Mama, but I’ve had so many moms asking me about popular ‘kid snacks’ wondering if they are actually healthy. Sometimes it’s nice to give your kids a quick and easy snack you know they’ll love and will actually eat (Oof!) But then we can start to spiral “Should I be letting them eat that? Is this bad for them? Am I a bad mama?” to make things even harder (as if being a mom isn’t hard enough) the internet is full of people claiming things like vegetable oil is the WORST thing you can put in your body. Or other moms saying, “I would never let my kid eat that!” Cue the unavoidable parent guilt. The worst part is that trying to figure out if something is healthy isn’t always easy.
Today, we are talking about the popular snack, Goldfish. We’ll look to answer the question–are Goldfish healthy–by diving into what they’re actually made of. We’ll also discuss how I would recommend serving them and why some of the other similar options aren’t all that different. So grab a bowl of goldfish or your favorite snack, and let’s dive in!
In This Episode, We Discuss…
- Are Goldfish A Healthy Snack? (01:15)
- What’s Actually In Goldfish? (03:51)
- What Ingredients Should We Avoid In Our Diets? (06:00)
- Are Whole Grain Goldfish Any Better For Us? (10:07)
- Are Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies Healthier Than Goldfish? (11:27)
- Processing The Idea Of Allowing Processed Foods (11:45)
- What Constitutes “Health” (14:30)
- My Recommendations As A Dietitian (15:32)
Listen to the full episode here:
Snacks & Snack Foods: Resources And Links
Quick access to the tips, tools, and tricks we name-dropped in this episode:
- The Research: What Vegetable Oil Actually Does in the Body
- Healthy Target Snack Guide
What Snack Should We Unpack Next?
Being a mama is tough, but you don’t have to do it alone! If you have a question, or a topic you’d like me to discuss in a future episode, head to mamaknowsnutrition.com/podcast, scroll down to the bottom, and submit your question! Or, call the podcast voicemail at 469-552-5527 and leave your question there instead!
Episode #39: Are Goldfish Actually Healthy? (Complete Transcript)
Are Goldfish healthy? Are Goldfish okay for your toddler to eat? What is in them? If you’ve ever had any of these questions and wondered about this incredibly popular snack item for kids, I’m going to give you answers today as a Registered Dietician Nutritionist with a Master of Clinical Nutrition.
Welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, where I answer your questions about feeding your little ones and invite guests to share their expertise on all things toddler and pre-schooler. I’m Kacie Barnes, creator of Mama Knows Nutrition and mom of two. I’m all about balance and low-stress parenting when it comes to feeding your kids. So if you’re interested in those things, you are in the right place. Make sure to hit follow on the podcast so you can get notified when a new episode is released every single week.
Are Goldfish A Healthy Snack?
Okay, let’s cover this first. Are Goldfish a healthy snack? Here’s the deal, your kids can have Goldfish, and you can have Goldfish. But is it a nutrient-rich snack? Not really. Is it at the top of the healthiest items we could eat? No. But no one has to only eat the most perfect, nutrient-dense foods all the time.
From a strictly nutritional perspective, let’s look at what Goldfish do. What do they contribute? They contribute energy–as do all foods. They contribute some protein–not much, but some. And, they provide some vitamins and minerals. There’s no added sugar, but there’s also no fiber, and I do like to see some fiber in a snack.
Again, it doesn’t mean that these are off-limits because of that. It simply means they won’t be the most filling snack. However, they are tasty, and your child can enjoy them occasionally, although I would recommend serving them alongside something else, like a piece of fruit or yogurt.
What else could I serve them with? I would recommend serving them alongside something like a piece of fruit or some berries, maybe yogurt or raisins or dates. Something where they’re getting a little bit more nutrition alongside the Goldfish. But, I realize that’s not always gonna happen. Sometimes it’s just gonna be a couple of handfuls of Goldfish, and that is totally okay!
Okay, What’s Actually in Goldfish?
Now, I wanna go through the individual ingredients for you. I think one of the things that’s hard about trying to understand if snacks are healthy and okay or not is trying to look at the ingredients label and not being totally sure what you’re looking at.
You always hear people on Instagram who will be like, “If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it.” Well, my friends, that’s a dumb rule to go by because there are lots of things that we can’t pronounce that are still healthy and safe for us to eat. If you look at the chemical make-up of a banana or an apple, it’s gonna be full of words that you don’t understand and can’t pronounce because everything is made up of chemicals. I feel like I’m seeing more people start to talk about this, which I’m so grateful for. It’s kind of a niche topic online, so you might not see this on your Instagram feed the way that I do. But I’m glad to at least be seeing that some people are starting to acknowledge that just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s definitely safe, and just because something is ‘not natural’, it doesn’t mean that it’s not safe. What’s more important to me is the proportion and the frequency in which your kids are eating certain foods versus others, but let’s talk about these ingredients in Goldfish.
