about the abuse because they think it is their fault or they have been convinced by their abuser that it is normal or a ‘special secret’. Children may also be bribed or threatened by their abuser, or told they won’t be believed.
A child who is being sexually abused may care for their abuser and worry about getting them into trouble.
Here are some of the signs you may notice:
Changes in behaviour – a child may start being aggressive, withdrawn, clingy, have difficulties sleeping or start wetting the bed.
Avoiding the abuser – the child may dislike or seem afraid of a particular person and try to avoid spending time alone with them.
Sexually inappropriate behaviour – children who have been abused may behave in sexually inappropriate ways or use sexually explicit language.
Physical problems – the child may develop health problems, including soreness in the genital and anal areas or sexually transmitted infections, or they may become pregnant.
Problems at school – an abused child may have difficulty concentrating and learning, and their grades may start to drop.
Giving clues – children may also drop hints and clues that the abuse is happening without revealing it outright.
Sexual abuse can cause serious physical and emotional harm to children both in the short term and the long term.
In the short term children may suffer health issues, such as sexually transmitted infections, physical injuries and unwanted pregnancies.
In the long term people who have been sexually abused are more likely to suffer with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They are also more likely to self-harm, become involved in criminal behaviour, misuse drugs and alcohol and to commit suicide as young adults.
Children who have been sexually abused are also at risk of sexual exploitation, in which children are sometimes passed around a network of abusers for sexual purposes or are made to do sexual favours for others by their boyfriend.
See more about how to spot child sexual exploitation.
Children are less likely to suffer long-term consequences from sexual abuse if they get the right help and support early. The only way this can happen is if they disclose the abuse themselves or if someone else reports it. If these things don't happen the abuse is likely to continue.
“Child sexual abuse is never a one-off,” says John Cameron. “It is often a highly addictive behaviour. Without intervention the likelihood of it stopping decreases over time.”
You may be worried that the child in question will be taken away from their parents and put into care. This could be a particular concern if you are the child’s parent.
“The last thing children’s services want to do is take children away,” says John Cameron. “What they are more likely to do is make sure the perpetrator is distanced from the child. If the father is the perpetrator, for example, he can be asked to leave the home and any further contact supervised.”
It's best not to delay if you suspect a child is being sexually abused. “Don’t wait until you’re certain because you will be waiting forever and a day,” says John Cameron. “We all know that feeling when something isn’t quite right. If you have that sense of disquiet, trust your instincts and check it out with someone.”
You can talk directly to the police or your local children’s social services and this can be anonymous. You can also get advice or report your concerns anonymously to the NSPCC by phoning their free helpline on 0808 800 5000. Or you can report sexual abuse to the NSPCC via email or online.
If you are a health professional and suspect a child you are caring for is experiencing abuse or is at risk of abuse, you can seek advice on what to do from the ‘named nurse’ or ‘named doctor’ in your hospital or care setting.
You’ll find more information and advice about child sexual abuse on the NSPCC.
If you are concerned about your own thoughts or behaviour towards children, you can phone Stop It Now! in confidence on 0808 1000 900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a child and someone is sexually abusing you, you can get help and advice from ChildLine – phone 0800 1111, calls are free and confidential.
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