Just how healthy is that 'healthy' breakfast cereal?

Everyone knows that a good breakfast is an important start to the day, but if you believe a cereal is the healthiest option you may need to think again, as many so-called healthy breakfast cereals are it seems far from healthy.

The consumer magazine WHICH in Britain took a close look at what was on offer in Britain by way of breakfast cereals and discovered that some breakfast cereals are not as healthy as one might assume.

WHICH looked at 100 cereals available to consumers in Britain in January this year and found only eight were acceptable when it came to sugar content.

One hundred of the nation's top selling cereals were examined for fat, saturates, sugar and salt content and where possible the Food Standard Agency's (FSA) traffic light system was applied.

WHICH researchers also used the FSA's nutrient profiling scheme which is designed to determine which foods should and should not be targeting children through TV advertising - this applies to anything that scores too highly, for being low on nutrients and too high on calories, saturated fats, salt and sugars, is classed 'less healthy' and so advertising restrictions apply.

Two cereals aimed at children had a high salt content - Kellogg's Honey Loops and Kellogg's Rice Krispies as well as one from a supermarket 'healthy' range - Sainsbury's Be Good to Yourself Balance - Morrison's Honey Nut Corn Flakes have the same amount of salt per serving as a 50g portion of salted peanuts.

The researchers found that 46 of the cereals were over the government's salt targets for 2010, but eight products out of the 100 tested, got a red light for this, only 15 of the 100 received a green light.

Of the 100 cereals looked at 59 received a red light for sugar - almost half of these were aimed at children and Morrisons Choco Crackles had the most, 38.4g per 100g and only eight were given a green traffic light for low sugar.

Of cereals with added sugar and fruit sugar, 31 were found to have more than four teaspoons of sugar per portion and in 25 cases, this was purely down to added sugars rather than those from fruit and another 11 cereals appeared to be high in sugar, but it was unclear if the sugar was added or was from the fruit.

Fruit sugars contain the same number of calories and can contribute towards tooth decay but do also provide beneficial nutrients from the fruit.

Twenty two of the cereals aimed at children had more sugar per suggested serving than a jam doughnut and some which might be thought of as healthier options, such as Kellogg's All-Bran, Kellogg's Bran Flakes, and Kellogg's Special K, also had high-sugar levels.

Only three cereals had no added sugar - Nestlé Shredded Wheat, Grape-Nuts from Kraft and Nature's Path Organic Millet Rice Oatbran Flakes.

While none of the cereals were high in fat, most were also low in saturates but four were high in saturates - these were Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Bites, Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Clusters Milk Chocolate Curls, Kellogg's Crunchy Oatbakes and Mornflake Traditional Crunchy - these contain more saturates per serving than a Burger King hamburger.

Some breakfast cereals have higher levels of fat because of their nut content - nuts are rich in a wide range of nutrients and high in fibre, as well as being a good source of monounsaturated fats.

Compared with other common breakfast options two slices of wholemeal toast with a reduced fat spread and reduced sugar apricot jam provides half the sugar of the sweetest cereals, although the salt content from the bread is comparable to some of the saltier cereals per portion.

A smoothie made with low fat natural yoghurt and a cup of strawberries makes a low-fat, low-salt breakfast with only natural sugars and a boiled egg and slice of toast gives just a fraction of the sugar provided by many cereals.

Healthy claims for vitamins, minerals, wholegrain or fibre content are common on cereal boxes, but manufacturers rarely reveal that often, those cereals are also high in sugar, salt or saturates which brings into question just how healthy the cereals actually are.

All but two of the less healthy cereals made a health or nutrition claim and most of the high-sugar and high-salt cereals, had claims about their wholegrain or vitamins and iron content.

Several high-sugar cereals carry claims that they can help you lose weight and these include Kellogg's Crunchy Nut and Kellogg's Special K which involves having a bowl of the cereal for lunch or dinner - Sainsbury's Be Good to Yourself Balance is advertised as less than 3% fat which is good, but it is also high in both salt and sugar.

High-sugar Weetabix Minis Chocolate Crisp is claimed to have ingredients that can 'help you to concentrate' and 'fibre that helps to fill you up so that you are less likely to nibble, as well as to look after your digestive system'.

Weetabix Oatibix Bitesize Chocolate & Raisin contains prebiotics which, it's claimed, 'help keep tummies healthy' but is high in sugar.

Whole Earth Organic Corn Flakes carry a 'low fat, low saturates' claim and says 'feel free to indulge yourself' but is high in salt.

Nestlé's Almond Oats & More and Honey Oats & More say they will 'make it easier for you to stay healthy' but fail to explain how and three of the seven cereals with reduced fat claims were also high in sugar - these were Kellogg's Special K, Kellogg's Special K Sustain and Sainsbury's Be Good to Yourself Balance.

The researchers also found that many recommended portion sizes were smaller than people actually eat.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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