Written by: Cally Worden
Earth Mums and Dads everywhere know that cooking every meal from scratch, from raw ingredients, is the only way to ensure that the food we put in our children’s mouths is as healthy as can be. For the majority of parents who live in the real world of work, busy lives and stress, this daily utopia is unattainable. We simply don’t have the time to make fresh at every single meal, every single day. A degree of processed food is inevitable. Here is a guide to hidden sugars in our kids food.
What we CAN do is to make sure that the selections we make are good ones. Sugar content in foods is generally specified under the heading of ‘Carbohydrates (of which sugars)’ – this tells you how much sugar the product contains for each 100g of carbs. More than 15g is considered high, less than 5g is considered low. Watch out for these hidden sugars in seemingly healthy food choices.
In a recent survey, Which? discovered that 32 out of 50 popular breakfast cereals had an extremely high sugar content. Of those aimed specifically at kids, only Rice Krispies and Weetabix deserved a halo. Frosties were the devil in the mix, containing 37% sugar. Surprisingly, even the likes of All Bran, Special K and Bran Flakes – all marketed as ‘healthy’ – were also found to have high sugar content.
It may feel virtuous to pack a cereal bar in your kid’s lunchbox in place of a Snickers, but in an analysis of 30 cereal bars, Which? found that all but one were high in sugar, with more than 16 of the 30 containing 30% or more of the white stuff.
Jars of Sauce
Pasta and sauce is a popular and quick to prepare tea for kids, with many parents keeping a few jars to hand in the cupboard for those rushed evenings when the hungry hoards are on the rampage. Beware, however, as many of these create their yummy flavours by adding excess sugar to the mix, making even apparently healthy veggie-based blends into sugar bombs.
Ready Meal Madness
We all know, deep down, that ready meals are fantastically convenient, but not the healthiest of choices on the supermarket block. It’s easy to make low fat choices from the ready meal selections on offer, but sticky sweet and sour, chilli, or BBQ sauces that make so many of them appealing, are often laced with sugar to make up the flavour.
There has been quite a bit of publicity on these in recent years. Low fat versions of many of the most popular yoghurts, have been found to contain excessive quantities of sugar, often resulting in the overall calorie intake for these products being higher than the full-fat versions! They taste good because they are sweet and the sugar is often heavily processed. A good alternative to this perennial kids’ favourite is to add chopped fruit to natural yoghurt.
Sausages and Meat Pies
These may not appear to be sweet in themselves, but the flavour blends used to make them appealing, often contain lots of hidden sugar. Keep an eye on the labelling on these products, and make no assumptions about them being ‘simply savoury’.
It’s no secret that these contain lots of sugar, but do you know just how much? A 500ml bottle of cola can contain the equivalent of up to 13 teaspoons of sugar, with a medium McDonald’s Strawberry Milkshake weighing in with a whopping 15 teaspoons of sugar. Even some flavoured waters contain as much sugar as a fizzy drink, so don’t assume that this is necessarily a healthy alternative. Pure fruit juice is great as a contributor to the whole 5-A-Day thing, but too much can ramp up the sugar intake, so try to limit how much your kids imbibe.
Sugar in processed food comes in many different forms. Here are the words to look out for in the lists of ingredients – I was familiar with some of these, but wouldn’t have classed things like ‘Honey’ and ‘Corn Syrup’ as sugar until now. Scary.
- Corn Syrup
- Hydrolysed Starch
- Invert Sugar
It’s important to remember that our bodies do need some sugar. It occurs naturally in many foods and makes it taste nice. And there is nothing wrong with indulging our kids in chocolate, sweets, cakes and biscuits from time to time. That old chestnut of ‘Everything in Moderation’ is about the best piece of diet advice I can think of. Yes, sugar is addictive, but eat sensibly, and be aware of hidden stuff and your kids will grow up with a good diet and healthy attitude to food and eating. Simple really.