Gluten-free, allergy-friendly and “healthier” sweets; Who can we trust?
Sweets for my sweet..
It is not always easy for children (or adults for that matter) with sensitivities and allergies to feel “normal”. A lot of our sense of belonging stems from participation in activities along with our peers, and food plays a huge role in most social gatherings. For children especially, the sense of identity and self-worth is formed hugely based on belonging, and belonging often comes from being able to do what others do, have what others have, and of course eat the same things their friends eat. Lollies are no exception, and although it may sound silly, sweets do play a big role in children’s social sphere. After all, they are a part of almost every social setting where children are involved.
So how do we give our kids lollies that make them feel included, but at the same time keep them safe? Who can we trust? Take a look at this list..
Moderation is key
There’s no denying that sweets are never healthy. Nor are they supposed to be. They are treats, and treats are to be dished out sparingly or they both loose their appeal and cause trouble. Obesity, sugar cravings, bad teeth, poor health.. you name it. But as my mother likes to say; all things in moderation.
To children sweets are the epitome of awesome. Sweets to them is like money to us; it attracts them, brings out the best and the worst in them, when they have it they are in heaven, and when they don’t they are always trying to get their hands on it. In fact, sweets, like money, can be a joy or a curse, but the fact of the matter is it’s hard to live without it.
It’s easy for us to think that sweets are something we could very well do without, and the fact that our coeliac or allergic kids can’t pick and choose in the lolly shop doesn’t seem as important as them being able to get what they need in the food shop. The trouble is that to the kid, it does feel important. Sweets are everywhere, and to a child they are the single most powerful temptation surrounding them. From birthday parties to shopping trips, colourful and tempting lollies are a part of their world almost every day. Sure, we can’t always get what we want, and that’s an important lesson to learn, but as kids see themselves through the eyes of their peers, much of their sense of identity is formed by being able to participate and be like their friends. That’s not to say that they should be able to indulge without limitations, it simply means that to some extent we want to make sure that they don’t feel left out.
Of course, a lot of parents don’t believe in sugary sweets at all, but that’s a whole other discussion. For the ones who do believe it’s ok to treat their kids to some lollies once in a while and in moderation, I have put together a small list of allergy-friendly and gluten-free sweets that I have tested and found to be a brilliant, tasty and safe option.
There are a lot of sweets that are gluten-free, but I have chosen to include in this list only sweets that I also find to be healthier in other ways, be it natural, lower fat and sugar content, intolerance safe, dairy-free etc. All of the sweets reviewed here have one or more of these qualities in addition to being gluten-free.
And might I add; this has been avery pleasurable review indeed 🙂
So what can we control?
Let’s face it; we can’t totally escape unhealthy foods. They are everywhere. Plus, I am not one to eliminate treats from life, because I love dishing up cakes and sweets and all things delicious. However, I wholeheartedly believe that there’s a big difference between using fats and sugars in our foods, and using chemicals, additives, preservatives and non-foods! I believe in keeping our foods as close as possible to their original form, limit processing and enjoying treats in moderation. Food belongs in our bodies and chemicals belong in a lab.
Besides limiting our intake of general sugar and fat, what we can do is filter out the elements that hurt us unnessesarily. We can learn how to read labels, be critical of marketing, and choose wisely. My aim is, as always, to help you make informed decisions about what you put into your body, and make it a little bit harder for the food industry to feed us nonsense.
If you find it challenging to understand all the different ways we are tricked by the food industry, and you get confused by trying to decipher labels, you can follow these very simplified 8 rules of thumb for avoiding the worst culprits:
- First and foremost; learn all the words and numbers that represent what you are allergic, sensitive or intolerant to. Learn all the words that translate to gluten if you are coeliac. If you find it a daunting task to learn these by heart; simply make up a small list and take this to the grocery shop.
- If you don’t understand or recognise a word on an ingredient list; you probably don’t need to eat it (if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it).
- If it has numbers in it you probably don’t need to eat it, and the more numbers the worse. Not all numbers are “bad”, but the majority are well worth staying away from so better safe than sorry if in doubt.
- Understand that ingredients are listed “in order of appearance”, which means that the closer to the top of the list they are, the more prevalent they will be in the food. So, if you don’t like the look of the top three ingredients, leave it alone. In fact, a good example of this could be fruit products that look lovely and promising, but upon closer inspection lists sugar, apple paste and maltodextrin as their top three ingredients. Not so fruity after all.
