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Blog: the perceived high sugars content of breakfast cereals

There has been persistent criticism of breakfast cereals from some parts of the health food lobby because of a perceived high sugars content, particularly in those aimed at children. This really does need putting into context before it begins to be widely accepted.

It’s true that many breakfast cereals contain sugars. What is being ignored is that the amount is low related to dietary needs, and is diluted by milk - and, in many cases, fruit toppings.

A typical 30 gram portion of cereals is usually covered by an average 100 ml or so of milk, so the sugars content as a percentage of the whole bowl is greatly reduced. Top the bowl with fruit such as a banana, and the sugars proportion reduces even further.

We all need sugars. In its Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) the UK Food and Drink Federation recommends 90 grams for women, 120 grams for men and 85 grams for children aged 5 to 10. Its GDA website (www.gdalabel.org.uk) notes:

Sugars, together with starches, are the two main types of carbohydrates and the main sources of energy. Sugars include sucrose (table sugar) and many other types of sugars naturally found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, milk products and glucose found in soft drinks.

Sugars provide a sweet taste, texture, structure and consistency to foods; these are some of the reasons why they are added to foods during food processing.

Sugars play a role in functions of the body; the brain needs glucose (a simple sugar) as its only source of energy and the body's tissues use sugar (stored in liver and muscles) to carry out their main functions.

It’s also worth quoting from the Kelloggs web site (www.kelloggs.com) where this issue is addressed under the headline ‘putting sugar in perspective’.

Sugar in cereals — including kids’ cereals —contribute less than 5 percent of daily sugar intake. Yet it adds taste, texture and enjoyment to cereal, while encouraging the consumption of fiber, vitamins and minerals — essential nutrients that you and your kids might not otherwise get from any other meal.

The assumption that all breakfast cereals are loaded with sugars is simply not true: most shredded and many direct expanded extruded cereals have a very low sugars content, although admittedly many people would sprinkle a spoonful or two of table sugar onto them.

There are also low-sugars cereal brands aimed at the adult market, and these are very worthy, but seem unlikely to appeal to children!

I would argue that for children and adults a nutritious breakfast of cereal and milk including sugars is perfectly acceptable: the benefit of the nutritional content is worth the cost of the sugars. And, of course, there is the convenience aspect – so much less time consuming on a busy morning than any other breakfast option!

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