Picking a healthy commercial snack is hard enough, but what if you want to consume fruit snacks? Are we truly consuming healthy food when we pick up a Welch bag of fruit snacks or any other fruit snack out there in supermarkets?
The Truth About Fruit Snacks
It’s all about what manufacturers put in these fruit snacks in the first place. For the past few decades, the general public has agreed (unwillingly) to consume fruit snacks that contain significantly lower amounts of the actual fruit in exchange for flavor and color. Surely, we love some real color and flavor in our snacks. That’s what makes these snacks so attractive in the first place, especially to kids. However, if we go right down to what nutritionally matters, these commercial fruit snacks often fall below anyone’s standards. It can be unclear, especially to parents, what the best approach should be when picking out snacks for their kids. Should you buy what’s available easily on supermarket shelves? Should you buy organic fruit treats? What are the advantages if you shift brands?
Luckily, parents are catching on, and there seems to be higher awareness of the need for healthier choices in supermarkets. This is a good sign because kids can’t make sound decisions about what to eat. What a child eats will depend 100% on what the adults around the child are willing to purchase or prepare. And thus, education about healthier meal choices is paramount to good eating habits.
If we go by the scientific studies, kids are better off consuming more dried fruit like raisins and prunes than commercial fruit snacks. For example, in one study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers discovered that consuming raisins produced some clear health benefits despite being naturally high in sugar, which comes mostly from the dried grapes themselves, in the form of fructose. Some of the clear benefits of integrating raisins are listed below:
- Raisins are graded “low glycemic” or “moderate glycemic” index only. This means they’re a healthier choice for people who have issues with their blood glucose levels.
- Raisins and similar dried fruit snacks can improve a person’s overall diet quality from a nutritional density point of view.
- Dried fruits like raisins possess natural antibacterial properties. Small children who eat raisins regularly will be granted the additional health benefit of better oral health.
- Raisins contain high levels of phenols. Phenols are linked to healthier cardiovascular systems in both animal studies and human studies. While phenols are not a magic bullet for heart problems, a lifetime of eating foods rich in phenols will certainly contribute to better heart health later in life.
- Beneficial intestinal flora that supports good health and digestion will benefit from the prebiotic compounds in raisins, too.
- There is also proof that raisins and other dried fruit rich in antioxidants and other related compounds can interfere with the multiplication of cancer cell lines in different organs.
Despite the high sugar content of dried fruit, existing studies are mostly positive about this type of snack for adults and children. A study published in the International Journal of Food Science & Nutrition showed that chewing on dried fruit encourages saliva flow, which is protective of the entire oral cavity. Furthermore, dried fruit snacks are naturally high in dietary fiber and other nutrients needed for wellbeing. In short, if you are given a chance to choose between commercial fruit snacks with barely any fruit content and dried fruit, you know which product is the more intelligent pick between the two. On top of these benefits, dried fruit snacks are also low in fat, so people who can’t consume a lot of fat in their diet will be happy to know that it won’t harm their diet.
A Closer Look at Fruit Snacks
To be sure, not all fruit snacks are bad. However, an overwhelming number of fruit snacks barely make an effort to use mostly fruit and less artificial flavors and food dyes. For example, Welch’s food snacks make use of fruit juice concentrates (super packed with sugar), artificial flavors, preservatives, and of course, food dyes. Because true grape doesn’t have much color, and it certainly does not have a deep purple color the way manufacturers present grape-flavored pieces in their fruit snacks. It’s frustrating, to say the least, that they are packing something that was supposed to be healthy with unhealthy ingredients. Furthermore, adding too much sugar to anything is bad, no matter how you look at it.
It’s certainly a balancing act because fruit snack manufacturers can fortify their products with vitamins and minerals. We’re not saying that getting 100% RDA for vitamin C is a bad thing. Far from it – we think all commercial snacks should provide a certain percentage of vitamins and minerals to their consumers.
However, trace nutrients and macronutrients won’t make up for artificial flavorings, artificial colors or food dyes, and so on. We think there should be a big move globally to reformulate fruit snacks, like what General Mills did with their fruit snacks six years ago in 2015.
In 2015, General Mills admitted that only 20% of their entire product lineup under the fruit snacks category was all-natural. This is a huge move for the snack and cereals giant because that means 80% or more of their products are made chiefly with synthetic ingredients, including food dyes. While food dyes won’t kill you outright, they’re not food; they’re just non-toxic, the way sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners are non-toxic. These so-called non-toxic ingredients in our foods and beverages can still produce side effects in the short term and the long term.
Calorie-wise, Welch’s fruit snacks pack about 130 calories per serving and depending on how many small packs you consume, that’s 130 calories of mostly sugar calories. Since most fruit is gone because they’re using concentrates, consuming these mostly artificial fruit snacks is not the same as consuming dried fruit snacks, containing slices and whole portions of fruits.