How healthy are breakfast cereals?

How healthy are breakfast cereals?

Around one third of Britons say they eat cereal as a typical weekday breakfast. Originally invented as a digestive aid, cereal remains the nation’s go-to choice for breakfast – but at what cost to our health? Cereals and cereal packaging look like we are making healthy choices. Yet underneath the bold marketing blurb promising ‘healthy multi grains and vitamins’, the majority of supermarket cereals are jam-packed with tooth rotting sugar.

Blood sugars

Starting your day with a high-sugar breakfast cereal is no good for anyone – as you experience a spike in your blood sugar and insulin levels. Hours later, your blood sugar crashes and your body is craving another mid-morning, high-carb meal or snack. Research shows that excessive sugar consumption increases your risk of not just dental decay, but other serious conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So raising awareness and taking action to avoid a sugary start to your day really is important to your overall health and wellbeing.

At the Rewards Project, we advocate swapping breakfast cereals for sugar free options such as eggs, avocado, rye bread or salmon. Our 14-day sugar detox is packed with plenty of tasty breakfast suggestions.

The World Health Organisation says adults should consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar a day – around 25g. The most effective way to manage sugar intake is reading the nutrition label on the back of packaging – check for nutrients and sugar content per 100g.

When you compare brands, you’ll notice big variations in sugar content and with more in-depth knowledge, you’ll be able to choose the healthiest version. Experts say foods that are considered high in sugar have more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g – so avoid these. Conversely, foods low in sugar have less than 5g of total sugars per 100g.

Cereal Branded Tesco Sainsburys Waitrose Asda
Branflakes 14 13.6 12.4 10.8 12
Cornflakes 8 6.6 6.6 6.6 6.6
Rice Crispies 7.9 8.8 9.5 8.8 8.8
Weetabix 4.4 4.4 4.4 4.4 1.5
Cheerios 18 17 17.2 17 19
Frosties 37 28.5 34 29
Crunchy Nut 35 30.3 28.3 30
Coco pops 17 32.1 28 32
Fruit and Nut Granola 28.5 22.3 18.6 21.2 21
Swiss style Museli 21 16.4 19.3 19.1 14
Plain Porridge 1.1 1.1 1.1 1.1 1.1
Shredded wheat 0.7

To illustrate this clearly, The Rewards Project has collated a side-by-side comparison of the most popular breakfast cereals from leading brands and supermarket own brands to highlight how different brands offering similar products compare with overall sugar content. For example there is a large variance in sugar content between Tesco Coco Snaps 32.1g sugar/100g compared to Kelloggs Coco Pops 17g/100g – nearly 4 teaspoons of sugar difference. Fortunately, some big brands are responding to public awareness of sugar content in breakfast cereals by producing lower sugar versions such as Kelloggs recently reduced sugar content in Coco Pops by 30%, Cheerios has a low sugar option (4.7g/100g vs Cheerios Original 18g/100g), and Alpen Museli stipulates no added sugar (16g/100g vs 21g/100g)

Healthier alternatives

For those seeking healthier alternatives, choose breakfast cereals that contain whole grains and are lower in added sugars, fats and salt. Whole grain foods offer the added benefit of fibre and B vitamins with good examples such as:
• Porridge oats
• Wholewheat cereal biscuits / Weetabix
• Shredded wholegrain pillows / Shredded Wheat

Porridge is a great choice for a healthy breakfast, especially if unsweetened and using goats milk or water. You reap the benefit of whole grains fibre, plus no added sugar or salt. Overnight oats, which are prepared the night before and can be eaten hot or cold the next morning are delicious. Also try unsweetened almond milk as a sugar and dairy free alternative with some fresh fruit for some extra flavour.

Shredded whole wheat cereal with goats milk is the best choice of conventional breakfast cereals as it doesn’t contain any added sugar or salt, and is high in fibre. Avoid the ones with fruit fillings as they are likely to contain added sugar, or the ‘frosted’ variety which definitely contains added sugar. Adding fresh fruit such as banana or berries for sweetness is a delicious alternative.

Remember the bottom line is always check the label. Cereals marketed as “healthy” such as Branflakes, Cheerios and Museli have the same – if not more sugar than chocolate laden Kelloggs Coco Pops.

Some people just ditch the cereals, and go cold turkey. Another way to wean you off the sugary cereals is to cut down the lower sugar versions first. Switching to 50:50 also helps, for example half a normal bowl of Cheerios and half a low sugar version. Each day reduce the sugar version, until you are fully adapted to the low sugar version.

As soon as you lay off the sugary breakfast, you’ll quickly notice far more energy without the need for a mid-morning snack.

Thank you to Dentist Stewart Beggs for this blog.

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