Care Food

Pack a lunch for your children and don’t fall into the trap of pseudo-healthy snacks

A school year begins and together with it there comes the matter of lunch that is either prepared at home or bought at school. I decided to review the ingredients of popular snacks that are advertised as excellent for satiating hunger, healthy, nutritious and perfect for our kids.

Let’s start with cookies that are marketed by its producer as a “breakfast”. Their packaging includes information on how to start a day in a healthy manner and how to make the most important meal (that is, breakfast) properly balanced. The list of ingredients is relatively long. What do we have here? In the order provided by the producer – let’s remember that this order corresponds to the percentage content of each ingredient in a finished product, starting with the highest one: grains, sugar, chocolate, rapeseed oil, cocoa powder, wheat starch, leavening agents (ammonium carbonate, diphosphates, sodium carbonates), emulsifiers (E492 – sorbitan tristearate, soy lecithin, E472e – mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids esterified using mono- and diacetyltartaric acid), minerals, salt, skimmed-milk powder, flavouring (what kind of?), vitamins. It’s worth noting that sugar is second in order on the list of ingredients which means that there’s a lot of it! We’ll handle emulsifiers later in a more collective fashion.

Next, let’s take a closer look at a certain milk wafer. In general, producers often place on packaging the information on ingredients that are very important in the diet of our children, that is, fruit, whole grains, nuts, dairy and cocoa. Unfortunately, behind all that there is hidden mainly sugar – white, refined and 90% sucrose.

But coming back to the wafer on the packaging of which you can see a glass of milk and chestnuts (!), let’s take a look at the ingredients in the order provided on the packaging: sugar, vegetable oils (palm oil), wheat flour, skimmed-milk powder, hazelnuts, whole-grain wheat flour, cocoa, milk fat, whey product, deoiled cocoa, wheat starch, emulsifier (soy lecithin), cream powder, salt, flavourings (what kind of?), sodium hydrocarbonate.

Let’s stop at the matter of palm oil/fat, the name of which sounds nice and, unfortunately, strangely familiar since it is added to numerous food products! This substance consists of 45% unsaturated fatty acids (i.e. the so-called trans fats) that contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

And while we’re at sugar and palm oil, let’s take a look at the ingredients of a certain popular bread spread that, according to the producer, contains “hazelnuts and cocoa”. Again, on the packaging you can see a glass of milk and hazelnuts! Meanwhile, its true composition is as follows: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa powder with reduced fat content, milk powder, whey powder, emulsifier: soy lecithin, vanilla.

No wonder that in recent years we’re dealing with an obesity epidemic in children and that the doctors raise alarm because type 2 diabetes, which is directly related to obesity, is diagnosed more and more often in children.

But let’s go further and take a look at ingredients of a popular croissant with chocolate filling. Here it is: wheat flour, vegetable oils (palm oil, cotton oil, sunflower seed oil, rapeseed oil), sugar, stabilizer (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), high-fructose corn syrup, yeast, salt, citric acid, vanilla, calcium propionate. As for the filling: palm oil, glucose syrup, sugar, cocoa, skimmed-milk powder, ethyl alcohol, emulsifier, vanilla, sodium alginate, potassium sorbate.

Well, there’s a lot of it, but let’s do it one thing at a time! You can find a lot of information about the high-fructose corn syrup in the post regarding sweetened drinks for children.

Calcium propionate (E282) is a preservative. Among the most common side effects of its use and the symptoms that accompanying its overdose there are: headaches and migraines, intensification of asthmatic symptoms, stomach irritation and skin irritation.

Sodium alginate (E401) is an emulsifier and stabilizer which, when consumed in excess, may lead to iron absorption disorders and have a laxative effect.

Potassium sorbate (E202) is a chemical preservative. It may cause symptoms such as: skin irritation, allergies, asthma and dermatitis. Allegedly, in some people it may also cause behavioral problems. Unfortunately, I haven’t managed to find information on which people are in the risk group and what those behavioral problems can be. However, I stumbled upon the reports on it being carcinogenic.

Now let’s talk a promised little bit about emulsifiers, or rather the cheapest and, therefore, the most popular of them, that is, soy lecithin, designated as E322. Soy lecithin contains 35% soy oil on average. Is that bad? Well, the truth is that soy is one of the most often genetically modified plants and allegedly it’s also one that is most often contaminated with pesticides. Additionally, in order to create soy lecithin, raw soy beans are first subjected to the activity of hexane, which is a chemical compound obtained as a result of petroleum refinement, and then they are subjected to the activity of hydrogen peroxide. Are these chemical present in soy lecithin in the form of production process residue? Unfortunately, there are no reliable and credible sources regarding this matter.

And now let’s try something for dessert – some cream cheese advertised as a panacea for a minor hunger – and then follow it up with some chewing gum for children. As for the cheese and its ingredients: low-fat white cheese made of milk, cream, water, sugar, modified starch, high-fructose corn syrup, vanilla and gelatine.

What hides under the notion of modified starch? The name itself does not mean that the starch is genetically modified – it’s natural starch that is subjected to modification process in order to change one of its physical properties. But the problem lies elsewhere. It lies in the fact that modified starch is usually made of soy or corn. And when it comes to telling whether soy and corn are GMO or not… It’s hard to say.

And finally, the chewing gum. So, our stomach is full now so we can chew some gum. When it comes to facts regarding chewing gum itself – yes, it’s true that it lowers the pH factor in the mouth after a meal, mostly thanks to increasing salivation. However, chewing gum beyond 15-20 minutes doesn’t provide any further positive effects other than exercising muscles responsible for closing the mouth.

Coming back to the ingredients, they’re as follows: sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, sucralose, acesulfame K, rubber base, flavourings, glycerol, citric acid, soy lecithin, malic acid, fumaric acid, BHA.

Let me omit artificial sweeteners added to the chewing gum, because that’s enough material for a separate post, and focus on the rubber base and BHA.

The composition of the rubber base is a given producer’s secret. It usually includes soy lecithin and other emulsifiers, as well as: elastomers, fillers, resins and antioxidants.

BHA stands for butylated hydroxyanisole, designated as E320. It is an organic chemical compound that is considered carcinogenic and that may have a toxic impact on kidneys and cause skin changes, such as urticaria. BHA is banned in Japan and in Great Britain it is forbidden to add it to products intended for children.

I hope I haven’t bored you with that little chemistry revision. I would also like you to notice that among the products that I selected none belonged to those that are universally considered harmful or junk food, such as: crisps, sweet sodas, candies or sweet candy bars. I chose on purpose those that are advertised as sources of calcium, magnesium dietary fibre, iron, etc. Unfortunately, the producers stay silent about the sugar, palm oil, emulsifiers, high-fructose corn syrup and preservatives included in those products. Let’s remain careful and not get deceived!

It’s worth reading the ingredient lists of products and search for information about them in order to be aware of what we and our children are eating.

Małgorzata Maciaszek, M.D.

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