/ Food & Drink, Health

Are your cornflakes healthy?

Bowl of Cornflakes

You might not think of cornflakes as a sugary cereal, but seven of the 12 we tested contain two or more teaspoons per 100g. Do you think you’re having a healthy start to the day when you tuck in to your cereal?

In our cornflake test, we found Asda Smartprice cornflakes had the most sugar with 9.3g of sugars per 100g. The Co-operative Simply Value had less than a third of this, and the lowest sugar content of all those we tested (at 2.9g per 100g).

However, adding sugar on top of your cereal will of course increase this. If you add a couple of teaspoons to a 30g bowl of Kellogg’s cornflakes, you’ll be consuming as much sugar as in the same serving of Kellogg’s Frosties.

Just a spoonful of cereal

Now the salt content of cornflakes has dropped over the years. But while Kellogg’s has reduced its salt from 1.8g (in 2009) to 1.3g per 100g, its cornflakes are still the saltiest of all on test. The Co-operative Simply Value cornflakes contained the least salt, with 0.5g per 100g.  And the cornflakes that came highest in our taste test were all among the sweetest or saltiest.

Convo commenter Catherine took action following our last breakfast cereal investigation telling us:

‘I was appalled to read this report, it shocked and surprised me. I have discussed this with others too and i was not alone in assuming that all breakfast cereals are kind of healthy – how wrong we were! I might as well as have eaten cake! I’ve been having dizzy spells from blood sugar fluctuations, and no wonder! I have switched to shredded wheat and weetabix and have been feeling much better. Thank you, you have educated me and my family about how irresponsibly these cereals are marketed.’

Realistic portions sizes?

When it comes to portion size, most people would be surprised at the reality of the recommended serving size. Most packs recommend a serving size of 30g with 125ml of semi-skimmed milk, but we have often questioned how realistic this is; 30g is the size of a small box found in variety packs – a very small bowlful. And M&S recommends a perhaps more realistic serving size of 50g.

And when it comes to added vitamins and minerals, all of the cornflakes we tested were fortified, with the exception of Lidl. Most contain a variety of B vitamins and iron, needed to release energy from food and to make red blood cells, which carry oxygen around our bodies. However, some also contain vitamins D or E.

Do you take the nutritional value of your cereal into consideration when making your choice? How do you start a nutritionally sound day?


As a chocoholic I avoid anything containing chocolate especially first thing in the morning. To answer my own question however, I am pretty sure I fed my brood on porridge during winter months but can’t decide which had priority – price or nutrition. Probably a combination of both. 2nd choice for summer months is Weetabix but may go off it when someone tells me the sugar content. . Have tried muesli but unfortunately my tummy objects to the currents. Is it possible to make my own as Esther does but I can’t imagine muesli without the currants? Dried fruit in itself has a very high sugar content but it is probably the natural slow release type. No doubt Wavechange will know.

I hope Porrige and Weetabix are both OK, because that’s what I usually consume for brekkers too.

Beryl – Fruit and dried fruit generally contain fructose (fruit sugar). Manufactured fructose is the same as natural fructose. If you ate dried fruit without chewing it, that would slow the release of fructose, but I don’t know whether the delay is significant with normal eating.

Muesli is not low in sugar, thanks to the fruit content, so there is absolutely no need for the manufacturers to add any more.

Weetabix certainly contains added sugar. Porridge oats don’t usually, but I have mentioned a recently introduced porridge that does. 🙁

Sugar is a very common component of both natural and manufactured food. My view is that we should try to avoid foods with added sugar and not feel too guilty about eating chocolate, stem ginger cookies, or whatever we like. If we overdo the sugar there is a greater chance of diabetes and being denied our treats.


It is easy to make your own muesli from any of the following ingredients found at health food shops and supermarkets:
Raw porridge oats
Oat bran
Raw chopped nuts
Seeds like sunflower, pumpkin

The above is for a dairy-free, diet-controlled diabetic but you could also add yoghurt, other cereals and fruit making sure dried fruit has no added sugar.