Well, first it says that they’re made with smiles, I’d like to see proof of that. Or do they mean just the smile on the Goldfish cracker, not the employees in the factory? I wonder if they had smiles.
Okay, made with smiles and enriched wheat flour. That just means white, all-purpose flour that has nutrients added back in that get stripped out from the wheat when they process it to be white flour. That includes these B vitamins. So you’ll see on there, thiamine amino nitrate, riboflavin, niacin. Those are all B vitamins. B1, B2, B3, and folic acid are also B vitamins, so those get added back in.
Then I see on the label reduced iron–that’s just this hydrogen-reduced iron–it’s like an iron supplement. It’s in a safe quantity, so it’s nothing to worry about there.
Then we have cheddar cheese. We all know what cheddar cheese is, but in the parenthesis next to it says cultured milk, salt, enzymes, and annatto. Enzymes are proteins that basically just help the milk solidify to turn it into cheese. So nothing scary there. Annatto is a natural food coloring that comes from a certain type of tree seed. I can’t remember what the tree is, but it comes from seeds so that they don’t have to use artificial coloring for the bright yellow color that we know and love in Goldfish.
Then we have vegetable oils, which you might have recently heard that people are getting upset about. We’re gonna talk about that. Some people are like, “These are the worst.” So, the vegetable oils that they list here are canola, sunflower, and/or soybean. So I’m guessing they use some sort of mix depending on what’s most available and what’s cheapest at the moment. If you really look at the research on humans, you’ll find that vegetable oils are neither toxic nor inflammatory, as you may hear some health influencers say. Here’s a link to the research that shows that vegetable oils do not cause inflammation and can actually improve certain health markers, including cholesterol levels.
There’s this whole misconception out there that coconut oil and butter are so much better for you than vegetable oils, and I don’t know where that’s coming from. I truly, truly don’t know! Again, it’s not that you can’t have coconut oil or butter or that those are “bad.” It’s really about the amount you’re consuming of these things. So as for vegetable oils and all oils in general, they should be a smaller part of your diet, and that’s really the end of the story. For some reason, though, vegetable oils specifically have really come under fire lately, and I honestly don’t know why. I don’t know where people are getting this information from. I spent hours this weekend–no joke–looking at research so that I could see if there’s anything legitimate to these claims. Everything that I could find that came from a well-designed and executed research study said that vegetable oils in moderation are perfectly fine for you, so please do not worry about that. I don’t want you looking at labels in the store and putting down things that you otherwise would have gotten just because you see a certain type of oil on there.
Are There Ingredients We Should Try To Avoid In Our Diets?
Now, there are people out there who will tell you to completely avoid foods like Goldfish crackers. They’ll say things like, “I would never let my child eat them.” What people don’t understand when they say things like that is the impact that eating something infrequently has on your body. They hear something about an ingredient being bad, probably from a study involving rats fed ultra-high doses of an ingredient. This is not how things actually work in human bodies. You can’t take a conclusion from one very specific research study and apply it to everything else. It just doesn’t work that way.
Let’s take a look at an example like water. Water is the most essential substance that we need for survival, right? Would you agree with me on that? You will find research that water is toxic. “Oh my god, water is toxic. Never drink it.” Does that make any sense? No. It’s toxic if you have too much of it, and you have to have A LOT of it for it to be toxic. Would you ever worry like, “Oh gosh, I think I should not give my kids water today, I don’t want them to have too much, and they definitely had water yesterday?” No, absolutely not. It’s the exact same thing when these people tell you that you have to avoid X, Y, Z foods at all costs.
So the takeaway on Goldfish: They are not the healthiest food you could possibly feed your kids, I think you already knew that. We wanna make sure that other foods do take priority in their diet, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, etcetera. However, they can absolutely eat Goldfish in moderation without you having a panic attack about it or feeling like a bad parent. I think that we see influencers online who are all about health and have the perfect diet for their kids. Then you turn around, and you send your kid to daycare or to a friend’s house worried about them eating these foods. You don’t have to be worried. As I said, it’s about the proportion and the frequency compared to other foods in their diet.
Are Whole Grain Goldfish Any Better For Us?
Now, what about Whole Grain Goldfish? Is it healthy if you get those instead? I looked at the ingredients and the nutrition profile, and there’s not that much more nutritional value in them. They use a mix of whole wheat flour and white flour. Normally with whole grains, you’re looking to get some more fiber, but with the Whole Grain Goldfish, even though they are made with whole grains, they’re not completely whole grain, so there’s barely a difference. I’d just go with whatever type of Goldfish you like and focus on getting whole grains elsewhere.
