Peanut-flavored snacks - not as nutritious as they claim
Puffed-corn snacks coated with peanut butter are high on the menu of Israel's children, and sticky-fingered toddlers munching snacks like Bamba, Shush or Parpar are a common sight. After all, parents have little cause for concern, as the products are advertised as nutritious, free of additives and chock-full of vitamins. But are they?
Upon examining the production of these peanut-flavored snacks and their nutritious value, we are faced with difficult questions regarding the validity of the advertisements peddling them as "healthy snacks." In fact, the products contain considerable amounts of sodium and fat, and the strategy to market them as vitamin-enriched food is increasingly frowned upon by qualified dietitians.
One of them is Dr. Ronit Endevelt, national director for clinical dietitians for Maccabi HMO, who claims that portraying peanut-flavored snacks such as Bamba as healthful is nothing short of deception. "They took a product with a low nutritional value, and they packed vitamins into it to create the impression this is a healthful food," she says. "The marketing of such snacks is an experiment, and the objective is to reassure the parents."
Peanut-flavored snacks such as Bamba are just one example of a worldwide trend toward "functional foods," foods processed to contain additional nutritious value. This usually includes adding vitamins, or cutting sugar and fat levels. The food industry claims that this trend is producing better foods while enriching consumer choice. In addition, they claim, it encourages a healthier lifestyle.
The case of the peanut-flavored snacks attests to how successful that trend actually is. According to data from Nielsen Media Research, more than 3,000 tons of peanut-flavored snacks were consumed over the last year, with sales totaling NIS 136 million. According to the data, peanut-flavored snacks constitute one-third of the entire snack market.
The functional-food trend is by no means restricted to the snack industry. Eighty percent of local food manufacturers offer products marketed as functional, according to data from the Israeli Food Industries Association.
Another problem with functional food is the risk of over-consumption of artificially added vitamins.
Doubts regarding the nutritional value of the peanut-flavored products appear to be justified, given the secrecy surrounding them. The manufacturers of Bamba (Osem), Parpar (Telma) and Shush (Strauss-Elite) have all refused to answer fundamental questions about their products.
However, it is clear the products are marketed as "peanut snacks" despite the fact that they contain much more corn - a much cheaper ingredient. According to Telma, Parpar contains 46 percent corn and 50 percent peanuts. Elite refused to reveal the contents of Shush, claiming it was an "industrial secret." Osem also refused to divulge the contents of Bamba, but agreed to tell Haaretz that 75 percent of the fat in Bamba was peanut oil. None of the companies was willing to state that its products were not made from genetically engineered corn.
Osem and Telma both responded to the claims by saying there was no risk of over-consumption of vitamins fortifying their products. Osem added that Bamba had the "most nutritious make-up of all the snacks." Strauss-Elite said only that it was "certain our customers will continue to enjoy our products."