Back to school: How much sugar is lurking in your kids’ favourite snacks?

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Back to school: How much sugar is lurking in your kids’ favourite snacks?
WATCH: How much sugar is in your kids' snacks? – Sep 2, 2016

You send your kids off to school with granola bars, fruit snacks and juice boxes daily. The packaging says they’re healthy, with no artificial colours and flavours, 100 per cent of your daily dose of vitamin C and a great source of calcium. But how much sugar is lurking in these snacks?

“It’s very deceiving and hard to tell what’s really in kids’ snacks unless you read the nutrition panel. The marketing out there tricks us into buying more things and parents care about their kids’ health so [the packaging] makes it sound healthy,” Claudia Lemay, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian, told Global News.

READ MORE: 7 kid-friendly, easy-to-make, dietitian-approved recipes

Nicole Osinga, a registered dietitian from Courtice-Ont., called it a “health halo.” That’s when labels like gluten-free, no added sugar, and no artificial flavours are added to the front of packages.

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With Global News, Lemay and Osinga looked at a handful of popular kids’ snacks parents are probably packing in lunchboxes.

These cookies are labelled as “peanut-free,” “no artificial colours of flavours,” and with three grams of protein per pouch.

But with 14 grams of sugar, that’s about four teaspoons, with virtually no fibre or protein.

Lemay said this is “definitely just a dessert.”

READ MORE: How much sugar are your kids eating? Take a look at 3 new sugar limit guidelines

Osinga is worried about the sorbitol, an alcohol sugar, that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and an upset stomach.

PopTarts clock in at 200 calories, which is as much as two slices of whole grain bread. A single tart also has 18 grams of sugar — that’s as much as five Oreos, according to Osinga.

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Lemay said this is a treat for Saturday mornings served with a glass of milk while your kids catch up on cartoons. It isn’t meant to be a daily morning meal to get their bodies fuelled up.

She likened PopTarts to a chocolate bar, but worse in some cases. Dark chocolate comes with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and less sodium.

READ MORE: How much sugar should you be eating? How to follow the WHO’s guidelines

PopTarts are also made with chemicals and artificial flavours — think of the bright red filling inside and caked on icing on top.

“This cannot replace real food,” Lemay said.

If you look at the shelf life of these treats, they typically don’t expire for another year or more, Lemay said. That’s because they’re packed with preservatives and bad fats to keep them tasty and not stale.

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Osinga called this snack, “so-so”. Her concern is the marshmallows.

READ MORE: 8 so-called ‘healthy’ foods registered dietitians wouldn’t (or rarely) eat

Lemay said parents are better off making their own squares with only three ingredients: whole grain rice krispies, marshmallows and butter. You get to control how much marshmallows and butter is used this way, too.

A yogurt drink made with strawberries and banana can be deceiving, Osinga said.

“How can it be bad for you? But yogurts are dangerous these days, they’re almost like a dessert with the amount of sugar that’s in there,” she explained.

This drink has 6.5 teaspoons of sugar in there, as much as a milkshake made with ice cream, Lemay warned.

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READ MORE: 5 ways you’re sabotaging your ‘healthy’ lunchtime sandwich

It has its merits, though: protein, calcium and vitamins B2 and B12.

You’re better off making your own yogurt drink with Greek yogurt blended with fruit and ice, though.

A single Nutella Go snack pack has almost as many calories as a McDonald’s cheeseburger (270 calories versus 290).

Osinga said this snack has “such a health halo” with the hazelnuts on the package. It has five grams of saturated fat, which is way too much. The average adult shouldn’t have more than 13 grams in a day.

READ MORE: How much sugar and how many calories are in your summertime drink?

Lemay’s concern is that most of this snack is empty calories, too. Your child will eat 270 calories from this snack at recess and will feel the hunger pangs again before lunch.

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With that many calories to work with, you’re better off making a sandwich with two slices of bread and cheese with hummus, or peanut butter.

Lemay said, in short, this is a tablespoon or so of oats covered with chocolate and although it’s a granola bar, it’s more of a treat than healthy fare.

“This one has a ton of sugar. Yes, granola and peanut butter sounds healthy but the nutrition isn’t translated here,” Osinga said.

“Granola bars are tricky for parents. They’re not always the greatest choice,” she said.

READ MORE: Want to lose weight? This tactic will help you cut calories from each meal

Try making your own instead. Osinga makes energy bites using oatmeal, sunflower seeds, butter, and dried fruit. She combines the ingredients and rolls them into balls, making easy, portable snacks.

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Juice boxes are ubiquitous in kids’ lunch bags. They’re paired with sandwiches and pizza lunches and even drank after a sweaty gym class, for example.

Believe it or not, they have as much sugar as drinking Coke, Osinga said. A 200 millilitre box has 21 grams of sugar – or 5 teaspoons, while Coke has about 22 grams of sugar in the same serving.

Fruit juice comes with 100 per cent of your daily dose of vitamin C but that’s easily attainable in other ways. Two kiwis would get the job done too, Osinga said.

READ MORE: This food will make you feel fuller if you’re trying to lose weight

Keep in mind, your brain doesn’t register calories from beverages either. Your kids are consuming 100 calories from the juice box on top of what they’re eating at mealtime.

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You’re better off giving your kids oranges, grapes, or an apple. They’ll get the nutrients and fibre without the extra sugar.

At only 80 calories per package, these fruit snacks seem harmless but the first three ingredients listed are sugar, Osinga warned.

A whole apple or orange clock in at about 80 calories, too. With the real fruit option, you’re getting fibre, nutrients and a slow release of carbohydrates that won’t send your kids into a sugar crash, Lemay said.

(Graphics courtesy Janet Cordahi/Global News)

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