You probably wouldn’t serve your child a Twinkie for breakfast before he or she heads off to school. But some kids’ cereals pack the same sugary punch, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group. (How much sugar should kids eat?) The study investigated 84 popular children’s cereal brands and found that three-fourths of them failed to meet the federal government’s proposed guidelines on what makes food nutritious enough to be marketed to kids.
Video: How to Prepare Healthy Meals
Fifty-six of the cereals were more than 26 percent sugar by weight — the recommended max. In forty-four of the cereals, including adult favorites like Honey Nut Cheerios, one cup had the same amount of sugar as three Chips Ahoy cookies. And three of the cereals had more sugar than the dreaded Twinkie: 18.5 – 20 grams per serving to the Twinkie’s 17.
Sneaky Ways Sugar Hides in Your Food
Here are the EWG study’s top 10 sugar-bomb kids’ cereals, ranked by percent weight in sugar:
- Kellogg’s Honey Smacks: 55.6% sugar
- Post Golden Crisp: 51.9% sugar
- Kellogg’s Froot Loops Marshmallow: 48.3% sugar
- Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries: 46.9% sugar
- Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch Original: 44.4% sugar
- Quaker Oats Oh!s: 44.4% sugar
- Kellogg’s Smorz: 43.3% sugar
- Kellogg’s Apple Jacks: 42.9% sugar
- Quaker Oats Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berries: 42.3% sugar
- Kellogg’s Froot Loops Original: 41.4% sugar
Choose healthier foods—when you dine out, shop in the supermarket or eat at home—with the help of Eat This, Not That! 2012
So what cereals actually made the cut? These kid-friendly choices passed health guidelines for sugar, sodium, saturated fat and whole grain content:
- Kellogg’s Mini Wheats: Unfrosted bite-size, Frosted Big Bite, Frosted Bite-Size, Frosted Little Bite
- General Mills Cheerios Original
- General Mills Kix Original
The following big-name cereals aren’t considered kids’ cereals, but still might be good picks for the family breakfast table:
- Post Shredded Wheat (all varieties)
- Post Grape-Nuts Flakes
- Quaker Oats Oatmeal Squares Cinnamon
- Post Bran Flakes
- Post Honey Bunches of Oats with Vanilla Bunches
And if you really want to get high health marks, the study named the following 7 brands and flavors the best cereals. In addition to meeting nutritional guidelines, they’re also free of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients. Just don’t tell your tot that he’s eating something called “Buckwheat Granola Dates & Spices”!
- Ambrosial Granola: Athenian Harvest Muesli
- Go Raw: Live Granola, Live Chocolate Granola, and Simple Granola
- Grandy Oats: Mainely Maple Granola, Cashew Raisin Granola, and Swiss Style Muesli
- Kaia Foods: Buckwheat Granola Dates & Spices and Buckwheat Granola Raisin Cinnamon
- Laughing Giraffe: Cranberry Orange Granola
- Lydia’s Organics: Apricot Sun, Berry Good, Grainless Apple, Sprouted Cinnamon, and Vanilla Crunch.
- Nature’s Path Organic: Optimum Banana Almond, Optimum Cranberry Ginger, Corn Puffs, Kamut Puffs, Millet Puffs, and Rice Puffs.
Log meals, track your physical activity and transform your body with Fitbie’s Fit Tracker!
Unfortunately, it might be hard to get your kid to dump Toucan Sam and start loving granola. In addition to the powerful advertising behind kids’ cereal, studies have found that sugar is addictive and even stimulates the same brain responses as opiates. But it’s worth it to break the habit — kids who start the day with sugar have a harder time concentrating at school. Plus, an unhealthy breakfast can lead to weight gain and childhood obesity.
The Healthiest Budget Breakfasts
“Cereal companies have spent fortunes on convincing parents that a kid’s breakfast means cereal, and that sugary cereals are fun, benign, and all that kids will eat,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, who reviewed the report. “But kids should not be eating sugar for breakfast. They should be eating real food.”