Is Your Cereal Sugarjacked?

Sugar in cereal is a major problem—and a new report calls out the worst offenders.

May 15, 2014

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Sugar in cereal is out of control, so much so that a new report from Environmental Working Group (EWG) found eating a bowl of children's cereal every day would add up to swallowing 10 pounds of sugar a year!

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The new analysis looked at more than 1,500 cereals, including nearly 200 marketed to children. EWG researchers discovered that the average serving of cereal (which is a smaller amount than most people eat in a sitting) contained about the same level of added sugars as in three Chips Ahoy cookies.

"When you exclude obviously sugar-heavy foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, soft and fruit drinks, breakfast cereals are the single greatest source of added sugars in the diets of children under the age of eight,” nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the organization’s new report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound, says.  "Cereals that pack in as much sugar as junk food should not be considered part of a healthy breakfast or diet. Kids already eat two to three times the amount of sugar experts recommend."

More From Rodale News: The 10 Best Organic Cereals

To rank cereals, EWG researchers used the non-profit's comprehensive food database (which is due out this fall) to figure out sugar levels in each cereal. Rankings were calculated by comparing the total sugar content by weight with guidelines issued by federal health agencies and other organizations. The group came up with a "Hall of Shame" list, a dozen cereals that are more than a whopping 50 percent sugar by weight.

EWG's Cereal "Hall of Shame:"
Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs
Mom’s Best Cereals Honey-Ful Wheat
Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch with Marshmallows
Post Golden Crisp
Grace Instant Green Banana Porridge
Blanchard & Blanchard Granola
Lieber’s Cocoa Frosted Flakes
Lieber’s Honey Ringee Os
Food Lion Sugar Frosted Wheat Puffs
Krasdale Fruity Circles
Safeway Kitchens Silly Circles

It's really hard to figure out how much sugar you're eating for a few reasons. For starters, serving sizes are usually 30 percent more than what's listed on the box.  Another problem? Naturally occurring sugars and the more dangerous added sugars are lumped into one "sugar" category on the nutrition label. Adding to the confusion, sugar-laced cereals are legally allowed to make healthy-sounding front-of-label claims about whole-grain, fiber, and/or vitamin or mineral content without addressing the toxic levels of sugar in the products.

"Whether at home, in schools, or in the grocery store aisles, the deck is stacked against families trying to make healthier decisions," says Laurie David, producer of FED UP, and author of Family Cooks. "We need to get real about food in this country, and that starts with using smart tools like this analysis from EWG. It's time to rethink breakfast so that we don't send our kids off to start their day already over the daily maximum amount of sugar they can safely consume."

Here's how to get your sugar intake under control:
• First, know your recommended sugar intake levels.

• To reduce sugar consumption, EWG recommends reading nutrition labels, buying cereals with no more than a teaspoon (equivalent to 4 grams) per serving, preparing unsweetened hot cereals and eating fruit or other whole foods with no added sugar.  

• Try to get your child to enjoy "grown-up" cereal. Children's cereal contained an average of 40 percent more sugar per serving than adult cereals.

• Learn about the weird places sugar hides, including foods like ketchup, bread, and other unexpected "health" foods!

• Learn about the 11 weird things sugar's doing to your body—it'll inspire you to cut back!