- Know that the word “natural” doesn’t necessarily equal healthy, and the word “nature identical” certainly doesn’t! Using the example above; a fruit product could be made from paste, pulp or concentrate, and be coloured with the natural colour Carmine 120. I wouldn’t eat that product. “Nature identical” flavours are artificially produced flavours that are chemically identical to natural flavours (source).
- Less ingredients on the list usualluy means that the product is less processed, so if the list is long you might as well put it down. (Obviously this doesn’t mean that a short list automatically equals a healthy product. If the product has only three ingredients and these are sugar, coolurings and flavourings, then that’s not a good thing either.)
- “Yeast extract” or “Hydrolised vegetable protein” is found in many foods and snacks. It is natural and excempt from numbered labelling; but it is in essence MSG (Flavour enhancers), and some may argue, simply a way for food manufacturers to “hide” the addition of MSG in foods, so beware of this! (read about MSG and flavour enhancers here)
- Always but always read the allergy warnings! Just because you used the product yesterday doesn’t mean it’s safe today. Things change, and manufacturers always come up with cost saving ways to ruin a perfectly good product.
In fact, if in doubt;
either find the answer or just don’t eat it!
Disclaimer: I am not saying that any word you can’t pronounce on an ingredient list is necessarily bad for you, nor am I saying that all numbers equal unhealthy ingredients. I am also not stating that MSG or certain natural flavours will cause problems for everyone, or that less or more ingredients always reflects the quality of the product it’s or health benefits/concerns. I am simply stating that in lieu of further investigation, these 8 rules of thumb can be helpful in avoiding the most common culprits.
After all; People are fed by the food industry which pays no attention to health,and are treated by the medical industry which pays no attention to food. We must be our own body’s best friend in a world where profit rules.
Tried and tested
I’ve tried their Gummy Bears, and they were fantastic. They are soft, chewy, and taste just like “normal” gummy bears, only perhaps fresher. Goody Good Stuff have a huge range, and have successfully “copied” many of the standard favourites, so that your kids don’t have to feel as though they are given a substitute. I especially love that when they say they use natural colourings, they are in fact sticking with vegetable and fruit colours rather than those that are classed as “natural” but still pose a threat to sensitive individuals!
- Natural colours and flavours
- Halal and kosher
- Extra point for child-friendly and appealing packaging!
- Contains corn syrup (but not the high fructose kind!)
I really like Surf Sweets. I’ve tried their Jelly Beans and their Gummy Bears and I was really pleased with the flavour and the texture. I was especially excited to find Jelly Beans without artificial colours or flavours. Surf Sweets also have a huge range with many favourites. I wish they would put a bit more work into their packaging however, because it is not made to appeal to children. The wrappers look a bit like the diabetes lollies you find at the chemist, but the content is however great.
- Made with organic fruit juice
- Corn syrup free
- Free of the 10 most common allergens
- Uses natural juices for flavour
- Vitamine C fortified
- Natural colours (NB: please read additional note)
- Although they have paid attention to using natural colours (bravo), they do use Anatto which is natural, but is on the list of food colours to avoid by the Food Intolerance Network. In fact, anatto has been found to cause as many adverse intolerance reactions as artificial colours, and to affect more consumers that artificial colours. Anatto is not a problem for most people, but if your child is sensitive then you might want to check it out. You can read more about safe and unsafe food colourings on this link.
- Contains gelatine from pork
Sue Shepherd Gluten Free Confectionary
Sue Shepherd’s gluten-free confectionary range has packaging that is very appealing to kids, and the lollies look great and taste good!I’m not so impressed however by her choice to include things like palm oil and natural colours that are known to cause reactions in sensitive children (read additional note below).
This brand also promotes the fact that they are “fructose friendly” which is very nice for those who react to FODMAPS (Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols) although that isn’t necessarily unique to their brand. In fact; the logo printed on the bag reads “Approved food product; FODMAP friendly” which is indeed a government approved low FODMAP logo, but ironically it is Sue Shepherd, the owner of this brand, who is the founder of that very certification. I’d like to point out that I am fully and wholeheartedly in favour of the certification as a whole, I’m just not sure it serves as much more than a selling point on this particular product.
