junk food

The Truth About Fruit Snacks

by Sally on January 14, 2015

Myths about Fruit Snacks by Real Mom NutritionFruit snacks are fixtures in lunch boxes and party goody bags. They show up on soccer sidelines and are beloved by kids (yes, including mine). But for something that calls itself “fruit” and a “snack”, they’re also highly overrated. Here are the three biggest misconceptions about fruit snacks–and what ALL parents should know about these ubiquitous little pouches:

Myth #1: Fruit snacks are healthy.

Here’s the ingredient list for a popular brand of fruit snacks that features superheroes on the front of the box:

Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.

Here’s the ingredient list for Gummy Bears:

Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.

See any similarities?

  • Both have two forms of added sugar (corn syrup and sugar) as the the first two ingredients–meaning, those are the ingredients in the largest quantities
  • Both contain artificial flavors and preservatives
  • Both contain three kinds of artificial food dyes

See any differences?

  • Fruit snacks have added vitamin C. But keep in mind: Children ages 4-8 need just 25 milligrams of vitamin C a day–that’s the amount in 3 medium strawberries OR about a quarter of an orange. In other words, C isn’t a vitamin that’s terribly difficult to get.
  • Fruit snacks contain apple puree concentrate, which allows the box to claim “made with fruit”. But keep in mind: Fruit concentrate is actually more like a source of added sugar than actual fruit.

Myth #2: Fruit snacks are fruit.

Yes, some fruit snacks are made with fruit juice, but not in a meaningful amount. Some fruit snacks are made with fruit juice concentrate, which is more of a sweetener than actual fruit. Fruit snacks should not be considered a serving of fruit. They don’t have the fiber of fruit. They also don’t have the texture of fruit. So kids who gobble fruit snacks are not learning to like fruit. They are learning to like gummies.

Myth #3: Fruit snacks are harmless.

Fruit snacks, like other kinds of chewy candies, stick to the teeth. Bacteria in the mouth feed on these sugary residues, producing acids that can cause decay. Fruit snacks are also loaded with added sugar. Take a look at exactly how much is in one tiny pouch:

Myths about Fruit Snacks by Real Mom NutritionI know fruit snacks aren’t going away anytime soon, and I know kids like them. So if you’re going to buy them…

  • Consider choosing one without artificial food dyes. There’s growing evidence that some children’s behavior may be affected by these dyes (read: Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?)–and besides, these dyes are simply not necessary. Several brands including Annie’s and Mott’s use fruit or vegetable juices to colors their fruit snacks.
  • Treat them as you would a dessert. Packing fruit snacks in your child’s lunch? Skip the cookie. Giving your child a choice of a sweet treat after dinner? Fruit snacks should be on par with candy or ice cream.
  • Have your child drink or swish water after eating them to get rid of the sticky residue on their teeth.
  • Be sure you’re offering actual fruit at snack time a lot more often than fruit snacks.

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Why I'm Tired of "Foods You Should Never Eat" Lists by Real Mom NutritionI am so over seeing this headline: “Foods You Should Never Eat!”

There’s a good reason I see it so much. It’s effective. It’s just sensational enough to draw you in, just scary enough to make you flip to the page or click through to the article with a single worry: Oh no, could I be eating one of those foods????

Yes, you probably are. Because here’s just a small sampling of what a Google search of the phrase “foods you should never eat” turns up:

  • Corn
  • Bread
  • Vegetable oil
  • Gluten
  • Bacon
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Non-organic produce
  • Cereal
  • Ice cream
  • Alcohol
  • “Anything cooked in a microwave”

These lists were so long, the range of foods so broad, it boggles the mind. Though you don’t even have to actually ingest these foods to suffer disastrous health consequences if an article titled “Foods You Should Never Attempt To Eat” is to be believed. And apparently there’s also a subset of particularly hazardous foods that are reserved for a “Foods to Never Ever Eat” category.

And the nutrition misinformation? Enough to make my toes curl.

According to these lists, white rice should be avoided because “your body doesn’t know how to process it” (yes it does; it’s called digestion). White pasta “contains little to no nutrients” (aside from carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are nutrients), and you shouldn’t drink a soda “if you don’t want diabetes” (the leap this statement makes is about a mile long).

Why I'm Tired of "Foods You Should Never Eat" Lists by Real Mom NutritionTo abide by these lists, you must forever pass up mint chocolate chip in favor of blending “berries, almond milk, and stevia” because, sadly, ice cream tops the list of “Summer Foods You Should Never Eat”. You must tote around your own shaker of black lava salt to restaurants because the iodine in table salt is deadly. And forget about eating mayo or drinking tap water ever again. You’re done.

My beef with these lists: That word “never”. Really? NEVER? Yes, there are alternatives to some of these foods that offer more health benefits. Yes, I support buying organic when available and feasible financially. Yes, I advise people to drink water over soda, choose whole grain bread over white, and brown rice over white. But at the end of the day, it’s about what you eat most of the time. It’s about your overall eating habits, not a single food or a single meal.

But the problem with these lists is that instead of informing people, they simply spread fear. A soda will not give you diabetes. White bread is not toxic. Fear of food is not healthy. (Read: Fear & Loathing on Facebook)

So the next time you see a “Foods You Should Never Eat!” list, please take it with a grain of salt.

Just not table salt. That stuff will kill you!

Photos by my fabulous intern Hannah Bills.

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Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?

June 10, 2014

If you’re wary of artificial food dyes, you’re in good company. A lot of parents are questioning whether these rainbow hues are safe for their kids, while scientists are working to get to the bottom of this decades-long debate. I recently spent months researching and writing a feature for Parents magazine about artificial food dyes […]

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Soccer Mom On A Mission…Watch It!

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Two years ago, I tromped around the soccer fields in my community, snapping photos of the snacks I was seeing. I set the photos to music and turned them into a video slideshow called “Soccer Mom On A Mission”, with the hopes of raising awareness and mobilizing a new wave of Snacktivists to create change. After […]

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