Foods that make kids fatter faster

Plenty of everyday foods from the supermarket can be just as fattening as fast food.
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  • Updated:22 Jan 2007

01.The fat list

Potato chips

In brief

  • Plenty of everyday products from the supermarket can be just as fattening as fast food. Often they’re aimed at kids, and even promoted as healthy.
  • Snacks and soft drinks tend to cram a lot of energy into a small package, making it easy to get far too many kilojoules from eating what looks like a very modest serve.

We’ve listed 10 high-profile products loaded with kilojoules that are aimed at kids. There might be other, similar products on the market, but these ones in particular are being heavily promoted or they’re already market leaders.

All the foods manage to cram in more than 1000 kJ per 100 g — most of them a lot more. This means the foods are very energy-dense: they give you a lot of kilojoules in a small portion which doesn’t make you feel full. Energy density is believed to be a contributing factor to what makes some foods more fattening than others (see Fattening fodder).

Even the drinks in our list manage about 200 kJ per 100 mL — that’s around the same as reduced-fat milk, but without the milk’s valuable protein, calcium and vitamins.

It wouldn’t be too difficult for some kids to eat or drink all these products in a day, and they’d have a huge impact on the day’s energy intake (see the Menus compared for an example). The day’s total would be about 10,000 kJ; that’s a lot more than even the average recommended daily intake for an adult (8700 kJ), and small children obviously need less.

If the foods from our ‘unhealthy diet’ in the table are replaced with healthier alternatives, the day’s energy intake is cut back to about 7700 kJ, which is about right for a moderately active kid of primary school age.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

Arnott’s Tiny Teddy Dippers Strawberry with Choc Chip Tiny Teddy

Arnott’s Tiny Teddy Dippers Strawberry with Choc Chip Tiny Teddy Energy density: 2240 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 600 kJ

What kid wouldn’t love Tiny Teddies with some pink goo to dunk them in? But this product takes the prize among our selection for the most energy packed into the least food. Nearly 80% of the energy comes from fat and sugars, so don’t expect Tiny Teddy Dippers to provide many of the nutrients your kid really needs.

There are plenty of healthier snacks you could put in your kid’s lunchbox, such as a tub of fruit yoghurt or a prepackaged fruit cup.

Nestlé Milo Cereal

Nestle Milo cereal Energy density: 1658 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 497 kJ

When we looked at breakfast cereals we found that kids get a raw deal. Most kids’ cereals are low in fibre and either too sugary or too salty. While OK for salt, Nestlé Milo Cereal has more kilojoules (and fat) per serve than most other cereals — not such a good idea for kids already over-nourished.

The packaging boasts about “slow burning energy” and claims it “can help you feel fuller for longer and perform at your best”. This is essentially a low-GI claim, and Nestlé told us that, eaten with reduced-fat milk, Milo Cereal does have a low GI. But as with Nutella, that just seems to be an attempt to take the curse off an otherwise unhealthy product.

In fact Nestlé Milo Cereal currently has little fibre to speak of but more kilojoules per serve than Kellogg’s Coco Pops — which itself certainly isn’t the healthiest kids’ breakfast cereal. Milo Cereal also has a lot more fat than Coco Pops and only 16% less sugar. Sanitarium Weet-Bix is a much healthier cereal, even if you add some sugar.

Steggles Chicken Nuggets

Steggles chicken nuggets Energy density: 1060 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 1330 kJ

Most kids love chicken nuggets. They’re a handy standby to keep in the freezer but not something to give them on a regular basis. They’re only 55% chicken, so one serve (125 g) gives you only 69 g of actual meat. But this comes with 20 g (four teaspoons) of fat — more than three times the fat they’d get from the same amount of barbecued chicken breast, which means they’ll also get more than twice the kilojoules.

Uncle Tobys Roll-Ups Funprints

Uncle Tobys Roll-Ups Funprints Energy density: 1560 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 240 kJ

Uncle Tobys was recently hauled over the coals by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for claiming Roll-Ups are “made with 65% real fruit”. The label now limits itself to “made with real fruit”, but even this claim seems over the top for a product whose major ingredient certainly isn’t fruit (it’s maize maltodextrin, a form of starch) and which contains 30% sugars.

Another ingredient that’s listed is hydrogenated canola oil, so Roll-Ups also contain some artery-clogging trans fats that don’t have to be declared on the label. But we fully endorse one claim you’ll see on the label — Roll-Ups are definitely a “good source of energy” — that’s kilojoules, don’t forget.

