Would you eat a Hostess Twinkie for breakfast? How about feeding your children three Chips Ahoy! cookies for their first meal of the day? Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed 84 popular brands of children’s breakfast cereal and found that the most dastardly of the bunch packs more sugar than a Twinkie, while the rest of the wretches have more sugar than three chocolate chip cookies. Sweet mercy, is it any wonder that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions?
EWG explains that Congress formed the federal Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children to propose standards to Congress to curb marketing of kids’ foods with too much sugar, salt and fat; yet only one in four children’s cereals meets the government panel’s voluntary proposed guidelines, which recommend no more than 26 percent added sugar by weight. Translated, that means three out of four children’s cereals are more than 1/4 sugar by weight, with the worst cereals exceeding 1/2 of their weight in sugar. Imagine eating one cup of plain oatmeal, and a half a cup of sugar on the side. It’s so outrageous.
It’s data like this which makes it impossible to ignore how little regard big food manufacturers have for our well being. The tens of billions of dollars spent on brainwashing kids (and parents) into wanting and eating food that is half sugar, in the face of the dwindling health of our children. Amazing. So hats off to EWG for tackling this sticky situation and bringing awareness to what seems nearly criminal.
And with that said, here are the top ten to avoid based on their sugar content by weight, number one being the worst of all.
10. Kellogg’s Froot Loops Original
Sugar by weight: 41.4%
There’s a reason they use the term “Froot” rather than Fruit. These loops get their “frootiness” from red 40, blue 2, yellow 6, and blue 1–very little actual fruit in the forecast.
Noted NYU nutrition professor Marion Nestle puts it best: “Cereal companies have spent fortunes on convincing parents that a kid’s breakfast means cereal, and that sugary cereals are fun, benign, and all kids will eat,” she said, “The cereals on the EWG highest-sugar list are among the most profitable for their makers, who back up their investment with advertising budgets of $20 million a year or more. No public health agency has anywhere near the education budget equivalent to that spent on a single cereal. Kids should not be eating sugar for breakfast. They should be eating real food.”
9. Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries
Sugar by weight: 42.3%
About one in five American children is obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has reported that childhood obesity has tripled over the past 30 years. Many have noted that rapidly increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in today’s children will lead them to be the first generation in American history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.
8. Kellogg’s Apple Jacks
Sugar by weight: 42.9%
Johnny Appleseed is turning in his grave.
Many people know that ingredients are listed in order from most to least and we’ll look to see where, say, sugars or fats are listed in the order. But, ingredient groups aren’t required to be listed together. So, for example, an item could contain corn syrup, cane sugar, and fructose in seemingly minor quantities toward the bottom of the list–but if you combined them together in a general group of “sugar,” they quickly move to the top.
7. Kellogg’s Smorz
Sugar by weight: 43.3%
Dessert, it’s not just for after dinner anymore. In fact, it’s breakfast. Would you actually feed your child a s’more for breakfast?
Most children’s cereals fail to meet the federal government’s proposed voluntary guidelines for foods nutritious enough to be marketed to children. Sugar is the top problem, but many also contain too much sodium or fat or not enough whole grain.
6. Quaker Oats Oh!s
Sugar by weight: 44.4%
Oh!s, as in, Oh! my tight pants, and Oh! my diabetes.
A product may boast that it is “made with” or “contains” whole grains, but that doesn’t mean that whole grains make up the bulk of it. Many grain-based junk food items are predominantly made with refined grains, with a spattering of whole grains thrown in for labeling credibility. Check to see where on the ingredient list the word “whole” is. If the first ingredient is “whole” wheat flour (or other grain), you’re in luck. If it’s way down the list, you’ve been punked.
5. Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch Original
Sugar by weight: 44.4%
A study by the Rudd Center of Food Policy at Yale found that cross-promotion with characters, celebrities, toys and movie giveaways targeted at children and teens increased by 78 percent from 2006 to 2008–and only 18 percent of products examined met accepted nutrition standards for foods sold to youth.
4. Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries
Sugar by weight: 46.9%
Otherwise known as, Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! No Berries. What the fudge? Berries?
$3 billion annually goes to packaging designed for children. If you have ever seen a 3-year old faced with the choice between a wholesome cereal in a plain yellow box versus a bright rainbow box emblazoned with princesses, I think you’ll know that that $3 billion is being spent effectively.
3. Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallow
Sugar by weight: 48.3%
For those who don’t find Froot Loops quite sweet enough, now you can get it with marshmallows! Fortunately, they’re fruit shaped–that’s almost like eating real fruit, right? And hey, it’s a “good source of vitamin D.”
According to EWG, studies suggest that children who eat breakfasts that are high in sugar have more problems at school. They become more frustrated and have a harder time working independently than kids who eat lower-sugar breakfasts. By lunchtime they have less energy, are hungrier, show attention deficits and make more mistakes on their work.
2. Post Golden Crisp
Sugar by weight: 51.9%
Cereal companies spend more money than any other packaged food category in marketing their products to children ($229 million in 2006), which is why we may be more familiar with Post Fruity Pebbles, a pretty severe offender, than the same company’s Post Shredded Wheat Spoon Size Wheat ‘n Bran, one of the best cereal choices.
1. Kellogg’s Honey Smacks
Sugar by weight: 55.6%
Smacks you right in the BMI, that is; 55.6% of this cereal’s weight is sugar!
Nutrition expert Marion Nestle recommends: Cereals with a short ingredient list (added vitamins and minerals are okay). Cereals high in fiber. Cereals with little or no added sugars (added sugars are ingredients such as honey, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn sweetener, sucrose, lactose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and malt syrup).
For more on breakfasts to avoid, see: