Do your kids like to snack on fruit leather or fruit straps, those sweet long thin flat pieces of dried fruit? They come individually wrapped in single serves like muesli bars. They're easy to throw into a kids' lunch box. And they add a pleasant sweet treat to a wholesome lunch. But each time I spy some at my fruit market (placed tantalisingly at the check out), I have to ask myself: are they really a healthy snack or just confectionery in disguise?
The packaging screams all the right words - 100% pure fruit, no added sugar, nothing artificial, low GI - all of which are correct. The one claim that jars with me is the one about "pure" fruit. You'd think your kids were getting or the equivalent of 3 or 4 pieces of fresh fruit. Not so! Fruit leather has no vitamin C or folate although it does contribute some fibre, potassium and probably some fruit antioxidants. But not as much as if you packed the kids a handful of sultanas, raisins, dried apricots or apple rings.
Fruit leather vs dried apples
I did some quick calculation. Take a look:
- Eat 3 or 4 apple rings (20g of dried apple) and you get 260kJ, 12g carb and 3g fibre.
- Eat one 20g fruit strap and you get around the same 260kJ and 12g carb but only 2g fibre and much less potassium. There's less ‘goodness' there.
Like dried fruit, fruit leather is concentrated in fruit sugars - a hefty 60 per cent of natural sugars (mainly fructose but also some sucrose and glucsoe) even though there's no added sugar - so it's something to eat in small quantities. Being sweet and sticky, it can stick around the teeth and set the scene for tooth decay.
Read the ingredient list
Interestingly when I checked the list of ingredients, I realised that most fruit straps are based on apple pulp, mixed with a puree of apricot, nectarine or other fruit, which is extruded into sheets, then dried and cut.
So they may claim to be "Apricot fruit leather" but in reality most is apple (which I presume is cheap and plentiful) and only a small 15 per cent of apricot.
In some samples, there's only 5 per cent or less of the ‘featured' fruit. It pays to check the label. One ‘strawberry' strap had a tiny 4 per cent strawberry and two colours to make it look pink!
The bottom line
Try eating one strap yourself for an afternoon snack. What you'll soon realise is that fruit leather isn't as filling as munching on a whole piece of fruit. Three mouthfuls and it's gone! And it's not that satisfying. After one, you're looking around for another!