A piece of genuinely “real fruit” (such as an apple) is a much healthier option. It’ll leave your kid with a full stomach but fewer fat-forming kilojoules (and with no trans fat).

Ribena Blackcurrent Fruit Drink

Ribena Blackcurrent Fruit Drink Energy density: 215 kJ/100 ml
Energy per serve: 710 kJ

It’s been around forever, but now comes in a funky ‘Squee-zee’ pack. And with its much vaunted vitamin C and “no artificial colour, flavour or sweetener”, you might think Ribena is a healthy drink to put in your kid’s lunchbox — especially if you had it when you were a kid and your Mum said it was good for you. But the major ingredients in Ribena are water and sugar; blackcurrant juice comes a very poor third at only 5% (and even then it’s a processed product made from concentrate).

Any product that’s called a ‘fruit drink’ is best avoided. Under the Food Standards Code ‘fruit drinks’ need contain no more than 5% fruit (so Ribena just meets the bare minimum standard) but unlimited sugar is allowed. ‘Fruit juice’, on the other hand, can’t be diluted with water and manufacturers are restricted to adding no more than 4% sugar.

Kids don’t really need any fruit juice or other sweet drinks to have a balanced and healthy diet. Water to drink with a piece of real fruit is a better — and more filling — option.

Kraft Dairy Bites Snack Abouts Cheese Spread and Chicken Flavoured Biscuits

Kraft Dairy Bites Snack Abouts Cheese Spread and Chicken Flavoured Biscuits Energy density: 1789 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 501 kJ

“Dairy goodness that kids love!” — but also a lot of fat (much of it saturated) and far too much salt for a kids’ snack. Just where the “dairy goodness” comes from isn’t obvious, and Kraft couldn’t tell us how much calcium this product contains. But a serve (28 g) comes with about the same amount of saturated fat as a 50 g packet of potato chips. A piece of real cheese and some low-fat crackers would be a healthier choice.

Go Natural Berry Pieces in Yoghurt

Go Natural Berry Pieces in Yoghurt Energy density: 1820 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 546 kJ

We found this product in the healthfood aisle, but it’s more like confectionery. The first two ingredients are sugar and fat. What’s more, the fat is hydrogenated palm oil, which must be among the unhealthiest fats the manufacturers could have chosen. Palm oil contains the fatty acids most strongly linked to heart disease risk, and hydrogenation makes it worse — this process produces trans fatty acids that are even worse for hearts (young and old) than saturated fat.

The “real fruit” claimed on the label is made from fruit concentrate and the “delicious tangy yoghurt” is only yoghurt powder, with not a live bacterium in sight, and far from “natural”. Why not send your kid to school with a tub of real fruit yoghurt in their lunchbox instead?

The Natural Beverage Co Apple Naturally Flavoured Soft Drink

The Natural Beverage Co Apple Naturally Flavoured Soft Drink Energy density: 200 kJ/100 ml
Energy per serve: 499 kJ

“No artificial colours, no artificial flavours, no preservatives.” You might think from the advertising hype that this is healthier for your kids than other fizzy drinks, such as Sprite. But in reality the major ingredients are the same — water and sugar.

In fact there’s more sugar than in Sprite, but only 1% apple. That’s so little apple you wouldn’t even see it, so the manufacturers have added malt extract to give the drink a more apple-juice-like colour. What’s natural about that?

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bar

Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Bar Energy density: 1714 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 514 kJ

Cereal bars aren’t as healthy as you might think, for adults or kids (see Muesli bars for more information about the best and the worst of them) — they can be loaded with sugar and saturated fat. Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain bars might be “iron man food” but they’re among the worst.

They have too much saturated fat and sugar, and they lack the dietary fibre and other valuable nutrients your kid would get from cereals bars made from whole grains. Instead you could choose a bar with a good nutrition profile (such as Nestlé Ski D’Lite Apple and Pear).

Ferrero Nutella

Ferrero Nutella

Energy density: 2175 kJ/100 g
Energy per serve: 435 kJ

Loaded with fat and sugar, Nutella combines the worst aspects of peanut butter (too much fat) and jam (too much sugar) in one product. But it contains nutritious hazelnuts and has a low GI, so does that take the curse off it?

No. Hazelnuts are well down the list of ingredients at only 13%, and a low GI doesn’t necessarily mean a food is healthy; chocolate cake with chocolate frosting has much the same GI as Nutella. Sliced banana or even jam make healthier spreads for toast — and they have low GIs too.



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