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fruit snacks

You know that expression, "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck"? That's how I feel about fruit snacks.

Why am I comparing fruit snacks to ducks? Because thanks to clever packaging and slick marketing, they've weaseled their way into cupboards and lunchboxes everywhere under the guise of being fruit (and a perfectly acceptable snack). When in reality, fruit snacks are candy.

Here's the ingredient list for a popular brand of fruit snacks: Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.

Here's the ingredient list for Gummy Bears: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.

Both contain artificial flavors, preservatives, and artificial food dyes. Both have corn syrup and sugar as the first two ingredients (in other words, the ingredients in the largest quantities). One pouch contains the equivalent of two and half teaspoons of sugar. That's more than half a kid's healthy sugar limit for an entire day. Quack!

The differences? Fruit snacks usually have added vitamin C, sometimes a whole day's worth. Sounds great on paper, but a five year old can get a day's worth of C in three strawberries. Or a fourth of an orange. They do contain some fruit juice concentrate or fruit puree concentrate, but the amounts and nutritional value are too small to be meaningful (and concentrates are typically used as added sweeteners anyway).

Boxes are splashed with claims like "Made with real fruit!" and decorated with pictures of fresh berries, but they don't contain the nutrition (especially the fiber) of real fruit. They don't look, feel, or taste like real fruit. Eating these gummies won't teach kids to like fruit—but it does teach them that candy is a snack. What else worries me: Kids' teeth. Like any kind of sticky, sugary food, fruit snacks can cling to the teeth and cause decay.

I'm not trying to be the fruit snack police here—and believe me, my boys like them as much as the next kid. But it's important to think of them as what they are—fruit-flavored gummy candy—and make sure kids know that too. If you buy them, I'd recommend choosing one without artificial food dyes (read: The Food Dye Blues) and having your child drink or swish with water after eating them. But above all, be sure real fruit shows up at snacktime and in lunchboxes—and fruit snacks are treated just like cookies, candy, or any other kind of dessert in your house.

Get recipes for fun, healthy snacks filled with real fruit and vegetables!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of Cooking Light Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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