Hidden sugar content in ‘healthy snacks’

June 17th, 2015

Supermarkets and food companies have faced scrutiny recently over the so-called ‘healthy’ fruit snacks which they are marketing for children. There is growing trend towards fruit based snacking options such as yoghurt coated raisins and raspberry ‘fruit flakes’. However a recent study by Action on Sugar found that, shockingly, 85% of the products they surveyed were actually more sugary than a packet of sweets.

Whilst it was pointed out that most of these snack options didn’t have any added sugar (and that those that did were clearly labelled), food manufacturers were criticised for labelling the items as ‘one of your five a day’ as this claim could mislead consumers into believing the snack to be healthier than it was. In fact, Tesco Yoghurt Coated Strawberry Fruit Bites were found to have 70.1g of sugar per 100g (4.4 teaspoons), compared to Hairbo Starmix which contained only 47g of sugar per 100g. The chairman of the nutrition committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Colin Michie, is quoted as saying these findings were ‘stunning’ and ‘frightful’.

Fresh, unprocessed fruit and vegetables make for an all-round better alternative to these processed snacks. There are many benefits to eating fruit and vegetables, from the high fibre levels to the vitamins and minerals which are naturally present. A lot of these benefits are lost when the fruit is covered in yoghurt or other sugary coatings. In addition, fresh fruits will not cause tooth decay in children (provided a good oral hygiene routine is followed), a growing problem which can be linked to these processed fruity snacks given their sugar content.

Aubrey Sheiham, the emeritus professor of dental public health at University College London proposed that snacks such as these processed fruit items were a causal factor in increased levels of tooth decay in children. Nearly 30% of five-year-olds currently show some signs or symptoms of tooth decay, which can be very painful and lead to many problems for children. In addition to this, over a third of children aged 11-15 years are now described as overweight or obese: a statistic which is not helped by hidden sugars in snacks.

So how can we move forwards? Over the last few years, food manufacturers have worked to create lower calorie and fat content items for the food market. However, it is evident that there is further work to be done in order to create greater awareness about the benefits of eating unprocessed foods, and options for doing so. As consumers we need to be aware, and ensure we are checking food packaging so that we are sure exactly what we are putting in our baskets. Aim for raw, unprocessed foods wherever possible, and pay particular attention to processed foods claiming to be ‘one of your five a day’: these may not be as good for you as they first present to be.

For more information please see recent BBC News article which examines the findings from the Action on Sugar study in greater detail.

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