All natural, organic, health star rating – do all these food labels help us to make healthier choices when it comes down to picking food for our families? Or are they just confusing us?
Instead of a banana for morning tea, we are giving our children an all-natural probiotic real fruit banana yoghurt (free from artificial colours or flavours) and a slice of banana bread for dessert because it is surely healthier. An apple has become substituted by a Nothing-But-4-Apples Cloudy Apple Juice because it is easier to drink than eating an apple (or four, as stated on the packaging).
Australia’s Oral Health Tracker, a recent paper published by Australian Health Policy Collaboration (ahpc) and the Australian Dental Association (ADA), has shown that 70% of children between 9 and 13 years and even 73% of young people (14-18 years) have too much sugar.
Sugar Intake of Australian Children
But how much sugar is too much? According to the World Health Organization, it is recommended that no more than 5% of daily calories should come from added sugars for optimal health.1
For moderately active females 4 to 8 years old, the estimated calorie requirements are 1,400 calories – 5 percent of this translates to 70 calories which equals about 17 grams of added sugar daily.
For 9 to 13 year old males who are moderately active, their average intake is around 2,000 calories – 100 calories or 24g of added sugar.2
Fruit and dairy products contain natural sugar whilst sweetened beverages, cereals, muesli bars, etc. contain added sugars. In general, sugar in fruit and dairy products count as a good source of nutrients such as vitamins, mineral and fiber. However, it is very important to understand the amount of serves your child is having, compared to what is recommended.
‘Universal Health Coverage: Everyone, Everywhere’ was the theme of this year’s World Health Day on April 7.3 In Australia, we have to ask ourselves the question how hard it is to implement a “healthy” lifestyle considering that so many children consume too much sugar. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves the question who is responsible for it – the children, the parents, or even the food industry?
Considering this fact, the theme of the World Health Day and that school holidays will soon be over, we have decided to focus on the sugar content of many favourite lunchbox snacks. Our team was shocked by the results – and we have to admit, a couple of supposedly healthy lunchbox treats are not that healthy after all.
What Do Australia’s School Teachers Say About Lunchbox Snacks?
We have also spoken with school teachers across Queensland and New South Wales and asked them for the most commonly found snacks in lunchboxes. And not surprisingly, some of our ‘naughty’ products are ranking fairly high on the popularity list.
This is either because parents think they are giving their children something healthy, or because it is a tasty snack their kids just love.
Matthew, a teacher in QLD, said: “Juice boxes, muesli bars and potato or grain chips are very popular. Especially, if their packaging brands them as natural or healthy.”
Kirsten, who has been working in Queensland for over 8 years, had some shocking things to say about the most popular food items in lunch boxes. From her experience, “a typical lunchbox consists of a sandwich, a packet of chips or shapes, some sort of muesli or snack bar such as Milo bars or LCM bars and some students have a yogurt as well.”
Emily, teacher in QLD, added: “Soft drinks are a bigger problem than lunch boxes – especially for the older children from 10 years and upwards. Some of my students turn up and have an energy drink first thing in the morning and they not only have one, they have a couple during the day.”
The Lunchbox Snack Investigation
We investigated the products mentioned above, as well as some other items that are declared as ‘natural’ or seem healthy to determine whether this is actually the case. Here is our top 10 sugary lunchbox snacks.
The worst offender we found was a blueberry muffin (120g serve) which contained 22.5g of sugar which covers about 27% of the average recommended daily intake for an adult, and more than the recommended daily intake for moderately active females 4 to 8 years old. 50 blueberries hold 6.8g of sugar. This means, you could eat 165 blueberries – or 1 blueberry muffin.
The main difference between added sugar and naturally occurring sugar comes down to fibre. Fruits (or fructose) for example, are encased in fibre which helps slow down the absorption of sugar. Added sugars found in sweets for example, do not have fibre and as a result are absorbed fast, and get direct access to the liver.
You could also give your child a 30g Fruit and Nut Snack Box (10g sugar). Or instead you could give them 25 fresh grapes which has the same amount of sugar.
A surprising sugar offender is Nudie. A quick and easy grab for morning tea, containing only natural fruit and no added sugar. But here you have to check the amount of fruit that goes into their 250ml juice. Instead of the juice, you could give your child the equivalent of 1.5 pears, 1/3 of a banana, 11 raspberries, ¼ of an orange, 6 cranberries, “and nothing else…” Says the juice.
Because it is only a juice you would might also pack some ‘real’ food for your child, say a slice of banana bread.