Long gone are the days when treats were limited to after mass on a Sunday or in the lunch box on a Friday. Nowadays every day is a treat day, so much so that the word ‘treat’ no longer really applies. Biscuits, cakes, chocolate, crisps, sweets, ice cream, fizzy drinks, desserts, etc. have all become a staple in our daily diet.
Treat foods are high in calories and sugar which can lead to weight gain. They can also be high in salt which can cause raised blood pressure and saturated fat which can cause high cholesterol levels. These side effects can all lead to increased risk of heart disease and stroke which are the current leading causes of death in Ireland.
A recent study by SafeFood1 found that on average, Irish families spend 19% of their weekly supermarket food shopping budget on treat foods and only 10% on fruit and 7% on vegetables.
These figures don’t take into account money spent on treat foods in petrol stations, cafes, cinemas and other locations where treat foods are often bought.
While treats can form part of an overall healthy diet, how much is recommended? Current national guidelines say treat foods should ‘not be consumed every day, maximum once or twice a week’. However, a 2016 survey conducted by Healthy Ireland2 found that most people consume snacks high in fat, sugar and salt and sugar sweetened drinks up to 6 times per day, well above recommendations.
In Ireland, 1 in 4 children and 6 in 10 adults are overweight or obese. While there are numerous factors that influence our weight, a high intake of treat foods is one of the factors contributing to these statistics. The ease of access to and the cheap cost of treat foods make them a desirable and easily purchased item. Clever marketing, branding and product location can also influence our decision. How often have you been in the queue at a petrol station, completely surrounded by sweets and chocolates and given in to temptation, even if you were really trying to avoid them or go for the healthy option? It can be very difficult to avoid treats but being more mindful of what you are having and how often you are having them can help you to reduce your intake.
Another issue facing consumers is that treat portions are now becoming supersized or it may actually be cheaper to buy a multipack of chocolate or sweets rather than one bar. If you buy a four pack of chocolate, eat one bar and leave the other three in the press, it’s going to be very difficult to resist eating the rest if you know they are there.
The same applies for supersized treats. If you are having a treat, try and avoid going for the larger portions as these can be extremely high in calories. A good example of this is a bag of crisps or nachos. Large bags can have close to 900kcal – putting this into context, this is about half the calories an adult woman needs in an entire day! Going for the smaller bag could save you about 700kcal – the equivalent of an entire meal.
- While treats can be consumed as part of a healthy, balanced diet, try limiting them to once or twice a week.
- Avoid buying multipacks, supersized or sharing bags.
- Remember that the best way to avoid snacking on treats at home is to not keep them in the house. If you have a ‘treat press’ consider emptying it out. If you really want a treat you can always go out and get it but the effort involved might make you reconsider and by the time you have reached the shop your craving might be gone.
Cardiac and Weight Management Dietitian
‘The research is based on purchase data sourced from Kantar Worldpanel Ireland. The analysis looked at the spend in Euro (€) the percentage of overall spend on food / drinks purchased in the supermarket for the period of March 2017 to February 2018 for households with children under 18 years and for households with no children’