5 ‘Healthy’ Foods That Are Not Healthy

Take a closer look at healthy and unhealthy food options, and understand why you should prepare an unhealthy food list. This is most important if you buy packaged foods for your child.

By Sahana Charan

5 ‘Healthy’ Foods That Are Not Healthy

Packaged foods come in fancy and colourful wraps. They 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, there is 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 Organization (WHO), reducing sugar to less than five per cent of total calorie intake per day has additional health benefits. The American Heart Association recommends that just four teaspoons of added sugar a day for children is enough. This corresponds to a limit of 5 per cent of the calories needed.

But, to eat healthy, it is must to understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy food. Here are a few items that should only feature in your unhealthy food list

1. Packaged juice: Children cannot resist this. And, during the hot summer months, a chilled pack of fruit juice seems like the right choice. The claims of ‘100 per cent fruit’ make parents believe that it is good for their child. But is it so? Not exactly, according to a study published by Hema Gupta and Piyush Gupta, Department of Pediatrics, University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi, in the Indian Pediatrics Journal. Their findings suggest that rarely do these products have 100 per cent juice , and even when it is 100 per cent, it is not equivalent to whole fruits. The report further 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 10g.

Nutrition information: Energy - 54Kcal, Carbs - 13.2g of which sugar is 13.2 g, Protein - 0.2g and Saturated fat - 0%

Alternatives: Give whole fruits instead of packaged juice. Also, the act of peeling and chewing connects a child to the food. If your child is a poor eater, then you can make fruit smoothies or milkshakes.

2. Store-bought muffins: These might be hard to resist because of their soft texture and delicious taste. However, most of them are high in calories and have negligible dietary fibre when compared to homemade ones. If a child eats two small muffins a day, the calorie intake goes up considerably. The sugar content in these products is really high and exceeds what is allowed. Typically, children are allowed 10 to 13g of added sugar apart from what they get from natural foods. However, and if they get most of the sugar from one particular snack, it is unacceptable.

Nutrition information: 472Kcal per 100g, Carbs - 79.46g, Sugar - 26g, Protein - 6.01g and Dietary fibre - 1.4g

Alternatives: Homemade muffins are the best bet -- you can make them with wheat flour or oats and use honey or banana as natural sweeteners. These are tasty and much healthier than shop-bought options. You can also add walnuts or almonds to make them more nutritious.

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. Also, parents find it easier to serve cereals to their child. But, what parents need to desist from is serving sugar-coated cereals. According to a draft guideline published by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2015), adults and children should reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10 per cent of their total energy intake. The draft also states that reducing sugar to less than 5 per cent of total calorie intake per day has additional health benefits. So, if your child insists on having sugar-coated breakfast cereals or the flavoured variety, think twice. These have high amount of sugar but negligible quantities of calcium or zinc, minerals vital for healthy bones and active brain.

Nutritional value: A bowl (30g) of these crunchy, sugar-coated cereals has: Energy - 125Kcal, Fat - 1g, Carbs - 24.8g, Protein - 2g and Sugar - 11g

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. Reading the label may not raise an alarm in our minds, because the sugar and carbohydrate content is not very high. So, why should we include peanut butter in our list of unhealthy foods? Because of the addition of palm oil to the butter. Palm oil is bad for kids because it has a high amount of saturated fats. Apart from this, additives are also added to improve the product's shelf life, and these are harmful for children. They can cause problems such as respiratory disorders. In some brands of peanut butter, sugar is also added, making it even more unhealthy.

Nutritional information: One tablespoon of peanut butter has: Energy - 94Kcal, Fats - 8g , Carbs - 3g, Protein - 4g and Sugar - 2g

Alternatives: Allowing your child to have her bread with peanut butter once in a while is not a bad idea. However, place a limit on the quantity she consumes. If your child really loves peanut butter, you can make it at home. All you need is peanuts and a little honey to sweeten it up.

5. Nutrition bars: While travelling long distances or participating in a sports event, protein or nutrition bars seem like the best snack option. According to manufacturers, nutrition bars give a quick energy boost. Many of these bars also have dried fruits and nuts, which makes them seem like a healthier alternative to any fast food. But, nutrition experts point out that some of these nutrition bars have a lot of added sugar added. Also, the protein content is much higher than what is required by an average school-going child. Some of the bars have as much as 25g of protein and 6g of saturated fat, which is unhealthy for kids.

Nutritional information: A 100g serving contains: Energy - 400Kcal, Fat - 13g, Carbs - 51g and Sugar - 29g

Alternatives: You can prepare healthy bars or laddoos using nuts such as almonds, cashews and pistas. Adding chunks of raisins, dates and figs, with a little honey, will make it more tasty and nutritious.

Junk food is not good for health

Junk food is processed food that contains huge amounts of carbohydrates, added sugar and salt, unhealthy fat, and other harmful chemicals in the form of additives and preservatives. All these ingredients are extremely hazardous to the health of children.

Unhealthy foods for kids

When it comes to choosing packaged food for children, parents need to be extremely careful. Many food items that are normally considered healthy are, in fact, loaded with ingredients that might spoil the health of children. So, it is very important to avoid foods that are high in calories but offer very little or no nutrition for children.

Unhealthy food list

If you haven’t yet prepared a list of unhealthy food that your children should avoid, do it now. Here’s a tentative list of such foods. You can add more and customise your list, based on your family’s requirements.

  • Deep-fried food such as potato chips and French fries
  • Sugar-laden, carbonated, fizzy drinks
  • Pizzas, burgers, sausages and hot dogs
  •  Candies, chocolate bars and lollipops
  • Cookies, cakes and pastries
  • Popcorn
  • Ice cream
  • Coffee and tea
  • Energy drinks and beverages that claim to improve growth and strength

What the nutritionist says

“There are many foods in the market that are promoted as healthy but contain high amount of sugar and saturated fats which are harmful to 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.

As a parent, it is your responsibility to steer your child away from the junk food craze. A once-in-a-while treat of packaged food can be allowed; but, it shouldn’t become a habit. Try to explain to your child the harmful effects of these tasty avoidables in a way she would understand. By doing this, you would help her grow healthy and strong.

About the author:

Written by Sahana Charan on 6 September 2017.

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

Join our Circles to share, discuss and learn from fellow parents and experts!