Friday, December 9, 2011

Myth: Breakfast cereals are a good choice for children.

Answer: Well, maybe.

A healthy breakfast is key to your child’s school performance. But a new report by the Environmental Working Group found that some breakfast cereals have about the same amount of sugar found in sweet treats like cake or cookies – 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar. And if your child’s portion size is more than one cup then even more sugar is finding its way into your child’s diet.

bowl of cereal and cereal box with Nutrition Facts label
How do you know how much sugar is in the cereal you buy for you and your family? Look at the Nutrition Facts label found on the back or side of the food label – under “Total Carbohydrate” you will find “Sugars” listed. To figure out how many teaspoons of sugar are in the cereal, divide the grams of sugar by four. You can also look at the ingredient list to see if sugar or other names for sugar, like brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, honey, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup, are listed several times on the label – a clear indication the cereal has too much sugar.

You want to look for a cereal that has at least 3 grams of fiber listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Some lower-sugar cereal choices are shredded wheat, O’s oat cereals and bran flakes.

Additional tips for a healthier breakfast:
  • Don't allow your child to add sugar or have your child add less sugar to the cereal. As a parent, you can be a good role model by not adding sugar to your breakfast cereal.
  • Use fresh fruit as a topping for cereal instead of sugar.
  • Wean your child off high sugar cereals by mixing half and half – half high-sugar cereal and half low-sugar cereal – until your child is OK with all low-sugar cereal.
  • If your child is old enough to read the Nutrition Facts label, have him/her be a sugar detective when you go shopping with the goal of finding a low-sugar cereal. Remember, if the label says there is 4 grams of sugar that means there is 1 teaspoon in a serving, 6 grams means there is 1½ teaspoons in a serving.
  • Look up, look down – sugary cereals are more likely to be at eye level.

Remember too that sugar is often added to other foods that you might not be aware of like ketchup, yogurt, baked beans, sauces and salad dressing. So when you are looking at food labels, you might start looking at other foods to see how many teaspoons of sugar are in the everyday foods and condiments that you consume.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website for more information about nutrition and health.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

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