National School Meals Week

It is a daily challenge for parents to find a healthy packed lunch that their children will eat. So many choose to go for the school meal option, but unfortunately, this choice removes some of the parental control over how much salt and sugar their child may be exposed to in their school meal.

There have been many public campaigns to improve the quality of school meals over the years by reducing salt and sugar. This is fantastic news as research in 2015 indicated that children aged 2-19 consume more than 3.1g of sodium (7.8g) per day. The daily recommendation of sodium intake for an adult is no more than 2.4 g of sodium (6g of salt).

Why is it important to reduce salt and sugar in the daily diet of children? Childhood obesity is on the rise with 22% of children starting primary school obese or overweight. Too much salt and sugar in the diet could have an adverse effect on the gut microbiome. Research has linked autoimmune conditions to gut dysbiosis, and in 2013 there has been some evidence that salt alters the gut microbiome in a way that could result in autoimmune conditions. There is also a theory that eating too much salt creates a craving for sweet tastes to ameliorate the salt – a little bit like the salted peanuts and crisps in a bar makes you order more alcoholic drinks (alcohol is a form of sugar). So a high salt diet might be making our children seek to eat more sweet foods as a result.

High Blood Pressure

Also, high blood pressure was considered an adult affliction, but there is more evidence available indicating that too much salt can also negatively impact the blood pressure of young children. Eating high levels of salt in childhood can influence eating patterns as adults, increasing the chances of having high blood pressure and its associated health implications. Raised sodium levels in the blood could lead to tissue damage and health complications affecting the kidneys.

High Sugar Content

High sugar content in food can also damage our gut microbiome. The beneficial bacteria in our gut love prebiotic foods such as plant based fibres like apples, whole grains and vegetables. When our diet has high levels of sugar the undesirable or pathogenic bacteria love this as they have a sugar feast and grow out of control. This creates an imbalance, resulting low levels of the good (desirable) bacteria. This imbalance can lead to gastrointestinal problems, like diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, flatulence and even fungal overgrowth (Thrush), fatigue, poor concentration and mood swings,

The sugar tax is a step in the right direction, but more education for school meal providers regarding gut health and the long-term health of our children would not be a bad thing.


Diane Cottrill
Nutritionist and FMT Therapist (BSc with Hons), ANutr
Taymount Clinic 



Appel, L.J., (2015), ‘Reducing Sodium Intake in Children:  A public Health Investment’, Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 17(9), pp. 657-662

Magnusson, K., Hauk, L., Jeffery, B., Elias V., (2015), ‘Relationships between diet-related changes in the gut microbiome ad cognitive flexibility’, Neuroscience, 300, pp.128-140

Brown, K., DeCoffe, D., Molcan E., Gibsin, D., (2012), ‘Diet-Induced Dysbiosis of the Intestinal Microbiota and the Effects on Immunity and Disease’, Nutrient, 4(8), PP.1095-1119