Children have a relatively high metabolic rate and they are involved in many physical activities so they demand more energy to maintain normal growth. However, their small tummies cannot accommodate enough food from each main meal to prevent hunger before having the next meal. Snacking is therefore a good chance to provide children with energy at this moment. As for vegetarian/ vegan children, having the right snacks can also give them extra functional nutrients to further ensure adequate nutrient consumption.
Undoubtedly, children should gain the vital nutrients from main meals and ideal healthy snacks should be self-made using fresh ingredients, with the fact that commercial snacks are generally energy-dense with low nutritional value. Despite these facts, working mum and dad are too busy to prepare homemade snacks for their children. Then, buying pre-packaged snacks will probably be the only solution. Actually, more and more high-quality, nutritious and delicious snacks are now available in the market. Just carefully read the food labels and avoid snack pitfalls, you can definitely make the right snack choices to enhance the diet quality of your children.
Colorful candies, chocolate and juices are surely eye-catching snacks to children. However, behind the appealing appearance of these snacks can be many artificial food colorants. In 2007, a finding from research funded by the UK Food Standards Agency was published in The Lancet, a world-famous medical journal, stating the confirmed link between artificial food colors and increased risks of hyperactivity/ ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children. Watch out for the evil artificial food colorants (Southampton Six) as shown in the Nomination List when choosing snacks as they are especially harmful to health.
The European Union has implemented a food labeling rule since 2010, which states that all products containing any of the Southampton six colors, must clearly be labeled with the following statement: “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”. Sadly, commercial snacks in Hong Kong are imported from all around the world while there isn’t a commission on artificial food colorant regulations among countries. Therefore, the best way to avoid this pitfall is to stay away from snacks with added pigments.
Generally, sweeteners refer to all edible substances that can give the food a sweet taste after addition. Conventional sweeteners are the various kinds of sugars, with cane sugar (sucrose) being the most common one. Sugars are under the food substance category of carbohydrates. No matter your cookies contain white sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar or other types of sugars, each gram of sugar contributes 4 kcal to your cookies.
To make the snack taste sweet while keeping its energy content low, food manufacturers may replace the role of conventional sugars by other sugar substitutes which are the sugar alcohols and low-calorie sweeteners. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that can be found in fruits but they will not be completely absorbed nor utilized by the human body. This is why they provide fewer calories (1.5-3 kcal per gram).
Besides, low-calorie sweeteners, also known as non-nutritive sweeteners, are artificial sweeteners that possess very low or even no calories. Yet, the sweetness they provide can be tens to hundreds of times that of cane sugar. Just add a tiny amount of these artificial sweeteners into food will be enough to provide a sweet taste. Many snacks have claims like “zero sugar, zero calories” or “no sugar” but they taste very sweet, probably this is contributed by these non-nutritive sweeteners.
Many research studies examining the association between artificial sweeteners and increased risks of cancers have been released in the past 30 years. And the renowned science journal, Nature, once published a finding, stating that consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners may lead to glucose intolerance. Children with overweight or obesity problem, and those who want to lose weight are not recommended to consistently consume artificial sweetener products because this is not a root solution to children’s desire for sweets. Some studies even pointed out that consuming non-nutritive sweeteners would make people be more eager for sweet foods. Hence, regardless of the type, we should avoid snacks with added sweeteners.
Trans-fat is commonly found in crispy snacks, such as biscuits and chips, because most likely the ingredient list of these snacks will include shortening and hydrogenated vegetable oils, in order to generate the desired flavorsome and crispy characteristics. Shortening and hydrogenated vegetable oils are products of vegetable oils after hydrogenation processing. The aim of this processing is to convert the original liquid state of vegetable oils to semi-solid or solid, and so to facilitate storage and prevent the unsaturated fats from turning bad which creates a rancid smell.
Long-term consumption of trans-fat will interrupt metabolic processes of the body and increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases, which chronically do harm on children’s health. The US Food and Drug Administration has already banned the use of trans-fat in food formulae invented after 18 June 2018. On the other hand, there is no legal regulation on the use of trans-fat in food production in Hong Kong while pre-packaged food products must show the trans-fat content in food labels.