- Fructose-friendly (this doesn’t necessarily mean the other’s aren’t)
- Natural flavours and colours (NB: please read additional note)
Out of all the lollie bags I’ve tested, these are the ones with the most elements “worth mentioning”. Yes, they are gluten- and allergen-free which is brilliant, but they contain more unhealthy elements than the two others.
- Contains syrup and thickener from corn
- Contains gelatine
- Doesn’t state which “natural flavours” are used (no specification)
- Contains palm oil and coconut oil
- Contains Carmine 120, which is known to cause true allergic reactions – including urticaria, asthma, vomiting, diarrhoea and anaphylaxis (source: fedup.com.au)
- The natural colours used in these sweets will certainly be alright for most, but they are not quite as mild and safe as vegetable colours. Sue Shepherds products contain colours such as Turmeric 100, Copper Chloropyll 141 and Lutein 161b.
You gotta love this company! Not only do they produce wonderful chocolate treats made with rice milk, but they have succeeded at creating an appealing product as well as providing a whole range of items that are otherwise hard to find for allergic/coeliac kids. They have advent calendars, easter eggs, chocolate boxes, honeycomb bars and much more. I gave my hubby a “bunnycomb” chocolate bar to try, and he had no idea that both the milk and the honey was missing. Brillinat!
- Vegetarian and vegan
- Organic ingredients
- Honey-free honeycomb (great for low FODMAP diets and Failsafe diets)
- Great packaging
- Great selection
- Fantastic information on their website, containing allergy warnings, nutritional info and ingredients.
- Some of their products may contain hazelnuts and soy
Mini Rice Cakes, yoghurt and chocolate
This is an awesome treat! Clean ingredients (as few as possible), low-fat, wholegrain, honest and super tasty! I buy these all the time and I love them. It is a treat with a better conscience, as the chocolate is merely a thin layer on top. Never the less, it tastes like a chocolate bar and it certainly satisfies my sweet tooth. This is wonderful for kids as it almost is more food than sweet, yet they will love them!
- Three flavours
- The dark chocolate version is made without dairy (but may contain traces)
- May contain traces of sesame, milk and nuts
- Contains soy
Sue Shepherd’s Gluten- and Dairy-free Milk Bottles
I thought these worth mentioning, because there’s one sweet that dairy-free kids usually could only dream of; namely “milk bottles”. It’s a staple and a favourite, and now it can be enjoyed dairy-free! I’ve tried these and they do taste quite a lot like the originals. The packaging can use an update though, but as she has recently given other products in her range a “makeover”, I’m sure these are in line for a similar overhaul too.
- Fructose friendly
- Contains corn
- Contains gelatine
- Flavours unidentified
- Contains coconut oil
- Contains Palm oil
Chocolate Scooby-Doo Rice Crackle
Sweet William has succeeded at creating a super-appealing product, with tons of colour and the famous Scooby-Doo fronting their brand! The pack of rice crackle chocolate bars comes in individually wrapped snack-size pieces, and they taste really nice.
Sweet William provide a large range of dairy-free chocolate products, including chocolate bars, easter bunnies, nut-free chocolate spreads and more. I have also tried their dairy-free Rice Crackle Bar which I think is fantastic (but more aimed at adults in terms of branding):
- Trans fatty acid free
- Natural colours and flavours
- 25% less sugar than regular milk chocolate
- Big plus for fantastic child-friendly packaging!
- Treat-sized packaging
- Contains inulin which can cause trouble for IBS sufferers
- Contains raw cane sugar which can cause trouble for individuals sensitive to salicylates
- Contains soy
- Contains maltodextrin from corn
- Flavours natural but unidentified
Eskal White Marshmallows
These are one of my very favourite treats! Not only have we (my hubby and I) decided they taste better than any other marshmallow on the market, they are also pretty much the safest lolly available!
Eskal has a large range of fantastic gluten- and dairy-free products which can be found in most supermarkets. I also love their Lemon Wafers and their gluten-free ice cream waffle cones!
- Gelatine from fish (not pork)
- Totally Failsafe colours; nothing artificial and if you buy the white ones there’s no colour to worry about at all!
- Natural vanilla flavour
- Elimination diet safe
- Really really delicious!
- If you are on a Failsafe diet then make sure you buy the white ones!
Do you have a favourite brand of gluten-free sweets,
or do you perhaps have a warning? Please share!