Dawn is a reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

'Healthy' food hides high sugar content

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A lunchbox with a healthy lunch.
A lunchbox with a healthy lunch.

What kinds of food will you pack in your kids' or grandkids' school lunches when they head back to class next week?

A Bay of Plenty Times Weekend analysis has found a school lunch with so-called "healthy" foods - such as orange juice, yoghurt and trail mix - had more sugar than a school lunch with junk foods such as fizzy drink, a jam sandwich and chocolate bar.

The worst offender was a 350ml bottle of orange juice with 38g of sugar - 3g more than a 355ml can of lemonade. But the other components all add up.

A tub of strawberry yoghurt had 15g of sugar, while a multigrain cereal bar which claims to have "no artificial colours or flavours" was more than a quarter sugar, with 11.6g in a 40g bar.

Read more: Big hurdles for 'healthy food zone'

Compare this with a jam sandwich on two slices of white bread (8.4g of sugar total) or one chocolate bar (8.4g sugar).

A fruit, nut and chocolate mix had 19g of sugar per serving while a packet of potato chips had 0.2g.

But that doesn't mean you should send your children to school with fizzy drink and chips.

Focus on Food business manager and New Zealand-registered dietitian Emma McMichael said the jam sandwich lunch had simple carbohydrates and minimal fibre, "so you won't get that long-lasting energy and the wholegrain goodness - B vitamins, fibre - that you will get from wholegrain breads."

She said the chocolate, which was high in sugar and fat, should not be a regular lunch box item and that a whole apple, which contains skin and fibre, was preferable to apple puree.

Food Solutions owner and New Zealand-registered dietician and nutritionist Fiona Boyle said it was a mistake to focus on one component of food.

Registered dietician Fiona Boyle. Photo/file
Registered dietician Fiona Boyle. Photo/file

"When it comes down to sugar, that's important, but so are things like protein - and neither of those lunches would be particularly satisfying, long-lasting or satiating."

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation said schools provided an ideal setting for programmes to improve children's health by encouraging daily moderate and vigorous physical activity, and healthier eating patterns.

The foundation was running Project Energise in Waikato and Northland schools, where dietitians and "energisers" encouraged the development of positive habits.

An earlier study by 5+ a Day found only one-third of Kiwis ate the recommended five or more pieces of fruit and vegetables a day.

It is best for kids to keep fluids to water and milk, and eat the fruit rather than drink the fruit juice.
Emma McMichael, New Zealand-registered dietitian

Ms McMichael said while lunch box #2 had redeeming qualities - such as calcium and protein in the yoghurt and healthy fats in nuts - it still lacked fibre and was very high in sugar.

She said that grain chips were low in nutrition while orange juice provided some vitamin C - as well as a lot of sugar.

"But the child would be better off to eat an orange as they will get more fibre from eating the fruit and less sugar overall when compared to drinking a glass of juice."

As for the oaty slice, it was "really a calorie-loaded bar with sugar, fat and little fibre".

The dietitian said both options provided a lot of calories from sugar and fat, and overall fibre content was low.

In addition, she said the lunches had a lot of salt, which could increase a child's desire to eat more.

"It is best for kids to keep fluids to water and milk, and eat the fruit rather than drink the fruit juice."

Fiona Boyle also said water was a far better drink choice, and including fewer packaged foods and more homemade items in school lunches would likely result in better nutrition.

"To make a sandwich doesn't take very long. Instead of pureed fruit, use raw. Chop fresh vegetables. You need to be organised in the morning, or do it the night before."

Ms McMichael said healthier lunch alternatives included fresh fruit, chopped vegetables such as carrot, capsicum and cucumber, raw nuts and dried fruit, popcorn, low-sugar yoghurt, cheese slices with wholegrain crackers, wholegrain bread with fillings like low-fat cheese and meats, egg, tuna, peanut butter or Marmite, and one baked item such as a home-made muffin or plain biscuit.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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