I used to buy the whole grain ones ’cause I was like, “Oh cool, whole grains,” and then I actually looked at the nutrient profile there, and I was like, “Oh okay, it’s really not that much different. So there’s not much point here.” Sometimes I’ll get a question about Cheez-Its or Goldfish, is they’re a healthier one. And here it’s really just a ‘pick whatever one your heart or your child’s heart loves’ scenario. Getting caught up in the minutia of the ingredients here is not necessary. They’re both packaged snacks that don’t have a ton of nutritional value, so it’s really more about the fun factor and having something in your belly–something to munch on–than the actual nutrition piece when you’re picking one of these.
Are Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies Healthier Than Goldfish?
What about Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies? Okay, Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies are organic, so if organic farming is important to you and you have the budget to choose those instead, do it. However, I wouldn’t really call it a healthier option than Goldfish. I’d still call it a packaged snack that’s fun to eat but shouldn’t be a big part of their overall diet.
Processing The Idea Of Allowing Processed Foods
Now, I want to say, it can be hard to sit with this information if you’ve been following people online who are always talking about which foods to cut out or which foods to avoid and really emphasizing perfection in the diet.
Before I got my Master’s in Nutrition and was really interested in nutrition, I used to think the same way. I used to think that I had to completely avoid anything that wasn’t the healthiest, cleanest option. I am so grateful for my education. I went to UT Southwestern here in Dallas so that I could fully understand how food affects the body, what a healthy diet looks like, and how to understand research studies to know what is legitimate and what is not. It was kind of uncomfortable for me to confront those beliefs and realize that I had been pursuing this level of perfection in my diet that really wasn’t necessary. It’s even a little embarrassing when you realize just how committed you were to following all the rules around ‘healthy eating’ that are not actually based on real science. You might still feel skeptical about all this, but that’s good. I think skepticism is a great place to be, especially considering the information you hear on the Internet. The next time you come across a post that says something like, “this ingredient is linked to cancer,” try to think to yourself, “I wonder if this is actually true.” And if it is linked to cancer, is it linked to cancer in the amounts that are found in the food that we eat?
Think back to our water example. That water is toxic in specific doses, but we can consume it without any harm in appropriate doses. That is almost always the case when people say things like, “This food is linked to cancer.” You’ll see comments on posts I put on Instagram–for example, a post I did about Triscuits–where people said things like, “These crackers have inflammatory oils,” or, this was my favorite, “These ingredients are ___” and they put the barfing emoji. I would ask these people to take that out. Take that sentence out. I would ask these people where they got that information from. Could you cite the research that proves your claim? They’re not gonna have it. Sure, maybe they’ll send you to some random website that’s not an actual research study or a research study that was done on rats. There are so many things that people try to use as proof, but the research shows that they actually don’t know enough to make that conclusion.
What Makes Up “Health”
There’s one more thing that I wanna say about the question of are Goldfish healthy. We need to zoom out and remember that health is about so much more than just what you eat. It’s something that’s in your control each day–more or less–so we do often place a lot more weight on food than on other factors. Think about lifestyle, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, mental and emotional health, and well-being. It honestly comes from a place of great privilege to criticize the foods that other people are eating. This is especially true when we think about the fact that we all have such a different level of disposable income, access to different grocery stores, access to fresh food, time available to prepare food, etcetera. Even though I believe in the value of good nutrition–and trust me, I do–I believe that we would achieve a greater overall level of health and wellness by spending our energy anywhere else than worrying about how unhealthy and terrible a particular food is.
My Recommend As A Dietitian (Let Them Eat Cake–Kinda)
I can fully understand wanting to know how often it is okay to eat certain foods and how often you can serve X, Y, or Z to your kids. In general, I would say limit processed snack foods to 1-2 servings per day. Some days may end up being more than that. You didn’t fail. You can just go back to a lower amount the next day. There’s no use in dwelling on what you or your kids ate yesterday. You can’t change that. You can only make changes going forward, so there is no use in beating yourself up over what you’ve done in the past. We could hold ourselves back, beat ourselves down, or we can let ourselves grow forward and make a better choice tomorrow.
Thank you for listening today! If there’s a topic you’d like me to discuss or a question you’d like me to answer on a future episode, just go to mamaknowsnutrition.com/podcast and scroll down to submit your question or call the podcast voicemail right now at 469-552-5527. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave me a five-star rating and review. If you’re on Apple Podcasts, and you don’t already subscribe to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy, click that follow button. There’s a little icon in the top right with three tiny dots, just click on that and then click ‘follow show’ so you’ll be able to find me every week. I’ll talk to you all next week.