Is Your Cereal Part of a Balanced Breakfast or Just Dessert?

by Brooke on June 23, 2014

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Cereal has always been a fan favorite and an easy breakfast.  However, has our beloved cereal just been dessert all along?  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) just analyzed over 1,500 types of cereal and discovered that some of them even contained half their weight in sugar.

There is a lot of “added sugar” in most of the cereals consumed making them more of a dessert than part of a balanced breakfast.  Added sugars are sugars that are added to any food or beverage during the making of the product, but doesn’t include sugar that is already naturally found in foods like fruit (fructose) or milk (lactose).   A recent study conducted by Yang et al looked at the association between added sugar and cardiovascular risk.  Their results showed that most adults consumed 10% or more of their calories from added sugar.  They also discovered that adults that consumed 10% or more calories from added sugar compared to those who consumed less than 10% had an increased risk for cardiovascular disease mortality.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that men consume no more than nine teaspoons of sugar per day and women consume no more than six teaspoons of sugar per day.  Sugar is listed in grams on a cereal box not teaspoons.  So, to help put the AHA recommendations into perspective here is a chart showing how many grams of sugar are in five to ten teaspoons.

Teaspoons Grams
5 25
6 30
7 35
8 40
9 45
10 50


If a cereal contains 15 grams of sugar per serving that would be half the daily allotment for a woman and about one-third for a man.  AND that is only if one serving is consumed.  Most individuals don’t measure out their 3/4 cup of cereal serving.

Healthy Cereal Guidelines

  1. Try to choose a cereal that is not at a child’s eye level.  Most stores place the sweetest cereal (or dessert) at the eye level of children to increase purchases.
  2. Choose a cereal that contains 6 grams of sugar or less per serving.
  3. Look for a cereal with two or more grams of fiber to help fill you up and keep you fuller for longer.
  4. Check the ingredients list for the word “whole.”  The first ingredient should be something like whole wheat, whole grain, whole grain rice, etc.
  5. Measure out your cereal portion.  Don’t just eyeball it.  That could lead to an increase in your waistline.



Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound: Executive Summary. Retrived June 17, 2014, from  Environmental Working Group website:

Yang et al. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(4):516-524.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Dagny Kight July 1, 2014 at 12:56 pm

When I was thinking about my new website on low-income eating, I went to my neighborhood Jewel to wander the cereal aisle and look for a cheap breakfast. Maybe no one aisle in any grocery store is so packed with health halos than among the breakfast product sector! And a lot of it is quite expensive. From oatmeal bars to small cups of instant hot cereal at $1.50 each, convenience definitely comes at a price and nutrition is promoted as a premium.

Down at the end of the aisle are the bins of generic bagged cereal, marketed as the economical choice. Every variety is a generic of a sugar-based cereal such as frosted flakes. No plain puffed rice, not even corn flakes. Just big bags of cheap sugar-based calories.


Brooke July 1, 2014 at 3:11 pm

Thanks for sharing Dagny! Finding healthier cereal options is unfortunately a challenge and can be time consuming!


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