They come in fancy and colourful packaging and promise to provide your child with energy and vital nutrients that are essential for growing up well. We often get swayed by the claims made by supposedly ‘healthy’ foods and rush to the supermarket to buy them. Some of these products even become a part of our children’s regular diet.
But is there more than meets the eye? Parents need to be aware of the negative health effects of some of these foods that might be highly processed and loaded with sugar and harmful preservatives.
According to a draft guideline published by the World Health Organisation (WHO), reducing sugar to less than five per cent of total calorie intake per day would have additional public health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that just four teaspoons of added sugar a day for children is enough, which also corresponds to a limit of 5 per cent of calories.
Here we give you a lowdown on the ‘healthy’ foods which are actually not that healthy.
1. Packaged juice
Children cannot resist this and in the hot summer months, a chilled carton of fruit juice seems like the right choice for them to beat the heat. The claims of 100 per cent fruit make parents believe that it is good for their child. But is it really? A report on packaged fruit drinks in the Indian Pediatrics journal says that rarely do these products have 100 per cent juice and even 100 per cent is not equivalent to whole fruits. This is what the report says -- “Fruits supply fibres and phytochemicals to diet, which are not present in juices. Fruit drinks, thought to be a complete source of energy, vitamins and minerals are actually mere sweet drinks and a poor source of nutrition.” These juices are packed with sugar, containing much more than the stipulated 10 g.
Nutrition information: Energy - 54 Kcal, Carbs - 13.2 g of which sugar is 13.2 g, Protein - 0.2 g, Saturated fat - 0 %
Alternatives: Give whole fruits to kids instead of giving packaged juice. The act of peeling and chewing connects them to the food. If the child is a poor eater then you can make fruit smoothies or milkshakes to give them the necessary nutrients from fruits.
2. Store-bought muffins
These might be really hard to resist because of their soft texture and delicious taste but some have really high calorie content and negligible dietary fibre compared to homemade ones. Ideally, one item such as this one should not exceed 200 calories. If a child eats two small muffins a day, the calorie intake goes up considerably. The sugar content in these products are really high and exceeds what is allowed. The pack of two muffins that we examined had more than 10 g of sugar. Typically children are allowed 10 to 13 g of added sugar apart from what they get from natural foods and it is a worry if they get most of this from one particular snack.
Nutrition information: 472 Kcal per 100 g, Carbs - 79.46 g, Sugar - 26 g, Protein - 6.01 g, Dietary fibre - 1.4 g
Alternatives: Homemade muffin is the best bet -- you can make them with wheat flour or oats and use honey or banana as natural sweeteners. These will be equally tasty and much healthier than shop-bought options. Try adding walnuts or almonds to make it more nutritious. A once-in-awhile treat of a tasty shop-bought muffin should not be a problem.
3. Sugar-coated breakfast cereals
In many households, the morning routine starts with a bowl of breakfast cereal for the little ones before they are packed off to school. Parents often find it easier to serve this item as it can be consumed fast and is more or less non-messy. The regular breakfast cereal made of plain corn or ragi are still good for children as they do not contain unnecessarily high quantities of sugar and have good fibre content. It is the sugar-coated ones that we need to worry about. If your child is insisting on the popular coated ones in the market or the flavoured variety, think twice. These have high amount of sugar in them and negligible quantities of calcium or zinc, which is needed for healthy bones and active brain.
Nutritional value: A bowl (30g) of these crunchy, sugar-coated cereals have energy - 125 Kcal, Fat - 1 g, Carbs - 24.8 g, Protein - 2 g, Sugar - 11 g
Alternatives: Cereals can be given once in a while but a good alternative would be to give the same breakfast that you would eat, be it idli, dosa, upma or paratha.
4. Peanut butter
A lot of parents believe that peanut butter is a good alternative to normal table butter because it may not be as fattening. At first look, the label does not alarm because sugar and carbohydrate content is not very high. Most branded peanut butter may not have too much sugar but the problem lies in the addition of palm oil. It is a cheap oil added to the butter so that the natural oil does not separate out. It is specifically bad for kids because palm oil has a high amount of saturated fats. Apart from this, peanut butter also has additives to improve its shelf life and these are basically chemicals that are harmful for children and can later lead to medical problems such as respiratory disorders. In some brands, sugar will also be added, make it even more unhealthy.
Nutritional information: One tablespoon of peanut butter has 94 Kcal, fats - 8 g , Carbs - 3 g and Protein - 4 g, Sugar - 2 g
Alternatives: Allowing your child to have her bread with peanut butter once in a while is not a bad idea but limit the quantity. The best option would be to make your own batch of peanut butter. All you need is peanuts and a little honey to sweeten it up.
5. Nutrition bars
While travelling long distance in the car or going to a sports event, protein or nutrition bars seem like the best option because they are fuss-free, not messy and according to manufacturers, give a quick energy boost. Many of them also have dried fruits and nuts, which can be a healthier alternative than stopping by a fast food joint to replenish and beat the hunger pangs. But nutrition experts point out that some of these nutrition bars have a lot of sugar added in them and the protein content is much more than the requirement for an average school-going child. Some of them have as much as 25 g of protein and 6 g of saturated fat, which is unhealthy for kids.
Nutritional information: A 100 g serving contains Energy - 400 Kcal, Fat - 13 g, Carbs - 51 g and Sugar - 29 g
What the nutritionist says
“There are many foods in the market that are promoted as healthy but may contain high amount of sugar and saturated fats which can be harmful for children. It is important to read the labels and decide for yourself what kind of diet you want to promote for the health of your child. Sugary foods at an early age can result in childhood obesity and can lead to lifestyle problems such as diabetes and heart disease later in life. Moreover, food habits are formed early in life. So if children are given nutritious, home-cooked alternatives from a young age, they will form healthy food habits for life,” says Archana Reddy, consultant nutritionist and dietician at Motherhood Hospital.