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Children's Breakfast Cereals: The New Junk Food?

According to the Environmental Working Group, only one in four popular children’s cereals contain appropriate amounts of sugar. Read on to learn what you need to keep—and banish—from your pantry.

| December 9th, 2011
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Children's Breakfast Cereals: The New Junk Food?

Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the last three decades. About one in five American children are now obese, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So parents should be alarmed by recent news that many popular kids cereals pack more sugar in a single serving than a Twinkie or chocolate chip cookie.

The Environmental Working Group reviewed 84 brands of popular kids cereals. At nearly 56 percent sugar by weight, a one-cup serving of Kellogg's Honey Smacks tops the list of sugary cereals, containing more sugar (20 grams) than a Hostess Twinkie's 18 grams of sugar. Forty-four other kids' cereals pack more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookie's 11 grams of sugar—namely, Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Jacks and Cap'n Crunch.

Only one in four children's cereals meet guidelines proposed earlier this year by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children, a panel of federal nutrition scientists formed by Congress to cope with the childhood obesity epidemic. For cereals, no more than 26 percent added sugar by weight is recommended.

The most sugary children's cereals are (drumroll, please): 1. Kellogg's Honey Smacks (56% sugar by weight) , Post Golden Crisp (51.9%), Kellogg's Froot Loops Marshmallow (48.3%), Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's Oops! All Berries (46.9%),  Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch Original (44.4%), Quaker Oats Oh!s (44.4%), Kellogg's Smorz (43.3%), Kellogg's Apple Jacks (42.9%), Quaker Oats Cap'n Crunch's Crunch Berries (42.3%), Kellogg's Froot Loops Original (41.4%).

QUIZ: How Much Sugar's In Your Diet?

Not only do these caloric foods negatively affect weight, they also lowered levels of energy and the ability to focus in school-aged children by lunchtime.

But not all cereals are bad. Kellogg's Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite-Size, General Mills Cheerios Original, and General Mills Kix Original all passed the test. Other healthy mainstream alternatives include Post Shredded Wheat, Post Grape-Nuts Flakes, Post Bran Flakes and Post Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Bunches.

Regardless, “It’s important to make sure your child is eating breakfast every morning,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a dietician at the Cleveland Clinic and YouBeauty Nutrition Advisor. “It just has to be one that optimizes their performance.”

Follow Kirkpatrick’s crib sheet to make sure your child is getting the healthiest start to his or her day.

Read the Fine Print: Look for cereals made with 100 percent whole grain (“Or as close to that as possible,” Kirkpatrick says), zero grams of trans fat, less than 4 grams of added sugar, less than 480 mg of sodium, less than 2 grams of saturated fat, and at least 2 grams of fiber or more per serving.

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