Smart Consumer: How much sugar is in your cereal?
Published 29/04/2010 | 05:00
So you opted for the bowl of cereal instead of the pastry and you're feeling pretty pleased with yourself for choosing the healthy breakfast option. At least you were, until you read the latest report from mysupermarket.co.uk and discovered that Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes contains 13.6g of sugar per serving compared with 8.6g of sugar in a jam doughnut.
And that isn't the only cereal offender packed with hidden sugars. Coco Pops has 10.2g grams of sugar in each serving, and according to mysupermarket.co.uk even Nestle's Shreddies and Kellogg's Special K, Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies contain more sugar and salt than many sweet snacks.
So how worried should we be? Nutritionist Paula Mee says: "Some sugar is naturally found in dried fruit, and is fine as part of a cereal. It's the added sugar or the frosted and chocolate-covered versions that are the ones to limit. These contain little fibre and are really just encouraging a sweet tooth from the start of the day."
However, he Irish Breakfast Cereal Association (IBCA) is concerned with the findings of this study, pointing out that: "The portrayal of breakfast cereals within this study is inaccurate and there are a number of important beneficial aspects to breakfast cereals which this report ignores."
The spokesperson added: "Comparing breakfast cereals to a jam doughnut or a chocolate cake is misleading because it highlights one nutrient [sugar]. This does not help people make an informed choice about what to eat.
"There are a number of factors that should be considered, including portion size, fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sodium, fibre, vitamins and minerals and calories."
So it's not as black and white as it may first appear. Apart from sugar content, what other nutritional information should we be squinting at on the side of the cereal box?
Fibre is found in fruit and veg but also in wholegrains and cereals. With a recent survey showing that 61pc of Irish children between the ages of five and 12 don't get enough of it, this is another thing to look for on the label.
Ready Brek has a low sugar content (0.5g) and contains 2.4g of fibre per serving, while Cheerios contains 6.5g of sugar per serving but has a fibre content of 2g per serving.
Paula Mee believes fibre is so important that she "would encourage Bran Flakes over Corn Flakes, despite their sugar content." (Bran Flakes contain 13g of sugar per 30g serving.) "They are also very well fortified with iron," explains Mee, "and iron deficiency is a big problem for many children and teenagers in Ireland."
The move to reduce salt in breakfast cereals began in 1998, in co-operation with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and the average reduction is 40pc according to the IBCA.
According to Paula Mee, "a large bowl or two small bowls can contain a quarter of a child's daily salt needs", so you should still scrutinise the label.
For example, those Coco Pops contain 0.3g of salt per serving but Corn Flakes have 0.5g.
When it comes to calories, we need a certain number to function, but we know what happens if we overload.
Mee advises: "When children are having three meals and two snacks a day, then a breakfast of 300 or 400 calories is a good start. Something quick like a wholegrain cereal, juice, egg and toast is brilliant but if all that you can get into them is a cereal then add a chopped banana."
Bran Flakes have 157 calories per 30g serving, while Corn Flakes contain 215 calories per serving. Coco Pops have the same number of calories at 215 per 30g serving, but have a higher sugar content.
Some breakfast cereals are fortified with minerals and vitamins. "In more processed breakfast cereals some nutrients are lost so the fortified ones are best in that case," says Mee.