“Adverts describing Special K cereal as “full of goodness” and “nutritious” have been banned in the UK, after the advertising watchdog found the claims could not be adequately backed up.” http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/special-k-advert-banned-kelloggs-claims-asa-ruling-full-of-goodness-nutritious-healthy-cereal-a7146116.html

Thank you Patrick. About time too. Have we checked whether the supermarkets’ own-label versions of this cereal are false-claim-free?

Most cereal packets probably are “full of goodness” in a general sense so it’s a semantic distinction but nevertheless worth while.

As a quick check, my Sainbury’s SO organic Granola (contains wholegrain) wrapper pretty much just says “An organic blend of oats toasted with honey, succulent sultanas and flaked almonds” plus “no added salt” and “high fibre”. All-in-all, the packet seems to provide only useful data on its contents.

I think Kellogg’s should drop the “Special” from ‘Special K’ as well, really, in the circumstances. ‘Ordinary K’ would be more truthful.

I’ll shortlist you for a job in honest marketing, John. I cannot claim to have the slogan ‘Tesco – Very little help’, though I could probably turn up old emails from Customer Services with the subject: ‘RE: Tesco –Very little help’.

“Honest”, to my mind, means telling the whole truth. Therefore “honest” and “marketing” can never go together. Marketing’s job is to tell only the good things. Not much of a career prospect, John.

All we need to do is view marketing and adverts for what they are – partially honest only. Use common sense to realise the promoter wants to sell you something you may not know you wanted. Then just think about it.

Perhaps Which? could set up examples of particular marketing and ask interested contributors to assess them critically – like the fake email quiz. That might help others to decide how better to interpret product propaganda.

That’s what most of us are conditioned to accept, Malcolm. How are the general public expected to know – for example – that generic ibuprofen is just as effective as Nurofen?

I would like to ask for evidence that honesty and marketing can never go together. 🙂

It’s about education, surely. there are lots of things we need to learn about life – some of us bother more than others. I don’t expect a pack of Nurofen to say don’t bother – this is just ibuprofen, buy that instead.

Tell me about an advert that points to the disadvantages of a product as well as the advantages. There may be some, but they are not the norm. I sometimes criticise Which? for not telling the whole story and misleading us – rightly I think for an organisation that should be impartial. But those providing products and services – whether public or private bodies – are expected to be partial in promoting their own product or agenda and not detracting from it. We need to view it thus.

I have met many sales staff who have been honest with me, Malcolm – mainly in small companies. Sometimes I have been directed to more suitable products and services offered by competitors.

The manufacturer of Nurofen can claim that their product is well known and is the market-leading brand. These claims are honest and can be substantiated.

I feel particularly concerned about the misuse of science in marketing. Common sense can be of little help in deciding whether or not advertising is honest.

I’m not sure how education is going to help protect the public from the excesses of the advertising industry. Where is this education coming from?

I used to use examples of advertising when introducing new undergraduate students to the need to develop critical evaluation skills.

My comment was about marketing – what organisations do to promote their products and services.

According to the ASA, all advertising must be “Legal, decent, honest, and truthful”. While there can be differences in the extent of the truth [“the truth, the whole truth . . . ” etc] there are no degrees of truthfulness. Even the Truth Part 1 must be perfectly truthful. I would say the name “Special K” for a cereal product with no exceptional claims is borderline, saved only by the likelihood that it contains some things that most others don’t [or the converse] or has a unique composition of ingredients.

Maybe Special K is very unique. 🙂 But you are right that there are do degrees of truthfulness.

I wish the ASA would explain the subtle differences between honest and truthful.

Hello, inspired this discussion about marketing and advertising, Paul has written a convo ‘Do ads influence what you buy’ https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/advert-claims-influence-behaviour/

I saw this exchange on false advertising of a US cereal thread. Made me laugh.

Paul D’Argent Yup – I agree. And the Budweiser commercials are a fraud too. They have beautiful women having fun with their men but when I drink Bud, I don’t get more babes flocking to me. I’m gona sue Anheuser Busch.

John Lucas · Saint Leo University
David Smith — You are not following how alcohol works. THe more you drink — the more beautiful women look. Their commercials are trying to represent that.

