Increasingly, breakfast-cereal makers are offering more nutritious, low-sugar options. The trick is trying to find them amidst the Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Lucky Charms and all the other sugary concoctions on grocery store shelves. Even cereals that seem healthy — if you’re to trust the front-of-the-box labels on many brands — may be just the opposite. “Companies have made it harder for shoppers to find a good cereal. They make all these health claims and you really have to read the fine print,” says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
First look at the Nutrition Facts panel on the side of the cereal box (ignore any health claims made on the front), which lists the grams of sugar contained. Then, be sure to compare it to the overall serving size. If a cereal says it has 10 grams of sugar and a serving size of 30 grams, that means the cereal is one-third sugar.
That same cereal might boast that it’s “High in Fiber!” but it hardly matters if it’s basically 30% sugar. “Companies take a junky cereal with a lot of sugar and add fiber to make parents think it’s healthy for their kids,” says Liebman. “If one-third of the bowl is sugar, it’s breakfast candy. Putting in a touch of fiber or whole grains does not make the sugar go away.”
Bear in mind, however, that sugar numbers will also include any sugar from fruit. So, if you’re eating a raisin bran cereal, don’t be concerned if the natural sugars from the fruit make the sugar content a little higher. Read the ingredients: if it’s real fruit, it’s O.K.
SPECIAL: Figuring Out Food Labels