If school officials in California and New Mexico have anything to say about it, Flamin' Hot Cheetos will be no more.
At least in their districts. ABCNews.com reported Tuesday morning that certain districts are trying to ban the spicy, puffy chip snack because of its high fat content (26 grams per bag) and high salt content (each bag contains one-quarter of the daily recommended amount of sodium).
That may prove to be a deeply uncool decision with students, considering that some experts have deemed Hot Cheetos "hyperpalatable" – that is, super addictive.
But the hot chips are everywhere, and have no doubt made their contribution to the child obesity epidemic sweeping the U.S. But it's not the only unhealthy snack out there – so we talked to Silvia Delgado, a registered dietitian and health educator for Kaiser Permanente's Baldwin Park Medical Center.
First, Delgado said it's pretty obvious that junk food – things like Twinkies or candy bars – aren't good for you and have zero nutritional value. So those types of snacks won't be on this list because it should be clear those are unhealthy.
But there are other snacks that "people assume are healthy," she said, but in reality, are definitely not. The snacks in that category include:
Why they're bad: "They're bad because of the fat they have in them," said Delgado. "They're fried and they can have up to 500 calories." Servings of chips that have that many calories have a way of adding up over time.
Why they're bad: A lot of parents, said Delgado, think these are healthy "because of the word 'chicken' in there." Don't let the mention of poultry deceive you, though. "They're breaded, they're fried and they're often hydrogenated," she added. Hydrogenation means they're treated with processed oil to give them a longer shelf life. Too many nuggets, said the dietitian, could mean obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
Why it's bad: "It's just really high in sodium," said Delgado. "They can have more than a day's worth of sodium." And after one bowl too many, she added, that can mean high blood pressure.
Why it's bad: OK, maybe this is one of the more obvious ones – soda hasn't been getting the greatest press recently. "Soda is filled with calories and not much nutrition," said Delgado. "Children need to be getting vitamins and minerals for energy – [and soda is] all sugar."
Smoothies and shakes
Why they're bad: "A lot of parents have the idea that shakes are healthy," Delgado said. "But if you buy them at restaurants, a lot of times they have ice cream, a lot of calories, a lot of fat added." Does 800 calories mean anything to you?
Why they're bad: "We think juice is very healthy and we give kids juice all the time," Delgado said. But alas – the sugar! Too much of which is an open invitation to both obesity and diabetes.
Why they're bad: "They usually have trans fats and they're hydrogenated," said Delgado. "And when you look at the label, they're high in sodium and saturated fats." Saturated fats, as you've probably guessed, are no good – they can increase a person's risk of heart disease.
Why they're bad: That whole after-school cookies and milk routine? Not the best idea, said Delgado. "[They have] a lot of fat and a lot of sugar," she said. That includes oatmeal cookies, the nutritional value of which is not equivalent to oatmeal.
Why it's bad: Ice cream is basically milk, which is full of calcium – so it's healthy, right? In keeping with the break-your-heart-to-save-your-heart theme of this list: No. "It has a lot of calories," said Delgado – not to mention the sugar.
Gummy bears and other faux fruit snacks
Why it's bad: First, it's not a fruit, so unfortunately five helpings of bears of day will prove quite useless – and ultimately harmful. "It really is a lot of sugar," said Delgado. And a lot of calories – about 200 in a two-ounce package. Same goes for other fruit-snacks-without-fruit – we're looking at you, "fruit" roll-ups.
Why it's bad: "A lot parents think trail mix is really good," said Delgado. "But if you look at it carefully, the nuts are filled with salt." One more reason throw them away as you search for the chocolate bits – which also aren't doing your health any favors. But even the fruit, said the dietitian, is coated with unhealthy oil. "So you might want to make your own," she suggested.
Why it's bad: It can have up to 30 grams of fat in one serving – which puts you at "almost half of your fat budget for the day," said Delgago. It's also got a "ton of sugar" so kids will want to eat it. Is being able to drink your yogurt really worth all that risk?
We wouldn't want to smack down your favorite snacks without offering some healthier alternatives, of course.
"The key is always to try to go natural or fresh," said Delgado. "The key is making it really appeal to the kids – really fresh and fun."
– Fresh produce, maybe even with a bit of hummus or dressing.
– Freeze your fruit.
– Spread some peanut butter over some pita bread.
– Make a kebab with some baby cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and whatever else strikes your fancy. (Don't stab yourself, though.)
– Freeze low-fat yogurt – anything less than 100 calories. "It really does taste like ice cream," promises Delgado.
Of course, this isn't to say that you need to forever rid yourself of your favorite guilty pleasures.
"Everything in moderation," said Delgado. "I'm worried about what you do on regular basis, but if you do it here and there, it's not a big deal."
Just don't take too many cheat days.
Photos by bunchofpants, yoppy, matsuyuki, alan.stoddard, elana's pantry, paul goyette, At Home In Rome, foshydog, elana's pantry, dreyboblue, Mark_W and Tafkabecky (Becky Bokern) via Flickr Creative Commons.