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This is healthy?

10 May 2009 1,812 views No Comment

WHAT’S a better snack for your kid – one designed for children like Baby Balance Berry Bear Biscuits or ‘junk food’ like a bite of a cheeseburger? The answer may surprise you.

A study of 107 foods marketed for babies and young children in British supermarkets in March by the Children’s Food Campaign (CFC), a British pressure group, found that only half of the products surveyed were low in saturated fat, salt and sugar.

The CFC is supported by more than 300 British health organisations and 12,000 members of the public, reported The Guardian.

And while most of these food may not be available in Singapore, the survey results may prompt parents here to take a closer look at the labels of the baby foods here before they buy them.

The CFC survey said that some baby foods they tested contained more sugar and saturated fats than chocolate biscuits and cheeseburgers.

While it did not name all the food items it found to be less healthy, the CFC said Baby Balance Bear biscuits (made by UK-based Cow & Gate) was one that contained trans fats – which has been linked to heart disease.

The CFC survey also found that Heinz Farley’s Toddler’s Own Mini Cheese Biscuits had 7g per 100g of saturated fat. The CFC compared this to McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese burger, which had 6.7g of saturated fat per 100g.

Another one on the list is Farley’s Original Rusks by Heinz, a kind of biscuit used for weaning. It had 29g of sugar per 100g, while the same weight of McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives have only 27.4g.

CFC spokesman Christine Haigh called the results ‘staggering’.

She said: ‘Many foods marketed for babies and young children are advertised as healthy. In reality, in terms of sugar and saturated fat content, some are worse than junk food.’

At least one of the products named, Farley’s Rusks, may be available in Singapore, though it was out of stock at supermarkets we checked yesterday.

The more common product here, Heinz Teething Rusks, had 3.4g of sugar per 100g, according to its label.

In response to the findings, Cow & Gate stopped production of the biscuits found to contain trans fats.

However, Heinz’s corporate affairs director Nigel Dickie told London’s Daily Mail that its Farley’s Rusks were enriched with vitamins and minerals, and an alternative with 30 per cent less sugar was available in England.

Heinz also called the comparison of its cheese biscuits, which contain just 1.8g of saturated fat per portion, with the burger, which contains 13g per portion, misleading.

When told of the survey, some Singaporean mums said they weren’t too worried about it.

Madam Karen Chen, 28, who has a one-month old daughter, said she wasn’t too concerned with it just as long as the foods don’t pose a hazard like melamine.

‘Kids are young, they have high metabolism – they’ll burn off the fats and sugary stuff,’ she said.

Others, like Madam Cynthia Lee, 32, a housewife with a 2-week old son, said she was concerned.

‘I’ll probably go for organic food to start off with rather than things off the shelf, just to be on the safe side,’ she said.

What do Singaporean nutritionists say about the findings?

Processed food

Ms Jenny Goh, senior nutritionist at Fitness and Health International, was not surprised.

‘Baby food should always come from natural food. Processed food comes with a lot of unnecessary ingredients, like sugar, salt, fats, even food preservatives, and parents should always read the labels,’ she said.

Instead of buying biscuits for a weaning baby, she recommended small pieces of apples, oranges or mashed potatoes.

However, Ms Ann Selina Chang, a dietician at The Nutrition Place, said the survey was a little misleading, since babies hardly ever eat anything in quantities similar to a burger.

She said it’s okay to feed the children baby biscuits – but only as a treat, to be given only after a proper meal.

She said: ‘You don’t want to let babies to get used to sugary foods, of course, but as long its not the bulk of the diet it’s fine.’

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