Every day I see a new ‘seemingly healthy’ product on Instagram. Whether it’s a beautiful model drinking a new green drink or an all natural product for kids, the marketing and clever claims are hard to ignore. Many times I will click over to the website where I can read about all the great benefits of the greens or how the kids products are healthy and all natural. When I look for the ingredient and nutritional panel however, I can’t find it anywhere. This is a red flag and should lead us to question: 'what are they hiding?'
While creating June Superfoods, I became even more educated in the art of reading labels. In manufacturing supplements, there are tricks to make products look healthier than they are. Here are five tips to watch out for when buying kids products.
After creating my products I realised that when a product has a lot of ingredients it basically means that there is only a small percentage of each nutrient listed. If the ingredients add up to 100% and there are 50 ingredients, it is unlikely that the first ingredient makes up more than 5% of the product. That probably means that the ingredient down the bottom of the list only comprises .05% of the product. Long lists make it easy to hide ingredients like fillers, artificial flavours and sugars, as once we get past the first eight ingredients we are either sold or moving on. Especially if you have a curious toddler pulling everything off the shelves below you.
This one was offered to me when I was creating my product. For instance, I added spirulina to my Green Greatness blend. Spirulina smells and tastes like fish, but it is a fantastic superfood, high in protein and omegas with high levels of B12. I wanted to include it, but anything above 5% of the product made it taste pretty nasty. I was determined to have a tasty greens powder, so I put it in at 5%. The manufacturer kindly noted that I could make a 'Greens Blend' then bracket all the greens together. Bulking the ingredients together in the one blend would allow me to put spirulina higher on the ingredient list (for example: Greens Blend [spinach, barley grass, kale, spirulina] then aloe, apple, lemon).
The brackets make the product look like there is more spirulina than apple and lemon, when in reality, the blend has more apple and lemon than spirulina. Watch out for brackets - there is a good chance the ingredients you think that you are getting may be only a small percentage of the serving.
Many companies will market a product as organic, however it may only include a few organic ingredients. If a product is 'certified organic' you can rest assured that the company is paying a lot of money for that certification and every ingredient in their product was scrutinised, from origin to final product. Plus the product needs to contain at least 95% organic ingredients to be considered certified organic. Always look for the ACO Certified Organic stamp or equivalent (USDA, EU) to ensure that you are choosing a product that you can trust.
Inactive ingredients mean fillers – you will usually see these on vitamin labels. Some examples include maltodextrin, magnesium stearate, titanium dioxide and artificial colours. To ensure that you are avoiding inactive ingredients or fillers, choose whole-foods, fruits, vegetables or pure freeze-dried superfood powders to add to smoothies.
These ingredients aren’t harmful - they are actually great as an added source of protein or fibre, especially if the company is marketing the product as a protein powder or fibre supplement. I personally question these ingredients if they are high in the list of ingredients, they may be acting as fillers to keep costs down. Manufacturers often use pea protein and flax seed to cut costs and increase the serve-size by adding these ingredients. No thanks, I prefer to get the most nutrient dense superfoods without any unnecessary fillers at the recommended level of nutrients required for kids.
I always advocate for choosing whole-food nutrition with one ingredient in place of supplements. But sometimes we need a boost for our kids. If we find that our kids are only eating bland white foods with limited nutrients, this is when we need to step in and add nutrients to their diets. When this is the case, it’s great to have a look at health food stores and start scrutinising labels. Keep these tips in mind next time you are at the shops.