/ 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?


Public Health England has published a new report focusing on the need to reduce sugar intake and possible ways of achieving this goal: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/470179/Sugar_reduction_The_evidence_for_action.pdf

It’s time for action and a good start would be to tackle sweetened cereals and other breakfast offerings. As I mentioned above, even porridge oats have not escaped the addition of sugar.

One argument in favour of a sugar tax was that Mexico imposed one (around 10%) and consumption dropped 6%. However I remember a recent documentary that showed a stranglehold Coca Cola seemed to have on many villages that had a poor water supply; so they bought Coke instead and used it like water, even to babies. Obesity and diabetes was rife. So perhaps not a good supportive example.

Personally I don’t see a tax working. No more than increasing the price of alcohol or tobacco. People still imbibe. I’d favour continual strong publicity about the problems associated with excessive sugar consumption, and focused on drinks and food that provide excessive amounts. We should then make our own minds up – as we do with drinking alcohol, smoking.

If we go for sugar substitutes in any food and drink do we know how safe they are?

You can wean yourself off sugar to some extent. I used to have sugar in tea and coffee; reduced it to nil and they taste so much better. Perhaps reducing the sweetness of fizzy drinks (and other foods), and paying more attention to the flavour, might work in a similar way?

Why do we take this stance though and then allow Coca Cola to sponsor “healthy” events like the Olympics.

I would like young people to learn of the complications of diabetes, in the same way that we warn of the dangers of smoking and drinking heavily.

I know of someone who recently had his foot amputated because of a chronic infection with a drug-resistant bug. He had type 2 diabetes and no feeling in his feet, and a small injury had become progressively more serious over a period of two years. His sight has deteriorated during the time he has had diabetes. He had been a hospital doctor until arthritis had forced him to retire, and I believe his inability to take exercise contributed to his worsening condition. In most cases, people I have known have managed their diabetes adequately or better, but this is the exception.

It’s not just sugar that is the problem. Eating lots of refined carbohydrate is best avoided, though it won’t rot your teeth. Rightly or wrongly, artificial sweeteners have received a huge amount of criticism. Stevia, which is sold under various brand names, has avoided most of the criticism. The supermarket own-label is just as good as the big brands and somewhat cheaper.

i hope that people will react to being shown the graphic details of overindulging. We did pretty well with smoking, showing breathing damage, and how it affects heart, lungs and circulation. I don’t remember seeing the same sort of information on drinking. Perhaps if as well as publicising how you lose your licence and damage your liver, its affect on changing the brain “wiring” to give the addiction, on greatly increasing chances of getting diabetes and of permanent nerve damage might make people think hard about getting help before it is too late. And medical help they need – it is most unlikely they can defeat the addiction unaided.
Presumably sugar creates an addiction too?

I think sugary drinks are certainly habit-forming if not actually addictive. It has been noted that many children are having one or two bottles of fizzy drinks a day as a routine. Cereal manufacturers have certainly made their products more-ish so that not only do people choose cereals with added sugar or chocolate but they put more in their bowls [and more milk to suit]. It is indicative of how the manufacturers regard the consumer’s critical faculties that on the various varieties of nutty flakes they say “contains fibre”. That’s all right then.

:wry-smile: Yep; really concerned about the consumers’ health.

wavechange’s observation about refined carbs is spot on. It appears that new concerns are emerging regularly, which, added to multiple research projects confirming the risks of eating bacon or any processed meat regularly, seem to suggest our society’s approach to fast-food and convenience might be unwise.