My son brought a mini-assignment home last week. It was all about how much sugar is added to various foods. Then it asked the kids to say whether they thought sugar should be added to foods. After reading that a can of soft drink has nine teaspoons of added sugar, I guess their answer will be no. And yet sugar can be really helpful in getting people to eat healthy food. What’s more important to ask than ‘How much sugar’ is ‘What is it added to?’ If it’s added to some water, colour, flavour and carbonated fizz, it’s not that great. If it’s added to milk, yoghurt or rolled oats it’s helping you to eat a whole lot of extra nutrients.
Also last week I received a brochure on snacks through my dietitian connections. Funny thing – their criteria for a healthy snack didn’t mention sugar at all. Rather than vilifying sugar, they rated the nutritional value of snacks based on the following criteria: low kilojoule, low glycemic index, low saturated fat, plenty of protein, plenty of fibre and containing calcium. It’s not necessary to meet all the criteria, in fact none of the snacks listed did, but the more a snack meets the better. What’s great about using this criteria is that it’s positive – looking for the good things about a food rather than avoiding something. It gives you more control over your choices and reduces the guilt of eating something that everyone has told you is ‘bad’.
I’m not saying that eating lots of sugar is a good thing – we all eat more than we need. I just think it’s unhelpful to focus on it when there are so many other aspects of nutrition to consider. So here are some great after-school snacks that meet some or most of the healthy criteria.
Carton of reduced fat yoghurt
A 200 gram carton of most fruit yoghurt contains two or three teaspoons of added sugar. Although natural yoghurt is ideal, the added sugar encourages many more people to eat this high protein, high calcium, low GI snack.
If you have left-over cooked rice, add some reduced fat milk and a sprinkle of brown sugar. (Apologies to my lovely Indian sister-in-law who would never ruin rice by serving it as a dessert!)
I have discovered these amazing snacks since moving to Australia. They are high in protein and fibre, and have a low glycemic index, making them a filling, lasting snack. And they taste good.
Wholegrain crackers spread with hummus or peanut butter.
I like Vita Wheat 9 grains as they are low in saturated fat and salt, and high in fibre. Make sure the peanut butter has no added salt or sugar.
Dates and a glass of reduced fat milk.
This was my standard after school snack as a teenager. Like all dried fruit, dates provide a concentrated source of energy – that means a lot of sugar in a small amount. But for active, growing bodies, this is fine. The milk provides protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine and some B vitamins.
Fresh fruit – of course
Chop the fruit up; it’s more likely to be eaten. Or blend it into a drink. lately I’ve been making a delicious after school drink of watermelon, banana and frozen berries blended with a little iced water and low fat yoghurt. The colour is fantastic and it hits plenty of good nutriton buttons: high fibre and low fat with protein and calcium from the yoghurt. Try it!!