/ Food & Drink, Health

How much sugar is in your breakfast bowl?

Magnifying glass looking at calorie label

We’ve always known children’s cereals aren’t always the most healthy option to kick start the day. And now it seems the sugar content in many is on the up. Is it time we started to pick from elsewhere on the shelf?

We’ve looked at breakfast cereals many times over the years. Each time I’ve been amazed at how a product category with such a healthy image contains so many products laden with sugar – and in some cases salt.

Most shocking of all, it’s generally the ones that are aimed at children that are the least healthy. New research on cereal sugar content has been published by Action on Sugar today and the results aren’t promising.

From looking at the cereals we included in our ‘What’s in your bowl report’ in 2012, Action on Sugar have revealed that in some cases the sugar content is going up. Results show 14 out 50 cereals tested contained at least 33.3g of sugar, or eight teaspoons, per 100g. This is all despite some manufacturers claims of improving the health of the nation’s breakfast.

According to Action on Sugar’s report there’s been an 8% increase in sugar level of Morrisons Honey & Nut Cornflakes and Sainsbury’s Honey Nut Cornflakes, increasing from 33.3g per 100g to 36.3g.

But there has been a reduction in some – Honey Monster Puffs, previously known as Sugar Puffs, has had a 17% reduction from 35g to 29g.

Healthy promotion needs to take priority

Many people will have their favourite cereals and will have grown up with the cartoon characters that promote them – whether that’s Tony the Tiger, Coco the Monkey or Chip the Woolf. But isn’t it time that cartoon characters started to promote healthier products, rather than less healthy ones to children?

Despite concern about rates of obesity and poor diets, there have been few attempts to put all of this creativity into helping encourage children to eat healthily. To make matters worse, cereals that can contain around a third sugar often make claims about the vitamins and minerals that have been added to them – giving false reassurance that they aren’t such a guilty pleasure after all.

Transparency in the milky waters

This wouldn’t all be quite so bad if manufacturers were more transparent about what is in the products. Credit has to go to the supermarkets who have committed to putting traffic light nutrition labelling on their own-brand products. Branded products sit next to them in stark contrast though, with the lack of traffic light labelling making it difficult to spot the healthier alternatives.

It’s time cereal manufacturers got their act together. We need to see more healthier cereals, particularly those aimed at children.

The effort that goes into encouraging children to ask for sugary cereals should shift to promoting healthier choices. And all cereal manufacturers, branded or own-branded, should be up front about what they contain and put traffic light labelling on their products.

Do you struggle to get your kids to eat the healthier cereals? Do you think it’s the responsibility of the manufactures to be clearer about the contents of their cereals?


I enjoy muesli and try to avoid anything with added sugar as a matter of principle. There is enough sugar in muesli based on wholewheat or oats without adding to it. Maybe it’s time to get rid of sugar as an ingredient of all breakfast cereals.

Clare says:
28 January 2015

As a child, I always enjoyed a bowl of Weeto’s for breakfast. Everything in moderation, surely?


I have fond memories of Force breakfast cereal which went out of favour [and flavour unfortunately] a few years ago because of the compettion from the heavily-advertised sugar-coated products that nowadays cram the grocers’ shelves. The Force brand featured a curious character called Sunny Jim and the pack carried this little ditty: “High over the fence leaps Sunny Jim – Force is the food that nourishes him!”.

I notice that a large number of breakfast cereals now have chocolate in some shape or form to make them more appealing to the junior tooth. What might once have been a treat is now a regular part of the daily intake.


I agree with you, John. I think things like chocolate need to become more of a treat, rather than part of daily diets. Now our palates are all used to sugary foods, especially with younger people, it becomes harder to get used to and appreciate the more natural flavours. I wonder what this will mean in years to come…


John, I suspect all these additions to basically healthy cereals are done for “added value” – aka bigger profit – by using children to put pressure on parents to buy them, like sweets were near checkouts. I can only see educating oarents to resist these sales and marketing techniques as a solution. But how do you do that? Like buying branded clothing when cheaper plain clothes do just as good a job.


I stopped eating Waitrose Fruit & Fibre last year when I discovered it had 29g sugar or as I prefer to think as 29%. I enjoyed it for several years as it also suited my digestive system. I thought I was having a healthy breakfast until I heard all the warnings about sugar being just as bad for us as saturated fat. I changed to Weetabix with only 4.4g sugar, with a banana or apple chopped into it. When blueberries were cheap I liked to add them for variety. The texture is like baby food though so I sometimes add a dessertspoon of Super Berry Granola (17.8g sugar) to give it some ‘bite’. I gave up sugar many years ago and don’t care for cornflake or similar cereals. Ironically, the Waitrose Fruit & Fibre cereal is much higher in sugar & fat than the corn flake type cereals. wonder why the cereal manufacturers are unable to make interesting lower fat/lower sugar choices for adults like me.

I think it is time for the Government or Which? to ask the manufacturers why they have to load a cereal with sugar and/or fat. I would love to see the manufacturers answering to someone like Margaret Hodge MP in a Parliamentary select committee.


29% seems very high, so I presume it is not only added sugar, but mostly the natural sugar in the dried fruit. Blueberries and bananas have a quite high content of natural sugar, so you might not be making a difference in total sugars/calories. I’m making assumptions, but with a bit of research you might find you can go back to the Waitrose product that you enjoyed.


I wondered about this too. Waitrose Fruit & Fibre is currently shown as containing about 23% sugars. We don’t know how much is present in ingredients other than the added sugar.

I’m not paranoid about sugar but seeing a label ‘No added sugar’ on a packet shows some responsibility by the manufacturer, and I am more likely to consider buying the product.