Baby and toddler snack foods not as healthy as presented, CHOICE review says

Mums on snacks for kids

Mums talk about what they would and wouldn't buy as snack food for their children.

Snack products targeted at babies as young as six months may claim to be fruit-filled, nutritious and organic, but tests have found not all munchies are as healthy as they appear.

Consumer advocacy group CHOICE conducted a review of more than 80 packaged snacks, finding many to be highly processed, with excessive sugar and using misleading language to describe ingredients.

Heinz, Rafferty's Garden and Baby Mum-Mum were among the baby and toddler snack brands featured in the review, which included opinions from accredited practising dietitians and a nutritionist.

Consumer group CHOICE has found baby food from big name brands contain more sugar than you may expect from their product ...
Consumer group CHOICE has found baby food from big name brands contain more sugar than you may expect from their product names. Photo: Louise Kennerley

"Whether it's in the product name or a claim on the label, the majority of the snacks we looked at reference fruit, vegetables, yoghurt and organic ingredients, creating a 'health halo' around products that more often than not don't deserve it," said CHOICE spokesman Tom Godfrey.

Among the snacks found to have excessive sugar were Heinz Little Kids Wholegrain Cereal Bars in apple and blueberry and apple-flavoured Rafferty's Garden Fruit Snack Bars, both of which have more than 40 per cent total sugars.

While fruit ingredients made up some of this figure, sugar and glucose were both high on their lists of ingredients..

"Young children do not require excessively sweet foods and promoting consumption of these foods will only encourage a taste for sweet foods and can be hazardous for young teeth," said dietitian Laura Ryan.

Packaged snacks targeted at babies and toddlers have more sugars than parents may realise, a CHOICE review has found.

Packaged snacks targeted at babies and toddlers have more sugars than parents may realise, a CHOICE review has found. Photo: CHOICE

A spokesperson for Rafferty's Garden said its Fruit Snack Bars had a place in a healthy diet, when included as an occasional snack in the recommended serving size.

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"It is important to note that one serve of our Rafferty's Garden snack range has approximately half the sugar of a tablespoon of sultanas, a food that is also rich in natural sugars and one that most parents would not consider restricting in their children's diet," she said.

Packaged snack versus the real deal.

Packaged snack versus the real deal. Photo: CHOICE

Sydney mum Sarah Mead said she always carefully checked the ingredients list, when determining the sugar content of snack products.

"The [cereal] bars, the second ingredient is sugar or fructose ... If sugar comes in second or close to the top it's not really something I tend to buy," she said.

The CHOICE review found snack packaging and the language displayed was often a drawcard for consumers, pointing to words such as "organic", but it said parents should remember a product's "organic-ness" often had little bearing on its nutritional value.

"Using organic ingredients is to be applauded, but there's nothing healthy about organic sugar or organic cornflour," said nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend one to two-year-old babies eat half a standard serve of fruit and two to three serves of vegetables each day.

CHOICE found Baby Mum-Mum First Rice Rusks Vegetable, contained vegetables such as kale, carrot, cabbage and spinach, but all are in powdered form and "combined they make up less than 1.5 per cent of the product," which equates to 0.06 grams in a serve.

Similarly, Heinz Nutrios Pumpkin contain 4.9 per cent pumpkin in powdered form, amounting to 0.2 grams in a serving.

"With claims such as 'naturally sweetened with fruit ingredients' and ingredient lists boasting vegetables such as kale and pumpkin, parents could easily be fooled into thinking these snacks are healthier than they actually are," Mr Godfrey said.

One such snack is Kiddylicious' Apple Fruit Wriggles, which claim to be "made with real fruit", however the ingredients list shows the majority of fruit is fruit juice concentrate.

Mum Vickee Aspden said she would "naturally be drawn" to Only Organic Yoghurt Kindy Rice Cakes, as they sport a "certified organic" label.

However after reading the ingredient's list, she said she would reconsider her choice. The rice cake's strawberry flavoured topping contains cane sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed yoghurt powder and full-cream milk powder, which, according to CHOICE, changes "a perfectly healthy wholegrain rice cake into a snack that's high in saturated fats and sugar."

Heinz, Baby Mum-Mum and Kiddylicious have been contacted comment.

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