New Report Slams Kids’ Cereals

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Is your kid eating dessert for breakfast? According to a new report on sugar in children's cereals published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), more than half of the 84 brands tested contained at least 12 grams of sugar, or the equivalent of three teaspoons, per serving. That's more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies. Moreover, only one out of four cereals tested met the federal government's proposed guidelines for food nutritious enough to be marketed to children. These guidelines were established to combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

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Cereals containing the most sugar

The three worst cereals - Kellogg's Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and General Mills Wheaties Fuel - all contain about 20 grams of sugar, or five teaspoons, per serving which is more than a Hostess Twinkie. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume less than three teaspoons of sugar per day.

10 worst children's cereals (based on sugar by weight)

1. Kellogg's Honey Smacks (55.6% sugar)

2. Post Golden Crisps (51.9% sugar)

3. Kellogg's Froot Loops Marshmallow (48.3% sugar)

4. Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's OOPS! All Berries (46.9% sugar)

5. Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Original (44.4% sugar)

6. Quaker Oats Oh!s (44.4% sugar)

7. Kellogg's Smorz (43.3% sugar)

8. Kellogg's Apple Jacks (42.9% sugar)

9. Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Berries (42.3% sugar)

10 Kellogg's Froot Loops Original (41.4% sugar)

The EWG report points out that despite all the unhealthy choices marketed to kids, cereal can be part of a nutritious children's breakfast. Although most of the EWG's recommended brands are organic and non-GMO, options that can be harder to find and more expensive, the organization does suggest a number of common brands that meet the federal government's nutrition guidelines.

Cereals that meet the government's nutrition guidelines

1. Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite-Size cereal

2. Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Frosted Big Big cereal

3. Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Frosted Bite-Size cereal

4. Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Frosted Little Bite cereal

5. General Mills Cheerios Original

6. General Mills Kix Original

7. Post Shredded Wheat

8. Post Grape-Nuts Flakes

9. Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares Cinnamon

10. Post Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Bunches

According to the EWG report, children who eat high sugar breakfasts are more frustrated at school, have a harder time working independently, and are hungrier and less attentive by the time lunch rolls around. Studies by the American Heart Association and the journal Diabetes Care warn too much sugar may lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and tooth decay.

Shopping for healthy kids' cereals isn't as straightforward as you might think. The common brand names such as Cheerios or Chex market cereals with a wide range of sugar content. For instance, Cheerios Original contains only 3.6% sugar while Apple Cinnamon Cheerios packs in 33% sugar. Rice Chex is 7% percent sugar and Honey Nut Chex is 28% sugar. Sugared cereals are placed low on supermarket shelves - right at kid's eye level.

Front label information can be misleading. The Harvard School of Public Health explains that front of box claims such as "smart choice" or "heart healthy" don't actually guarantee you will be purchasing a nourishing product. Nutrition expert Marion Nestle offers some tips for choosing the healthiest brands by doing some detective work using the nutritional information on the back of the box:

  • Choose cereals with a short ingredients list (added vitamins and minerals are okay).
  • Choose cereals that are high in fiber (at least 5 grams per serving).
  • Choose cereals with no or few added sugars.

Nestle says that cereals meeting this criteria are usually placed high on shelves where they are harder to find and to reach. But, not only are they healthier, she points out they are usually cheaper.

Related links:

How Healthy Are Your Kids Snacks

Are Vegetarians Thinner?

How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

The Surprising Truth about Sugar