Parcels That Are Good for Our Cells!

29th April 2021

Richard T. Hodgson
Masters in Nutrition & Behaviour @ BU

Trussell Trust Food Parcels

Nutritional studies have shown that Trussell Trust parcels consistently meet nutritional requirements for adults over a three-day period, in fact, they are designed that way. They frequently exceed requirements for energy, protein, and micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, which allows them to last well over three days for many recipients. Of course, nothing is perfect, and there is always room for improvement!

Like many others nationwide, Bournemouth Foodbank partners with FareShare, supermarkets, and other local organisations to supplement their parcels with fresh produce, but the majority of products within the parcels are necessarily unperishable. In order to keep those products edible and safe, some level of processing is inevitable. Processed food is not inherently unhealthy, but it tends to come with hidden quantities of salt and sugar which can make it so. Salt and sugar are effective preservatives that are commonly used, and they also make food more appealing to us because of how certain parts of the brain work.


Illustrated in the chart below, research conducted on the parcels shows that they tend to contain higher than optimum levels of salt and sugar.



Salt, Sugar and Selected Macronutrient Content of Food Parcels

The dark green bars represent the average food parcel from various London locations, where the study was held. The light green bars represent a hypothetical food parcel constructed from the nationwide Trussell Trust food parcel list, essentially an ‘ideal world” situation.

Source: adapted from Hughes & Prayogo (2018).


The physical mechanisms that regulate how salt is held in the body evolved in humans who lived in a very different environment to that which we are currently living, mostly in hot climates with very little edible salt available.

There are individual differences in salt sensitivity largely based on genetics, but the relationship between salt overconsumption and high blood pressure is one of the most solid and almost un-disputed findings in nutritional science. High blood pressure (also known as hypertension) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, clearly something we would like to avoid. Sodium is the substance found in salt that heightens blood pressure, and we do need tiny quantities of it, but it is easy to subconsciously overconsume unless you have the time, money, facilities, skill, and desire to prepare all your meals completely from scratch! The UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) recommends consuming less than 6g of salt per day, which is just over a teaspoon.


Evolutionarily, sugar was a great energy source for survival, so it triggers a release of dopamine that we find pleasurable and causes us to seek out more. This was a useful mechanism until we surrounded ourselves with too much sugar!

Whilst sugary foods can be tasty treats and provide us with a short-term energy boost, they are not so kind on our teeth, and overconsumption can lead to long-term issues such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Recent guidance from SACN recommends that ‘free-sugar’ consumption should provide below 5% of our overall calories. Free-sugars are added by food manufacturers, cooks, and consumers, and also include natural sources like honey and fruit juice. The recommended amount is below 33g per day for men and below 27g for women, and that is the max amount rather than a goal!

What can we do about Salt and Sugar?

If you are a Foodbank donor you can consider giving the reduced salt and sugar versions of products, tinned beans being a classic example, with many modified items such as pasta sauces now widely available too. Check the online requests for specific products that your local Foodbank needs. If you are a parcel recipient or simply want to reduce your intake you can check labels to be more aware of your consumption, avoid adding extra salt to processed foods, and try to make any high-sugar items last longer. Swapping sugary and salty biscuits for more fibrous, wholegrain alternatives can be beneficial too. Overall, it is important to enjoy giving, receiving, and consuming your food, so do whatever you can that works for you.


With regards to micronutrients, across various studies, vitamins A, D and E were the most likely to be lacking. That said, you can see from the chart below that even those vitamins were close to 100% of the nutrient intake recommendations. Additionally, the sample of food parcels used in that study typically surpassed all SACN mineral content recommendations, for calcium, iron, and zinc for example.

Vitamin Content of Food Parcels


Vitamin A

Vitamin A has roles in immunity, vision, and skin, and can be sourced from animal products like eggs, oily fish, liver, and dairy. Our bodies convert pigments from plants into vitamin A, sources include most yellow, orange, and red vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers, or fruits like mangoes, papayas, and apricots. Great non-perishable sources, therefore, include tinned carrots and oily fish.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has roles in bone, teeth, muscle, and immune health. Summer is coming, and our bodies produce their own vitamin D through sun exposure. In the UK, between the months of April and September the sun reaches an angle at which the ultraviolet rays penetrate the atmosphere, those rays are what we need to synthesise vitamin D. You need not risk sunburn though, exposing your face, hands and forearms for as little as 15 minutes for lighter-skinned individuals and 30 minutes for darker skin can be enough between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm. It is tricky to get the recommended vitamin D intake from diet alone, but sources include egg yolks, liver, and red meat, with tinned oily fish again providing a fine non-perishable source.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E has roles in the skin, eyes, and immune system. Most nuts, seeds and wholegrain wheat products are good sources, with oils from rapeseed, sunflower, soya and olives providing a source best consumed in moderation. Vitamins A, D and E are all fat-soluble, so they are stored in the body if unused, and therefore do not need to be consumed every single day.

General Guidance

As a cautionary note, the reference values included in the text and charts above are for adults aged 19-64, requirements vary for children and older individuals, and those who have certain conditions, injuries, or in pregnancy. For example, women are advised to avoid excessive levels of vitamin A during pregnancy so should avoid liver and pâté, and athletes sweating excessively may need more sodium than the average person. Governmental nutrition guidelines can be found by searching for the UK Eatwell Guide or following the link in the resources section at the bottom.

The Take-Home Message

In summary, whether you are a donor, a parcel recipient, or an interested onlooker, you can rest assured that Trussell Trust food parcels are nutritionally adequate in general. By actioning awareness of the shortcomings through reducing salt and sugar quantities, and increasing fibre and vitamins A, D and E, we can enhance them. In turn, that will more constructively assist people going through hardship and contribute towards the wider vision for a nation without the need for Foodbanks.

Sources and Resources:

‘Nutritional Adequacy and Content of Food Bank Parcels…’ (Fallaize et al., 2020)

‘Nutritional Analysis of the Trussell Trust Emergency Food Parcel’ (Hughes & Prayogo, 2018)

‘Salt craving: The psychobiology of pathogenic sodium intake’ (Morris et al. 2009)

‘Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine…’ (Rada et al. 2005)

‘Why 5%?’ (Public Health England & SACN, 2015)

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