Gloria Santiago is always looking for ways to add more fruits and vegetables into her kids’ snacks. Like many children, her son Brayden, 6, and daughter Catalina, 4, are not huge fans of snacking on carrot sticks and broccoli. So she was excited when she found granola bars and chips that were made with real vegetables and fruit.
There are many snacks for kids that have packages that boast “made with real fruit and veggies.” And with a quick scan of the ingredients lists on the crackers, fruit chews or chips that make these claims, you’ll find dried or dehydrated vegetables, fruit purée or fruit concentrate.
But do granola bars, fruit chews or veggie chips with a smattering of dried spinach or pureed grapes actually count as a serving of vegetables? Nope.
Unfortunately, these ingredients don’t provide a ton of nutritional value because such a small quantity is used. An actual serving of vegetables or fruit is a half-cup. The little bits of dried veggies or puréed fruit in these snacks won’t add up to much more than a teaspoonful at most. That’s a huge difference.
Some food manufacturers go one step further and claim their products contain nutrients found in one serving of vegetables. These types of products—usually granola bars—are made with vegetable powders or extracts, which are made using a special vacuum dehydration process that concentrates vegetables to retain more vitamins and minerals in a small amount of powder.
When you look at the Nutrition Facts panel of any product that claims to contain vegetables, you’ll see that the vitamin content is close to zero. Since fruits and veggies are filled with vitamins A and C, this is a telltale sign that the snack is not really rich in vegetables and fruit. Products made with vegetable powder will yield closer to 20 to 30 percent daily value for these vitamins, but even still, they’re not as nutritious as eating whole vegetables or fruit. That’s because vegetable powders don’t contain the fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients that whole fruits and vegetables do. And it’s this entire nutrient package that makes vegetables and fruit so healthy, and links them to a reduced risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
The many nutrients in whole vegetables and fruit work synergistically to nourish the body. When those components are isolated into processed ingredients, they don’t have the same beneficial effect.
Of course, snacks made with bits of vegetables and fruit are fine to serve your children. But it’s important not to think of them as fruit or vegetables. No processed snack can replace the real thing. Plus, serving kids whole, real fruits and vegetables is the best way to help them acquire a taste for them, so they become a staple in their diets for years to come.