Like most children - and indeed many adults - my four year old loves sweets. He is particularly fond of the gummy, sugary, chewy type (I wonder where he gets that from?) and is having a current love affair with Fruit Pastilles. He is always starving when he comes out of school and because we almost never go straight home, I bring a snack bag - usually some sort of sandwich and a piece of fruit - to tide him over till his evening meal. I also always include some sweets.
Anyway, on to my story. The other day we had arranged a play date with one of his class mates and we paused in the playground so they could eat before going off to play. I pulled out the snack bag, as did the other mum, and the children dived in. When the other little boy saw the Fruit Pastilles he asked Oscar if could have some and Oscar (reluctantly) handed him a few. His mum though, didn't want him to have any, explaining that he was allowed sweets only on Saturdays and she made him give them back and pulled out a bag of Yoghurt covered Fruit Flakes and offered that up instead. She also offered one to Oscar who took it, tasted one then gave it to me making a face (I don't like it) before running off to play with his Fruit Pastilles.
Later on at home I found the bag of Fruit Flakes in my pocket and, as I always do, glanced at the ingredients out of curiosity. I shouldn't have been surprised by what I read - I should know better. But I was...
Fruit Flakes with a yoghurt coating
Ingredients: For the yoghurt coating (58%) - Sugar, vegetable fat, whey powder, yoghurt powder, wheat flour, emulsifier, flavouring. For the fruit flakes (40%) - concentrated apple puree, concentrated strawberry puree, fructose-glucose syrup, sugar, wheat fibre, vegetable fat, gelling agent, natural colouring, natural flavouring. For the Glaze (2%) gum arabic, glazing agent.
Then I looked at the ingredients on the packet of Fruit Pastilles
Ingredients: Sugar, glucose syrup, fruit juices from concentrate (grape, apple, melon, blackcurrent, pineapple, lime, cherry), gelatin, gum arabic, modified starch, acids, acidity regulator, naturally sourced colours, flavourings.
Can you tell the difference? Because they look pretty similar to me!
Do you know what really gets me? What makes me furious and want to run around the playground tearing my hair out?
It's the fact that millions of well meaning mothers are being conned, day in day out, into buying what they believe are healthy snacks whilst in reality what they are giving their children is nothing more than sweets in disguise. Here they are, battling daily with their kids, banning and restricting sweets while unwittingly feeding them the very thing they are trying so hard to avoid.
I suppose it's a pretty easy mistake to make for a frazzled mum rushing around the supermarket. The Fruit Flakes with a Yoghurt Coating are sold in the dried fruit aisle (which is reassuringly miles away from the confectionary one). The packet features pictures of plump, juicy strawberries and a big splash of creamy looking yoghurt. So wholesome. There's a little red square on the front with the words "Ideal for lunchboxes" and a checklist on the back with outrageous claims that are presumably there to reassure parents that they are giving their child a truly healthy alternative. Let's take a closer look:
- "Made with real fruit" - And? So are the fruit pastilles! It's also made with real glucose-fructose syrup but they don't mention that!
- "Contains real yoghurt" - Oh yeah? The ingredient that comes closest in the list is yoghurt power and there's only 3% of that - not of the total ingredients mind, that's 3% of the 58% that makes up the 'yoghurt' coating. That's just about 1% of the total ingredients! I'm sorry, but this does not warrant a claim that this food contains real yoghurt. It's totally misleading.
- "Natural colours" - Well thank goodness for that! I don't think there's a company out there making food for children using artificial colours these days. Even Smarties have gone natural! Oh, and so have the Fruit Pastilles...
- "Great for energy" - Says who? What type of energy? The same type of sugar fuelled energy my son gets from the Fruit Pastilles?
I'm not finished. The Fruit Flakes cost more than than the Fruit Pastilles (about 30p more) and, frankly, they taste absolutely revolting.
The problem is that these Fruit Flakes are not the exception, they are the rule. There are literally hundreds of companies out there pedalling their wares as "healthy snacks" for children and they are nothing of the sort. The supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of so called healthy foods aimed at children which often contain as much as, or even more, sugar than sweets. Let's call a spade a spade - or a sweet a sweet. Shouldn't there be some kind of legislation in place to make sure these food manufacturers can't get away with it?
It's wrong. Just plain wrong.