Monday, May 3, 2010

5 Kids' Snacks That Might Be Less Nutritious Than You Thought

As I cruise through the grocery store, I often find myself on the prowl for the latest snack foods available for kids. Lately, I've noticed that when I pick up the product and take a closer look at the Nutrition Facts Panel and read the ingredient list that I am quite surprised by what I find upon closer investigation. I thought I'd share my insight on 5 kids' snacks that may be less nutritious than you thought. 
  • Fruit Snacks: These are the "fruit" snacks that look like gummy bears.  They seem to be popular with parents because they're handy, and having the word fruit in the name must mean that they're nutritious, right? The first three ingredients for most of these snacks are basically sources of sugar. In fact, one serving of many of these products I've reviewed provide around 13 grams or 3 tsp of added sugar! Some say "Made with Real Fruit" right on the label. So, what's the problem?  The first two ingredients before the source of fruit (apple puree concentrate) are corn syrup (= added sugar) and sugar.  While it might be "made with real fruit", just how much real fruit?  Not enough to make it equally or more nutritious than the real "real fruit"! The products also often claim to "high in Vitamin C". Wow, that's great, right?  Even though it might be high in vitamin C, what other nutrients is it high in?  Not many other than sugar.  And although the one of first three ingredients is a blend of fruit juice or fruit puree concentrates, fresh fruits will still be better sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and will likely have more between-meal staying power.  
  • Yogurt or yogurt smoothies for kids: These snacks do contain yogurt, which is a high quality source of protein and other nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, and Vitamin D. They are also a source of probiotics (aka, friendly bacteria). However, even though the name of the yogurt (eg, Strawberry Explosion) might suggest that it contains fruit, there is often no actual fruit involved. For instance, the label on one yogurt smoothie product targeted towards children states "Strawberry Explosion contains no fruit juice". A look at the ingredient list also shows that this food contains added sugar. A 3.1 ounce serving contains 14 g of sugar, some of which most likely comes from the naturally-occurring milk sugar; however, the rest is added sugar. You might be better off mixing or blending whole fresh or frozen fruit with plain yogurt for a more nutritious homemade version. 
  • Squeezable, freezable fruit: I checked out a few of these products and found that two of the first five ingredients are fruit purees and two of the first five ingredients are also sources of added sugar. I'm not sure how much of the 26 g of sugar per 1 cup is added sugar, but I am sure that the little ones might be better off with a homemade version for which you can control the sugar content.
  • Yogurt-covered snacks: Take a look at the ingredient list of these yogurt-covered and you'll find that these are less yogurt and more added sugar. First ingredient = sugar! Second ingredient = coating, which is composed mostly of sugar and partially hydrogenated palm and palm kernel oil, which are sources of trans fat. In fact, one serving provides 13 grams or ~3 tsp of added sugar! It does contain 60% of the Daily Value for Vitamin C; however, it's pretty scant on other nutrients, such as vitamin A or iron. Plus, I can think of plenty of other foods that would be better sources of vitamin C as well as other vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 
  • Organic snacks: They're organic, so they're more nutritious right? Granted, organically-produced foods may be better for children; however, organic and healthy are not synonymous. After reviewing an organic fruit snack product, I found that, although organic, 4 of the first 5 ingredients are sources of added sugar, and with 10 grams or 2 1/2 tsp of sugar per pouch, it can really add up. 
So am I saying hands off to these kids' snack foods? Not necessarily.  I'd definitely recommend practicing moderation with these foods.  Maybe you offer these foods sometimes but not everyday.  And when offering these foods, maybe you could balance out your child's nutrition by also offering other more nutritious foods throughout the day, too.  It's best not to take kids' snacks at face value.  Look beyond the front label to scope out that Nutrition Facts Panel and the Ingredients List for more information.  


Anonymous said...[Reply to comment]

Thanks so much for sharing Michelle!!! Almost goes back to "all things in moderation." My kids, luckily, really enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables and often times just ask for an apple or carrots for a snack. YAY!! I learned from a friend whose children are much older now that when hers were young, she just left a bowl of carrots or strawberries/blueberries on the counter and let the kids snack as they desired on those. It really does work! Even if they don't eat all their dinner, I know they've had healthy food throughout the day. :D

Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD said...[Reply to comment]

@sarahdawnThanks for the comment, Sarah! Yes, moderation...and balance! What a great strategy your friend shared with you!

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