It shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out how much sugar you or your kids are eating when downing a bowl of breakfast cereal. But it is. For starters, realistic serving sizes are about 30 percent larger than what’s listed on the box. In May 2016 the FDA mandated an increase in serving sizes on cereal labels, but gave the industry more than two years to comply but so far the ruling has done little to rectify the problem.
Next, naturally occurring sugars and processed sugars are often lumped into one “sugar” category on the nutrition label. And, to make matters worse, these cereals are legally allowed to make healthy sounding marketing claims about whole-grain, fiber and vitamin or mineral content. Neither the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA or Health Canada has set a limit on the amount of added sugars allowed in products that make nutritional claims. Nor do they include a Daily Value percentage for sugar on the nutrition panel.
Once again, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) comes to the rescue. They publish a list called “The Hall of Shame”. It consists of thirteen cereals that are more than 50 percent sugar by weight. They tested more than 1,500 cereals, including nearly 200 marketed specifically to children. The analysis revealed the average serving of cereal (which is smaller than most people actually eat in a sitting) contains almost the same level of sugar as three Chips Ahoy cookies. Eat just one bowl of this sugary cereal every day and you’ve swallowed 10 pounds of sugar a year. Cereals marketed to children contain an average of 40 percent more sugar per serving than adult cereals.
“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,” said nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the study. The organization’s 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.”
Added sugars deliver unneeded calories without any important nutrients for young, growing bodies. Excess sugar consumption has long been linked to tooth decay, higher risks of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The average American consumes almost 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day and both the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association (AHA) note that we should be eating a fraction of that amount.
To get your sugar intake under control, the first step is knowing the recommended sugar intake levels. The AHA says that adult women should get 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day, adult men 9 teaspoons (36 grams), and children 3 teaspoons (12 grams). For comparison, a can of soda can have 40 grams, or about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Next, purchase cereals with no more than a teaspoon (equivalent to 4 grams) per serving. Conversely prepare unsweetened cereals in the morning and add fruit or other whole foods with no added sugar. And say no to the kids if they insist on sweetened cereal. This can be challenging but it’s their health that’s at risk. If you need to additional sweetening, use organic sugar, honey or maple syrup. And Jjst as important, learn where sugar hides in processed foods, like in ketchup, bread, and even so-called “health” foods.