Why we need better labelling of children’s food (and about being an Organix No Junk Mum)
Hey, I’m an Organix No Junk Mum!
As regular readers will know, I’m on a mission to promote fresh, healthy food for children and families, and encourage kids to tuck into more fruit and vegetables – starting with my own super-fussy eater boy. (An update on his progress is coming in a future blog post.)
But I’m also realistic. Being a parent is completely knackering. Most of the time we don’t have the energy or time to knock up spelt pizzas or homemade pesto.
So I was really pleased when Organix asked me to be one of their No Junk Mums this year. I’m a firm believer in their No Junk Journey, which aims to give your child (and you!) the tools to make healthy food choices, from reading the labels to letting your kids help cook and sitting down together to eat. It’s about trying to live a healthier life but within the limitations of your poopedness.
What are engineered foods?
Organix asked flavour expert Prof Andy Taylor and taste psychologist Greg Tucker – love the sound of those jobs – to do some research into something called ‘engineered foods’. You can check out their report here: Engineering Taste – Is this the future of our children’s food?
Engineered foods are those foods containing not only unnecessary additives, artificial flavours and colours – but also seemingly natural ingredients which don’t quite belong. For example, carrot juice in a Petits Filous strawberry yoghurt. (True, folks.) The food is being engineered to enhance the eating experience, flavour, texture and colour.
These foods are confusing our kids
The research found that engineered foods are blurring the boundary between ‘real’ and ‘artificial’ food. They sit in a new food space called ‘the zone of artifice’, in which products appear ‘real’ and ‘natural’ but aren’t.
“We found children who believed that chickens do not have bones or skin and that apples don’t have cores,” says Greg.
This is making kids’ tastes change – and not for the better
The research team also discovered that engineered foods offer such an instant hit of flavour – just think about how a biscuit’s fruit filling tastes sweet and melts easily in the mouth – that children are actually turned off from having a go with ‘real’ foods, like crunchy apples.
And in turn, this is shifting kids’ palates.
This really shocked me.
“Engineered foods are faster eats, take less effort to chew, and give a fast burst of flavour, so kids learn to look for instant taste gratification,” explained taste psychologist Greg, who was pretty startled by the findings too. “Compare this to eating real food, which requires more effort, more chewing and gives a slower release of flavour, which builds with the chew and fades slowly.
“We found little ones are now so used to engineered products that they struggle when given ‘real’ foods.”
Below, are two of the graphs* from the report – they help show the differences in how flavour develops in the mouth when eating artificial food v real food.
While doing some research for this blog post, I had a dig around in the cupboard for one of my kids’ favourite after-swimming snack – a biscuit slice bar that looks healthy on first glance. But on reading the label, I was shocked. The list of ingredients was never-ending, from dextrose to glycerine, via a hefty serving of sugar. Er, how come I haven’t read the pack of the packet before?
I know I’m not the only one to fall foul of those it-looks-healthy-but-isn’t tricks.
Many engineered foods have claims of ‘real’ or ‘natural’ printed on the front of the packets, making you think they’re healthy snacks for your kids. But when you read the label on the back, you find some less than natural ingredients there too.
The end result is that it’s not necessarily as healthy a bite as you hoped.
I don’t mind checking the ingredients lists on the back of a product – but it is irritating that it’s your only option if you want to find the real story about a product. One thing’s for sure – I don’t want to find ‘real’ or ‘natural’ claims stamped on a food item unless it is truly a healthy choice.
Clearer food labelling would help us all make healthier choices. Engineered foods can be useful and convenient in a busy parent’s life – but we also need them to be honest.
*Graphs reproduced with permission from ‘Engineering Taste – Is this the future of our children’s food?’, Greg Tucker, taste psychologist and Prof Andy Taylor, Nottingham University
DISCLAIMER: This post was sponsored by Organix