As a mum of two young children, I am concerned about how much sugar my kids eat. They certainly love anything sweet so I try to strike the right balance – everything in moderation.
Like salt, sugar is hard to keep up with. It is added to everything from bread, soft drinks, cereals to canned soup. Eating too much of it has disastrous effects on dental health and increases the risks of type 2 diabetes as well as being overweight or obese.
There were 14,445 admissions of children aged five and under between April 2014 and March the following year, and a further 19,336 cases of six- to10-year-olds having teeth taken out in hospital in the same period. More boys than girls were likely to have suffered from severe tooth decay. Source: The Guardian
By sugar here I mean free sugar, not the sugar naturally occurring in fruits, vegetables or milk, but the sugar that manufacturers add to products to make food more palatable or the sugar we add to cook or bake with.
I have to admit, until a few months ago, I was missing the bigger picture on sugar as I thought the problem only applied to white sugar and corn syrup. I was shocked (and sad) to learn that all syrups, molasses, brown sugar and even honey count as free sugars. Some syrups have more sweetening power than white sugar so you can add less. Yet beware of recipes labelled as “free of refined sugar”. These are not necessarily healthier, especially if they include large quantities of maple syrup or honey.
I came across this fantastic video by personal trainer Dan Sweeney which gives a very effective visual on how much sugar is hiding in some of the food we eat everyday. You can watch it below.
The latest UK guidelines recommend that free sugar should not make up more than 5% of the energy we get from food and drink each day. This comes down to:
- 19g of added sugar a day for children 4-6 (around 5 sugar cubes or 4 teaspoons)
- 24g of added sugar a day for children 7-10 (around 6 sugar cubes or 5 teaspoons)
- 30g of added sugar a day for adults (around 7 sugar cubes or 6 teaspoons)
While I was discussing sugar with my kids, the subject of cereals inevitably came up. “But look mum, Cheerios have 4 delicious whole grains AND the top of the box is all green. Surely these are good for you!” my son pointed out one morning. To his credit I had explained the traffic light labels to him (Green is good, Amber is average and Red is bad).
Unfortunately most brands do not include traffic light labels on their cereal box. Nestlé, for example, have gone for a blue theme instead, which unless you are a genius at label reading (a skill that is verging on post graduate education, the way manufacturers manipulate it), is pretty useless to us consumers.
Nestlé has however made sure Cheerios boxes (even the chocolatey version) all display a green banner at the very top. “For good nutrition . . . look for the green banner®!” the pack says! Am I the only one finding this statement misleading. Or does good nutrition only applies to whole grain as far as Nestlé is concerned, no matter how much sugar their cereals contain?
I decided to go on a breakfast cereal hunt, to find out which ones were good and which ones to avoid. The results of my little survey is detailed below:
A Healthier Choice
OK Most of the time
|All measures per 100g||5g or less||5g – 22.5g*||More than 22.5g*|
|Rude Health Multigrain Flakes||8.7g|
|Bear – Alpha Bites||10.1g|
|Eat Natural Crunchy Toasted Muesli, Nuts & Seeds||12.9g|
|Kellogg’s Special K||15g|
|Nestle Honey Nut Shredded Wheat||15.9g|
|Dorset Cereals Bircher Muesli Mix Almond & Honey||17g|
|Jordan Chunky Nuts||18.9g|
|Essential Waitrose – Multigran Hoops||19g|
|Rice Krispies – Multi grain Shapes||21g|
|Udi’s Gluten Free Granola Au Naturel||21.8g|
|Quaker Oats Granola||22.5g|
|Weetabix – Crispy Minis||23g|
|Kellogg’s Just Right||23g|
|Nestle Clusters Cereal||23.6g|
|Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n’ Fibre||24g|
|Nestle Honey Cheerios||24g|
|Nestle Golden Nuggets||25g|
|Nestle Nesquik Chocolate Cereal||25.2g|
|Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Clusters Honey & Nut||26g|
|Nestle Oats & More Almond||27.5g|
|Jordans Country Crisp With Flame Raisins||28g|
|Kellogg’s Krave Milk Chocolate||30g|
|Dorset Cereals Berries & Cherries Muesli||36g|
(*these value changed earlier this year. MEDIUM was 5-15g of sugar per 100g and HIGH was more than 15g of sugar per 100g)
I was stunned to find out how much sugar is added to some cereals, especially the ones directly marketed to children. My kids despaired looking at the results: “but everything we really like is red!” It’s no surprise some manufacturers shy away from using traffic light labels. No need to say the same goes for adults’ cereals. Leading to more confusion, the recommended portion sizes of 35-45g are also far smaller than what we actually eat.
Once again this is about moderation and balance. Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day. A daily bowl Coco Pops or Frosties is simply NOT a good option. On occasion, it can be an indulgence.
An empty calorie, that provide no vitamins and minerals, sugar is one of the worst kinds of fuel you can give your body. Too much sugar at breakfast impairs concentration, lead to hyperactivity and create mid-morning crashes. Not really what you are looking for before school or work.
Here are 6 easy ways to help reduce the amount of sugar and change your family breakfast routine:
- Serve porridge naturally sweetened with fresh fruit and dry fruit such as banana and raisins.
- Skip the sweet and eat a savoury breakfast 2 or 3 times a week. Avocado toast, eggs, burritos etc . . will keep you fuller for longer.
- Reduce sugar intake by making your own granola, muesli, smoothie, bread or low sugar muffins. You can find more breakfast recipes here.
- Switch to smaller cereal bowls to better control portion size
- Measure the sugar you add to food and drinks, instead of pouring sugar or honey.
- Download Change4Life SugarSmart app to help you keep track of how much sugar is included in every day products.