ASA was also active with the premium ice-cream maker Oppo. Curiously Oppo’s ice creams do seem healthier than mainstream ones as it replaces cream and sugar with virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf . Claims that one portion of the ice cream contains fewer calories than an apple!

ASA said the references to “superfoods” and “super-fruits” were likely to be understood by the consumer as general benefits of the product. The ASA told Oppo, “The ad must not appear again in its current form”.

I support the ASA ruling. It is disappointing that the ingredients list does not appear to be on the Oppo website and drawing attention to the fact that Holland & Barrett sell it is enough to put me off. Coconut oil and stevia are cheap.

Thanks to Ocado: “Fresh Milk, Milk Solids, Natural Sweetener: Erythritol & Steviol Glycosides (Stevia Leaf Extract), Cream, Fruit Extract, Virgin Coconut Oil, Lucuma, Cornflour, Sea Salt (0.2%), Natural Flavouring, Natural Colour, Emulsifier (Mono & Diglycerides), Stabilizer (Guar Gum, Sodium Alginate, Carrageenan, Locust Bean Gum)”

M&S – clotted cream vanilla ice cream – for my choice. Essentially milk, double cream, clotted cream, dried glucose syrup…….

Thanks for that info, Wavechange – Not your regular Mivvi then.

Going off-topic to discuss emulsifiers, stabilisers and ice crystal formation can add colour to a lecture on the rheological properties of various polysaccharides used in commercial ice cream manufacture to ensure that it does not have the mouthfeel of most home-made creations.

I honestly cannot remember Mivvi, but thanks to the web the learning outcome has been achieved.

Here is the ruling mentioned by Patrick: https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2016/7/Kellogg-Marketing-and-Sales-Company-(UK)-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_315817.aspx#.V5H8e7S4lE4

My view is that all NEW claims should be vetted before adverts appear. If a form of wording is approved then it can be used in other adverts, without the cost of having the advert approved or delaying its launch.

I have frequently been told that this is not practical, but I certainly don’t believe that claim.

The present situation is that companies can profit from unacceptable advertising until someone complains and the ASA asks for it to be withdrawn. At my local pharmacy, Nurofen “targeted” pain relief is discounted, which will probably increase sales of a product that should not still be on sale, in my view. For those unfamiliar with the case, ASA ruled that advertising of various Nurofen products was unsatisfactory.

There is discussion of the consequences of approving every single new advert, before it appears, on other Convos. Essentially it revolves around the amount of skilled resources necessary to police them all and whether that is the best use of a limited supply of experts.

We might subject every newspaper article and news report to the same scrutiny, and indeed any Which? report. to ensure it was fair, balanced and objective. Where would it stop?

I am referring to NEW CLAIMS, not new adverts. So if a company wants to claim that its product is the market leader they can continue to use this claim in other advertising unless another company or an individual challenges it.

By “new advert” I assume it will say something not previously said. Someone could have a count of new adverts to see just how much specialist work would be involved in verifying claims. Personally I do not see it as workable, and an awful waste of resources that could be used much more constructively and productively. I would much rather see “deterrent” penalties to dissuade companies from making dishonest or unsubstantiated claims in the first place. Making it very unprofitable would, in my view, be the simplest way.

I wonder, when the dust has settled, whether other car companies will look at VW’s traumas and think about the consequences of dishonesty. By companies, this is not just their staff of course, but the owners – the shareholders – who depend upon them financially.

ASA simply banning adverts is not enough. There should be a financial penalty as well – maybe used in part to help fund a decent Trading Standards organisation?

Perhaps we could try my suggestion and it might be that verifying most new claims is not onerous. If the companies making new claims have to pay for their verification then we might see fewer new claims.

The claims that can be made for health benefits of foods are already policed, as Which? has highlighted in the magazine, and these have been the topic of various Conversations. We are well down the road of what needs to be done here.

When someone tells me that something can’t be done I like to make it work.

John mentioned that Special K isn’t that special, but what about Kellogg’s All Bran, which is not all bran. I think I will continue as a student of false marketing claims and not worry too much about product names.