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Monday 29 August, 2016

The Hidden Dangers in Your Children’s Food

First published in Essential Baby

I love the term Health Halo, I read it recently in a Choice report on packaged baby snacks and it reinforced to me just how sneaky these large companies are in the way they pretty much trick parents into thinking they are buying healthy snacks for their baby, when really they are sugar loaded and full of empty calories.

Terms like natural, organic, wholegrain, yogurt, make us feel like a food is going to be healthy, but really, they are being used to mask the truth of what lies below. The report highlighted the use of ‘fruit juice concentrate’ as a sweetener, which sounds better in an ingredients list than the word ‘sugar’.

“Naturally sweetened with fruit ingredients” claims the packaging of Heinz Little Kids Fruit & Chia Shredz, but the product is 35% apple juice concentrate – and a small 18g serve contains the equivalent of more than three teaspoons of sugar. Little Bellies Mini Gingerbread Men are “sweetened only with grape juice”, but grape juice concentrate – aka sugar – makes up 29% of the product.

These are some scarily large numbers and are just a couple of the examples highlighted in the Choice report. It’s a tricky one though, as busy parents, we can all need the help of a convenient packaged food occasionally, but the trick is to choose carefully as some are much better than others.

Hidden pitfalls include claims around vegetable content. But the reality is that in many packaged snack food cases, these vegetables, whilst allowing for a seemingly impressive lists on pack, make up less than 1.5% of the total snack and are used in their powdered form – nothing fresh or healthy about them.

I make no secret of my distaste for the shelf stable heat-treated pouches and jars that are prolific in stores. These line the shelves making big ‘health halo’ claims when really despite being ‘natural’ or ‘organic’, they are heat treated to allow them to sit on the shelf for up to 18 months, which also kills the nutritional profile, and makes them taste awful. Manufacturers use lots of ‘natural sweeteners’ (a.k.a fruit puree) to sweeten them up and make them palatable. Problem is they are so over processed there is little fibre left in them, and this continued sweetness leads your baby to develop a preference for sweet foods.

Yogurt is another danger zone. All yogurts are sweetened but some far less than others. The natural Greek style brand that I love contains about 6g of sugar, but many of them contain over 20g. And sadly this is really common in the kid-branded yogurts that are sweetened to make kids love them. Squeeze yogurt pouches are a double-edged sword as they are sugar loaded and prolonged use of them affects oral motor development leading to speech delays.

So what can you offer to your baby or toddler?

First thing is to be mindful of what’s on the pack. Look for the tricks and read the ingredients listing. Did you know that labeling laws require Ingredients must be listed in descending order (by ingoing weight). This means that when the food was manufactured, the first ingredient listed contributed the largest amount and the last ingredient listed contributed the least. (source: Food Standards Australia). So if fruit or water is in the top few ingredients, you know it makes up a large percentage of the product.

Make informed decisions, and where possible, avoid foods that contain health halo’s, particularly when you can see ‘sweeteners’ high up the ingredients list.

Always taste the food you are offering to your baby or toddler and if you think it is overly sweet or suspect in flavour in anyway, don’t serve it. I always say that if you are not prepared to eat a food yourself, then don’t offer it to your baby. After all, would you like to eat a kale, carrot, cabbage and spinach biscuit? I don’t think so.

Making your own food is always the best approach and being organised with a selection of clean healthy snacks on hand will help you avoid these nasty pre-packaged options. Good options include:

  • Wholemeal sandwhiches with cream cheese, vegemite or natural nut butters (allergies permitting)
  • Fresh Fruit pieces and Veggie sticks
  • Pikelets and fritters
  • Vegatable based muffins
  • Plain yogurt
  • Plain rice cakes or corn thins
  • Boiled eggs

These are all easy to prepare (recipes can be found in my book, Food Babies Love) and will survive a day in a handbag until required.



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