The ‘healthy’ fruit snacks with as much sugar as sweets and fizzy drinks
By Anna Taylor & Claire Gillies
Shockingly there is now at least one child in every year six classroom classified as severely obese, the highest level of obesity on the scale.
Today’s children are eating high amounts of sugar – three times the recommended daily amount in fact – with half of it coming from unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks that have limited nutritional value to boot.
But even parents who are trying to make healthier choices for their children are being misled, by high sugar foods claiming to be healthy.
Fresh fruit vs. processed fruit
As a guide, children’s recommended daily allowance is:
(4-6 yrs = 5 tsp, 7-10 yrs = 6 tsp, 11+ = 7 tsp. Each teaspoon is equivalent to approximately 4g of sugar. Correct as of 29th January 2019)
The confusion around sugar comes from two things; clever marketing (it has the word ‘fruit’ in, it must be healthy!) and a misunderstanding of free sugars.
The sugar in fresh fruit is digested slower than free sugars, so you don’t get that sugar spike. Fresh fruit also contains lots of nutrients and fibre, so has a lot more filling power than processed fruit.
For example, you could drink a glass of orange juice in one sitting, but probably wouldn’t make your way through four whole oranges at once. Similarly, dried fruits such as raisins are less filling than their fresh counterparts, so they are easier to over-eat.
So while snacks that make the claim of…
“No added sugar”
“No junk promise”
“Made with real fruit”
“1 of your 5 a day”
“100% pure fruit”
…might be telling the truth, they’re also neglecting to mention the sheer amount of free sugars present in the end product that we’re giving to our children.
(Each teaspoon is equivalent to 4g of sugar. Correct as of 29th January 2019). Fruit smoothie (250ml, 28g sugar) = Bottle of Cola (250ml, 26.5g sugar). Snack-size bag of yoghurt coated raisins (25g bag, 16g sugar) = Two snack-size bags of gummy sweets (32g sweets, 15g sugar). A two-pack of Fruit rolls as sold (8g sugar) = Four iced biscuits (6.8g sugar).
For example, you might be surprised to find there is as much sugar in one of the leading smoothie brands, per millilitre, as you’ll find in a fizzy drink.
Yoghurt covered fruit has twice the sugar of a small bag of gummy sweets, while one small fruit roll (half a pack as sold) has more sugar than two iced biscuits.
What is the government doing about it?
The government has started to stand up and take notice of the high-sugar foods on our shelves, which should make it easier for parents to make healthy choices for their family.
You may have noticed the tax on high-calorie drinks that came in earlier last year. Further plans to tackle obesity include mandatory calorie labelling on menus, age restrictions on energy drinks, and the introduction of a 9 pm watershed on TV advertising for foods high in sugar, fat or salt.
No news yet of a crackdown on misleading healthy snacks though.
5 tips to reduce sugar in your family’s diet
In the long run, children’s health will benefit greatly from eating good food and learning to make healthy choices.
As well as being aware of the sugar that’s really in children’s snacks, you can try out these other small changes to reduce the sugar in your family’s diet:
- Plan your shop. Children will snack on whatever is available, so the first thing to consider is what is in the house. At your next shop, instead of automatically stocking up on your usuals, look for alternatives like fresh fruit, nuts and seeds.
- Make healthy snacks convenient. We often reach for junk food because it’s easy. So make healthy snacks as easily available as the junk food used to be. Try having a fruit bowl out on the table, and putting raisins and nuts on display in tubs that children can take handfuls from.
- Try out new food. There are lots of different flavours and textures out there for your child to try, and you never know what they might enjoy (remember, just because you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean they won’t). Rather than exhausting apples and bananas, try mango, mulberries, figs, apricots, and so on.
- Experiment with recipes. Healthy food often takes more preparation (and washing up) than junk food, but it’s worth it. There are some simple ways to make healthier snacks more appealing – for example, kebab skewers (add in slices of ham or cheese for a twist), spreading peanut butter on apple slices, or using berries as a natural sweetener for yoghurt. Getting children involved also makes it a fun activity you can do together and can inspire them to try out their own recipes.
- Model healthy eating. Children often copy what they see parents and older siblings doing, so it’s important to model positive behaviour and get the whole family on board. Eat what you want your child to eat and drink what you want them to drink; they’ll soon follow suit.
There are many reasons such as cost, convenience, peer pressure, or pester power, that might lead us to choose less healthy snacks and meals over fruits and vegetables. Snacking on a bag of crisps or chucking some frozen chicken nuggets in the oven for dinner can be a real lifesaver on busy days!
And snacks that claim to be healthy are all fine as long as we see them as an alternative to sweets, biscuits and fizzy drinks, not a substitute for fresh fruit and water.
The important thing is that snacks are chosen based on their real nutritional value – by checking the ingredients – and not because the packaging makes you believe they are healthy.
Tags: diet, food, health, healthy eating, nutrition, sugar, sweets
This post was written by Anna Taylor