A new study found that when children are served low-sugar cereals, they’re more likely to eat a nutritious, balanced breakfast. And that’s even if they add a little table sugar to the bowl.
Heaping scoops of white granulated sugar on Cheerios or corn flakes – the cereals that are not loaded with sugar– used to be part of the ritual of breakfast for children and adults alike.
Cereals specifically marketed to kids have plenty of sugar; according to Consumer Reports there is at least as much sugar in a serving of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks and 10 other rated cereals as there is in a glazed doughnut from a popular chain.
Two cereals, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks (the brand formerly known as Sugar Smacks; similar to other sugar cereals historically marketed to children with a cartoon-branded tie-in, see video below ) and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight) and nine are at least 40 percent sugar.
Why do we serve a blast of sugar in the form of cereal to our kids in the first place? Perhaps the primary reason anyone began to eat the stuff is rooted in what Americans ate for breakfast over a hundred years ago.
In the late 1800’s, breakfast, for many, consisted of pork or other salted meats. Since this diet lacked fiber, gastrointestinal disorders were common.
According to Eddy Chavey, who writes about breakfast and runs the site MrBreakfast.com, early food entrepreneurs like William Kellogg and Charles Post raced to develop a bran-based food that could be mass-marketed to help regulate the bowel.
(Fiber phase: The Road to Wellville, by T.C. Boyle, and the film, a comedy based on the book, tells the story of Dr. Kellogg and his quest)
Their respective companies, Kelloggs and Post, sold their bland-tasting bran and corn products to a public that added some table sugar make the creations more palatable.
Then, during the 1950’s, sugar content was boosted in those cereals marketed to children, creating a class of product that had plenty of sugar- over fifty percent in the case of Post’s Sugar Smacks- and did not need any more.
(Sugar sleuth: read more on spotting added sugar on food labels here.)
The recent study, to be published in the January 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online Dec. 13), measured what 91 children ate for breakfast at a summer day camp.
All of the children were given their choice of either three high-sugar or three low-sugar cereals, as well as milk, orange juice, cut-up bananas and strawberries, and sugar packets.
Children in the high-sugar group ate larger portions of cereal, consuming almost twice as much refined sugar (24.4 grams) as children in the low-sugar group (12.5 grams) – despite the fact that children who ate low-sugar cereals added significantly more table sugar to their bowls.
Children who ate low-sugar cereal consumed similar amounts of milk and total calories, and were more likely to put fresh fruit on their cereal.
The study authors concluded that children will eat low-sugar cereals, and parents can make these choices more appealing by adding a small amount of table sugar and/or fresh fruit.
That strategy could help reduce the amount of added sugar in children’s diets.