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‘Healthy’ snacks are loaded with sugar.

The Times reported last week that supermarket snacks that are marketed as healthy may contain up to 69% sugar; more than three times the amount found in chocolate ice cream. It is common for low fat options to have more sugar than conventional products as manufacturers attempt to make these products more palatable.

Most processed foods contain some added sugar – baked beans, chilli, vegetables, sauces for pasta or curries and ready meals all contain significant amounts of sugar. Many breakfast cereals and cereal bars are also high in sugar, especially those that are being promoted for people who are trying to lose weight; Tesco Healthy living forest fruit and raisin bars contain 50% sugar and Kellogg’s Special K Fruits of the Forest bars are 39% sugar.

Snacks marketed for children are often high in sugar. Kellogg’s Fruit Winders Doubles contain 37% sugar and Fruit bowl apple and strawberry fruit flakes contain 69% sugar; that’s five times the amount of sugar found in fresh fruit, but with significantly diminished levels of vitamins, minerals, water and enzymes that are all important for good health. With more than 13.8g in a packet, a child has nearly 3 teaspoons of sugar from a bag of fruit flakes alone. Adding a carton of fruit juice and a yogurt (both healthy choices) could push the sugar content up to 45g – that’s 9 teaspoons. 

The food industry has been competing to sell low fat snacks in order to reduce obesity and heart disease. To increase their palatability, sugar has been added, but it is now known that people who eat more sugar are more likely to have lower levels of good cholesterol and higher levels of some blood fats, which are risk factors for heart disease.

It is important to keep sugar levels down to protect teeth, to reduce unwanted calories and also to prevent the mood swings and lethargy associated with imbalanced blood sugar. Refined sugar does not need digesting, so provides an instant blood sugar boost, but this is always followed by a crash as the body tries to rectify high blood sugar by producing insulin. In the long term, these patterns can lead to diabetes, hormonal imbalance and obesity, as extra energy is converted to fat in the body.

Fresh vegetables or fruit make the ideal alternative to shop bought sugary snacks. Cut up into crudités, vegetables can be dipped into hummus or used to scoop up cottage cheese or home-made mackerel pâté. Fruit can be transported easily, needing only a wash or to be peeled. For children, a new studycarried out in Europe shows that fruit is more likely to be eaten when it is attractively presented in a  fun shape such as a hedgehog. Many cereal bars, such as the Food Doctor bars contain no added sugar and are ideal for a more substantial snack, or oatcakes are delicious with nut or seed butter.

To make a mango hedgehog, slice down each side of a mango from top to bottom, close to the stone, so you have two ‘almost halves’ with a middle slice clinging to the stone (you may find that the children fight over who gets this bit!). Cut across the flesh of each mango half in parallel lines, carefully so as not to cut through the skin. Now cut across these lines in the same way, so you have criss-crossed flesh with the skin intact. Turn the skin in on itself so you have a mound of spikes to decorate with raisins for eyes and a nose.

 To make an orange dragon, lay an orange on a board with the stalk and base facing to the sides. Using a sharp knife, cut the orange asross the segments into generous rounds. Then, take a slice and at a point between two segments, carefully cut through the skin and as far as the centre of the slice. Carefully prise open the slice, seperating the little triangular segments: you end up with a flat line of orange skin with a series of little triangles poking out from it – the dragon fins. Repeat with the other slices. This is much easier to do than to describe in words – so give it a go and you’ll find your children will be keener to eat the oranges than if they’d had to peel them in the usual way.

To make grapes more appealing, slide onto skewars and freeze for an alternative to an ice lolly.

These ideas are taken from ‘Wonderfoods for kids’ by Natalie Savona

To make mackerel pâté, whizz up 4oz/100g smoked mackerel fillet with the same amount of cottage cheese in a blender.  Add 2 chopped spring onions, parsley and lemon juice to taste. Eat with rye bread, rice crackers, oat cakes or crudités.