Did you know many children’s snack foods marketed as ‘healthy’ can actually be anything but? That’s the concerning findings revealed in Choice Magazine’s recent study on packaged snacks, including biscuits, cereal bars, crisps, rice cakes and fruit snacks.
“Parents have a right to be angry,” Choice reporter Kate Browne told Kinderling Conversation. “Toddlers have insatiable appetites and love snacks [and] you shouldn’t have be an expert in marketing to make the right decision. But it appears from what we looked at, that you have to be.”
“For children under one, there are strict food laws, but once kids are walking, all bets are off and that seems to be the case all the way through school. It’s quite astonishing. This is a time when palates get developed and the last thing you need is a sugar and trans-fat junkie by the age of two.”
Hear Kate's interview with Kinderling Conversation:
Here’s her five tips to keep in mind the next time you hit the supermarket.
1. Understand how ingredient lists work
"When you look at ingredients, they’re listed in terms of volume so the first one is the most and down the list you go. Aim for products with a small ingredients list so if it's starting to look like an essay, that's a stay away.”
"Often in these healthy baby or kids foods it might say on the front ‘with pumpkin and apple’ and pumpkin and apple will be the very last things on the ingredient list, so you do have to be able to read through the marketing spin."
2. Verify the actual vegetable content
"The Baby Mum-Mum First Rice Rusks sound amazing because it's got kale, carrot, cabbage and spinach. [But when you] flip over the package to the ingredients list and 1.5% of the product is all of those vegetables."
3. Organic doesn’t automatically equal healthy
“These are what we call 'Health Halos'. The marketing, the look and feel of these packages are perfectly designed to make you feel like you're making a better choice but that is not always how it appears.”
“[For example], Only Organic’s Yoghurt Kindy Rice Cakes has cane sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed yogurt powder and full cream milk powder which has basically turned a perfectly healthy wholegrain rice cake into snack that is super high in saturated fats and sugar.”
4. Beware high sugar content
“ [Products like] Heinz Little Kids Wholegrain Cereal Apple & Blueberry Bars or Rafferty's Garden Fruit Bars sound good, but have more than 40% total sugars. I can hear people screaming ‘but that’s because it’s fruit’. That’s absolutely true but there’s sugar and glucose in these as well, and they feature really high in the ingredients list."
5. Beware of ‘fruit-sweetened’ products
“Check for real fruit and vegetable ingredients, not just a juice concentrate. A lot of things will say real fruit but it's actually just real fruit juice concentrate.”
"Little Bellies Mini Gingerbread Men are flavoured with grape juice concentrate - let's just call it sugar - which makes up 29% of the product. Sugar is sugar is sugar. So very sweet, very treaty and probably not a good thing to eat all the time."
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