Healthy Snacking – the facts from California Raisins

aaliah-hi-resMore and more retailers are taking stock of the health boom sweeping the nation by offering healthy snacking options, says The California Raisin Administrative Committee.

With the UK’s snacking market known to be worth over £2 billion per year, the market for healthy, dried fruit snacks is the fastest growing area in this sector. The positioning of sweets and snacks at till points is a widespread phenomenon in the UK, and frequently the cause of much nagging by children as families queue to pay for groceries. More often than not, parents will succumb to this pressure, resulting in young children eating more sweets, chocolate, crisps and soft drinks than is good for them.

Snacking habits are formed early in childhood and will stay with kids well into their adult lives. It is so important to encourage children to eat healthily early in life, although it is never too late to try and break the bad habits. Positioning healthy foods at checkouts, rather than the all-too-common chocolate bars, would be a good attempt by retailers to help reduce the temptation children often succumb to. Teenagers are more likely to make their own, independent food choices, and they tend to snack more and eat fewer regular meals. Those that understand the benefits of healthy eating from an early age will be less inclined to eat junk food than others. Parents who educate their young children as to which foods are good for them and which are bad will be influencing their choices long after they stop buying their food.

Obesity is a rapidly increasing problem in the UK, and one that the government has gone to great lengths recently to highlight. The healthy eating ‘5 A Day’ programme, along with the newer Change4Life initiative have been heavily promoted, with good reason. Thousands of deaths every year can be traced back to obesity. It increases the risk of many fatal conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, to name but a few. Data from the National Child Measurement scheme has shown that despite increasing awareness, obesity in children is still as prevalent as ever. 33% of 11 year olds in the UK are now overweight or obese, and researchers from the University College London have estimated that a third of adults in the UK will be obese by 2012.

Research carried out by the University of Liverpool in 2008 has shown that 7,000 deaths per year could be prevented in the UK if people who regularly eat crisps and chocolate replaced one snack with a healthier alternative each day. Eating dried fruit, such as California Raisins, and natural nuts as an alternative would cut down saturated fat and salt intake, which in turn would lead to fewer deaths caused by heart disease and strokes. People – adults and children alike – should be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day to stay healthy and prevent disease. A tablespoon of California Raisins is equivalent to one of these portions. They are an excellent source of energy, protein, micronutrients and fibre, which studies have shown can independently assist weight loss.

Obesity isn’t the only issue raised when healthy snacking for children is suggested. There are other problems that can arise from eating snacks that are high in sugar or fat – dental issues, for instance. Natural sugars, like those found in dried fruit, are preferable to refined sugars – nutrients are removed when sugar is refined. These are far more likely to cause tooth decay than the sugars found in fruit. There has been some controversy recently over whether the stickiness of dried fruits increases tooth decay. In fact, researchers from the University of Chicago have found that California Raisins contain phytochemical compounds that suppress the growth of oral bacteria that can cause gum disease and tooth decay. According to the ‘Stop-the-Rot’ campaign, nearly half of five year olds in the UK suffer from tooth decay, and research carried out by the Conservative Party found that over 36,000 children under the age of 16 were admitted to hospital in 2006/07 with tooth decay. Sugars in sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks play a major part in this problem. Raising young children’s awareness of the consequences of what they eat will almost certainly help to reduce tooth decay.

No one is suggesting that eating in between meals is unhealthy. Indeed, the idea that eating little and often is often hailed as healthier than eating three main meals. Snacking is a great way to maintain energy levels throughout the day. What does need to be addressed though is the value of those snacks, and encouraging children to choose the right foods from an early age is key. As with all foods, both healthy and unhealthy, the key is balance and moderation.

www.raisins.org