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%).
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.
Banish the Following Ingredients: If you see white bread, refined flour, white flour, wheat flour, or partially hydrogenated oils on the ingredient label, “Put the box back on the shelves,” Kirkpatrick says.
Expand your Vocabulary: Though they sound harmless (healthy, even!), agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, cane sugar, HFCS, and molasses are all forms of sugar. “They should not appear in the first five ingredients,” Kirkpatrick says.
Make a Gradual Switch: Going from Fruit Loops to Bran isn’t an easy change for kids. “Start slowly,” Kirkpatrick says. Pour a bowl of cereal using half of what they’re used to, and half of the new, healthy version. “Taste buds adjust over time and as their dependence on sweet stuff decreases, you will eventually eliminate the sugary cereal,” Kirkpatrick says.
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Lead by Example: Don’t dig into your Lucky Charms and coffee while you force your kid to eat the good stuff. “Involve your kid in the shopping experience and make it a family effort,” Kirkpatrick says.
Offer alternatives: “Serving a glass of O.J. for vitamin C seems like a healthy bet, but you’ll get more fiber and less of a sugar spike from a whole orange,” Kirkpatrick says. Instead of cereal, try eggs with whole grain toast, oatmeal, trail mix with nuts, dried fruit or whole grain Chex, fat free plain yogurt, or a banana with natural peanut butter.
Avoid Cereal Bars: “Like cereal, many contain a lot of calories for a snack item and don’t provide a lot of nutritional bang for your buck,” Kirkpatrick says.