Is Your Lunch Crackers?
Lunch crackers, sandwich biscuits, salad biscuits, savoury thins, or whatever you choose to call them - you could go crackers trying to work out what is in which (hey I'm a Dad so have full licence for Dad joke material...). There are dozens of varieties available to add whatever you desire. Are you an avocado & squeeze of lemon person, or a smear of cream cheese with some tomato and cracked pepper? Perhaps your kids love squeezing vegemite between two crackers to make little worms come through the holes. However you like them, it's a minefield looking at the nutrition labels of these, so I've started the work for you.
With so many brands available, I could have easily written a post several pages long, but who has time to read that much when we just want to get on with lunch? In this week's nutrition comparison, I've had a look at 9 different lunch biscuits to see if they are what they're cracked up to be. I've not been approached by any of the companies listed and remember to view this information as an educational exercise on what you can learn from comparing nutrition labels to help you make more informed choices. These varieties were available in my local supermarket so your options may differ. The nutrition information is for the biscuit only, and what you add to it will alter the nutrition content considerably. The varieties I've compared are:
Fantastic Gluten Free Rice Crackers
Real Foods Corn Thins - Original
Real Foods Corn Thins - Organic Sesame
Coles Rice Crackers - Original
Arnott's Salada - Original
Arnott's Salada - Light
Arnott's Salada - Wholemeal
Arnott's Vita Weat - Original
Ryvita - Original
The graphs can give great insight into the comparison, but if you're not a picture person, just skip to the analysis below.
Most of the varieties have fairly standard serving sizes (ranging from 18-28g) which was two or three of the crackers, with the exception of Coles Rice Cakes which listed only one cracker of 6g in their serving. To make it more comparable, I adjusted the Coles Rice Cakes to be 3 crackers or 18g, because let's face it - who's going to eat JUST ONE cracker for lunch?
The total energy varied from about 300kj to about 500kj per serve. The Real Foods Corn Thins (both varieties) are the leanest when it comes to energy with the Coles Rice Cakes (adjusted serving) coming in second. If looking at where this energy comes from, it's the carbohydrates and really it's all much of a muchness between this selection. There is only a 9g difference between the lowest (Real Foods Corn Thins Sesame 12.6g) and the highest (Fantastic Rice Crackers and Arnott's Salada Light both 21.6g). If you're looking at your total energy intake, hopefully you're choosing nutrient dense toppings (e.g. a teaspoon of light cream cheese with tomato, or avocado) so choosing a lower energy cracker is best.
While protein contribution to total energy is important, the amount is pretty small in these crackers - an average of 2g per serve. Adding protein to your meal is always a good idea to slow down the conversion of carbs to energy (i.e. lowering the glycemic index). Try tuna, egg, lean turkey, or for a vegan option, hummus is delicious!
What was interesting was the labelling of 'light' and 'wholemeal' from Arnott's Saladas. The 'light' version certainly implies there's a whole lot less to them, and the 'wholemeal' you'd think has way more fibre. The 'light' cracker comes in at 44kj less than the regular, and that is mostly from less fat. Interestingly the saturated fat is almost identical (0.3g vs 0.2g). I was correct to expect a higher sodium content of the 'light' version (270mg vs 278mg) which is done to replace the flavour of the missing oil. You might have heard before that the order of ingredients on a packet depicts the volume of that ingredient. The first ingredient has the most volume, the second listed ingredient has the second highest volume etc. As you can see in the snapshots below, the top 3 ingredients for the regular Saladas is 1. Wheat Flour, 2. Vegetable Oil, 3. Salt. In the Light Salads, salt becomes the second highest ingredient!
Salada Regular Ingredients List Salada Light Ingredients List
While I don't know the composition of the vegetable oil used, I would assume there is an amount of unsaturated / polyunsaturated fats (the usual components of a vegetable oil) and these have been reduced in the 'Light' version and replaced with salt. This often happens in 'Light' versions of products so keep an eye out for increased volumes of salt or sugar to replace the flavour. With that insight, I would recommend choosing the Regular over the Light as the benefit of a mere 44kj isn't worth it. That said, all the Saladas are much higher in sodium compares to other brands with an average of 272mg per serve. If sodium avoidance is your goal then step away from any of the Salada varieties.
The 'wholemeal' version of a Salada conjures images of buckets of fibre for your gut, but alas, it only offers 0.2g more fibre than the light version. If fibre is your goal then I'd be going for the Ryvitas with 3g per serve. From left field on the fibre and sodium front are the Coles Rice Cakes with 2.7g of fibre and they are low in sodium with only 39mg per three biscuit serve. Again however, there is a trade-off with the Coles Rice Cakes being the highest in sugar, which is a real shame as otherwise, they're quite promising. The Fantastic Rice Crackers are high in sodium (189mg) with almost zero fibre. These wouldn't be my first choice no matter how delicious the flavours sound.
The Real Foods Corn thins are a good in-between option with moderate sodium, and in a three-way place for total kilojoules with the Ryvitas.
So my choice from this review? Ryvita originals, Real Foods Corn thins or at a pinch the Coles Rice Cakes. It may come down to your preference of taste and texture. Remember a varied diet is key to nutrient rich intake, so get creative with your toppings with different colours, include a protein and enjoy in moderation!