Hidden Nasties - food facts you need to know

We all want to feed our kids the best, but how can you really know what's in the food we eat? Supernanny's Nutritionist Yvonne Wake blasts the myths about salt, sugar and fat.

What's really in your children's food?

Our children should be feasting on only the best food and drinks that we can provide. However research continues to show that this is not the case. Children are eating large quantities of sugar, saturated fat and over the daily recommended level of salt.

One in four children is overweight and one in five is obese. Tooth decay has been seen in one third of infants. As food labelling continues to baffle consumers, a new traffic light system has emerged. This hich is helpful because it tells us at a glance whether the product is high or low in the three undesirables (i.e. sugar, saturated fat, and salt). However, it still doesn’t provide us with ‘easy to follow’ information on what is actually in the food we eat. Here is a glimpse of some of the hidden nasties in your children’s food.


Sugar is added to virtually everything your child eats, but it’s not easy to spot as sugar is called by many names. Carbohydrates, sucrose, maltose, concentrated apple juice, dextrose, honey, fructose, glucose, concentrated grape juice, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are all forms of sugar. Basically, any ingredient ending in ‘ose’ is a sugar!

Sugar (even by another name) is added to tinned pasta in tomato sauce, digestive biscuits, hot chocolate, cereal bars, corn flakes, ice-cream, strawberry jam, energy drinks, tomato soup, tomato ketchup to name but a very few. For example, Asda Golden Puffs contain 55 grams of sugar - that's ten or more spoonfuls -  per 100 grams of Puffs. Sometimes you will see three of four different types of ‘ose’ in one breakfast bar!


Salt is essential because of its Sodium content (salt is made of sodium and chloride) which among other things, helps to control blood pressure. However, high levels of salt are added to all processed foods, and too much can be dangerous.

Children tend to eat foods like tomato ketchup, bacon, pork sausages, flavoured crisps, instant noodles, cheesy snacks, corn flakes, fish fingers, chicken nuggets, – all of which contain added salt (it makes the food last longer). For example, Kellogg’s All-Bran contains 2.25 grams of salt per 100 grams of cereal. Look at the labels, if a food label tells you that ‘sodium’ is an ingredient, multiply the given number by 2.5 to work out exactly how much salt is contained within. 0.4g of sodium x 2.5 = 1g of salt. Remember, recommended maximum daily salt intake for children is:

7 – 12 months, 1gram,
1 – 3 years old, 2 grams,
4 -6 years old, 3 grams,
7 – 10 years, 5 grams
11 years and adults, 6 grams.

For more information, read The Truth About Salt.


Fat is essential and provides us with energy – it comes from animals and plants. Fat is necessary, but too much makes us overweight. A ‘low fat’ food can only be named as such if it contains 3% fat or less.

Hydrogenated and Saturated fats are the most dangerous, while the healthier fats are vegetable oils. But do try to avoid ‘hydrogenated’ vegetable oils as these have been chemically changed to work with food and may contain trans fats. Manufacturers do not have to tell you if their product contains trans fats by the way, and these are more dangerous than animal fats!

Hydrogenated fats are the fats in digestive biscuits, cakes, doughnuts, cereal bars, ready salted crisps, pork sausages, apple pie and chocolate, to name but a few. Lots of cereals also contain hydrogenated fats. For example, Asda Choco Squares, and Asda Good For You Fruit Muesli have a very high level of hydrogenated fat.

Fats eaten at a fast food chain are usually high in saturated fat. For example, a regular sized meal with a cheeseburger contains 15 grams of fat, the chips contain 16 grams of fat, the ice cream shake contains 6 grams of fat and if you decide to finish off with a doughnut, that may contain on average 16 grams of fat. This is considered worryingly high for a child up to 12 years.

How to judge if your food contains 'a lot' or 'a little' fat, saturated fat, sugar or salt

  This is 'a lot' This is 'a little'
Total Fat per 100g of food: 20 grams 3 grams
Saturated Fat per 100g of food: 5 grams 1 gram
Sugar per 100g of food: 10 grams 2 grams
Sodium per 100g of food:
(and equivalent as salt):
0.5 grams
(1.25 grams)
0.1 grams
(0.25 grams)
Published by: The Food Standards Agency (2006)    

Tips to avoid eating the wrong foods: 

  • ALWAYS read labels carefully, especially if you are not sure what they mean.  
  • AVOID foods with ‘Natural Flavouring’. This is really a food additive and has no nutritional value. 
  • A carton of Juice which states for example, ‘orange flavour’ on the carton usually means ‘no real juice’ 
  • A carton of Juice which states for example ‘Pure juice’ is really PURE, but if it states ‘Juice drink’, it is not real fruit – it will usually contain lots of sugar, water and colourings. 
  • Read up on E numbers – it’s good to know what they really are! Some are good and important for example, E306 is Tocopherol, which is vitamin E and a very important antioxidant. 
  • Give your children snacks with low GI, for example, Cherries (14) Dried Apricots (31) Apples (38) Pears (38) Peaches (42) Oranges (44) Green Grapes (46) Banana (55) Sweet corn (55). These will have a slow, small effect on blood sugar and the snack will last longer instead of giving them a High GI food (for example, a Baguette) which will leave them feeling hungry faster and wanting more food quicker.

Related links

  • The Truth About Salt: The average four-year-old child eats three times more salt than he needs. So how much is too much? And how do you choose the right foods to keep your children healthy?
  • TV Clip - Good Eating Technique: Giving Andrew praise for eating four mouthfuls of his dinner turns out to be a much more successful way to get him eating than telling him off.
  • Coping With a Fussy Eater: Here’s one issue that has many parents tearing their hair out with frustration: how to get a child to eat anything near a balanced diet?
  • Supernanny Guide to Healthy Eating: If it feels like your child is eating all the wrong foods - or not eating at all - these Supernanny tips could help.
  • Cancer-proof Your Kids: Every week there seems to be a new wonder food to protect your family. The Supernanny website separates myth from miracle to show you the easiest ways to keep your family healthy.
  • Placemat Reward Chart: As used on the show, the Placemat Reward Chart is used to help deal with fussy eaters…

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