Why is it so difficult to find a breakfast cereal without added sugar? Even your basic, unadorned bran flakes have added sugar in them! And not just a small amount. While I’m sure there are commercial brands of cereal without sugar or some alternative sweetener, I’m struggling to find many (if any) on local grocery store shelves.
I’m not against sugar per se. It belongs in desserts and candy. I like some ice cream or frozen yogurt for dessert at times. And I sometimes enjoy a few slices of candied ginger after dinner. I even enjoy ginger marmalade on toast on rare occasions. But I don’t want candy for breakfast, and that’s what most of the cereals I’ve looked at appear to be.
I want to be able to control the amount of sweetness in my meals, not have it dictated by a corporation. Sugar content, like salt, is too important to our health to have others decide it for me. I’m an obsessive label reader for both sugar and salt content in packaged food, and for good reason: there’s too much of both in too many products.
I wasn’t always a breakfast eater. In fact, for most of my life, I’ve skipped both breakfast and lunch. At most I might have a banana or a cup of yogurt in the morning. A big breakfast for me was a couple of pieces of toast and peanut butter. Most of the time, I just skipped it. I only really started eating breakfast regularly recently, after my surgery and radiation treatment. I found that I needed the fibre and the probiotics to help restore my gut health (radiation played havoc on my bowels). So I started to look for simple, sugarless breakfast cereal for my daily consumption.
There are numerous brands of cereal posing themselves as “healthy” choices on the local grocery store shelves, but a quick look through the ingredients shows most of those I’ve looked at — with very rare exceptions — contain some form of added sugar, and often a lot of it. Doesn’t matter how they present it: honey, cane sugar, demerara, fructose, maltose, maple or agave syrup, beet sucrose, brown rice sugar, and molasses are all added sugar. Calling it organic doesn’t make any difference.
Far too many brands have an unacceptably high amount of added sugar. One study of fifty brands of popular breakfast cereal showed a range from 20.4 grams of sugar per 100 grams of cereal at the low end to a whopping 55.45 grams of sugar for 100 grams of cereal: more than half the content is sugar! Some brands have less sugar than the worst offenders, but less is a far cry from none.
Another survey of 25 brands showed sugar content from 21 to zero grams per serving (but did not identify serving size, which varies with brands). Best Health magazine suggested looking for less than 8g per serving (without identifying serving size) but didn’t identify which brands had that little (and recommended “steel-cut oats” as the best). The UK-based ActionOnSugar.org surveyed 77 brands of cereal available there and found “only two products surveyed were low in sugar AND salt.” The highest brand in sugar contained 40% sugar to cereal by weight.
The World Action on Salt and Health (WASH; now WASSH: World Action On Salt, Sugar and Health) examined 19 breakfast cereals from Kellogg’s, Nestle, and General Mills as sold in 29 different counties (national standards for ingredients vary worldwide). It found 58% of them had “high” levels of sugar (more than 22.5g per 100g serving, or about 6 TSP of sugar).
A recent study of 450 breakfast cereals and 578 yogurt brands in Ireland found,
“… only 13% of breakfast cereals and 24% of yogurts meeting the proposed ‘Healthier Choice’ criteria. This indicates a challenging food environment for consumers trying to make healthier eating choices.*
Some products were found to be exceptionally high in sugar, while others were extremely high in fat and saturated fat, so that some breakfast cereals were more like a crumbled biscuits and some yogurts were more like dessert.”
The zero sugar in that previous survey, by the way, was in Post Original Shredded Wheat (and their Shredded Wheat with Bran), and General Mill’s Fibre One. But the latter has sucralose, which is a sugar substitute. I don’t want to substitute one sweetener for another: I want NO sweeteners. I also believe some of the puffed wheat cereals have no added sugar, but I can’t find any sold locally.**
None of the surveys I’ve found looked at Dorset Cereals from the UK, which have several products with no added sugar (more below). And FYI, one gram of sugar per serving is equal to about one percent of the daily recommended intake; one teaspoon of sugar weighs about 4.26 grams (based on a recommended 2,000-calorie-per-day consumption)****
Admittedly most cereals are not being sold as health foods, but even at its lowest range, 20 grams is a fifth of the cereal: a helluva lot more added sugar than I want. The Kashi product line is marketed as a better alternative, but they recently told me on Facebook that none of their products is available without added sugar. Their GoLean cereal, for example, has 8g of sugar in a 52-gram portion, but the “crunch” version has 12g or almost 25 percent. I don’t consider that a better alternative.
Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal has five grams of sugar for a 34-gram serving size. Their All-Bran Buds has eight grams for a 28-gram portion. I am deeply disappointed: I had naively assumed that a product named “All-Bran” would be just that: all bran and nothing more. Turns out it has corn, barley malt, salt (and baking soda in the Buds version), and, unfortunately, added sugar: about 15% by weight, or about a teaspoon of sugar per serving. Their cornflakes have somewhat less: about one-half teaspoon per serving. Still, it’s more than I want.
Being the curmudgeon I am, I unrealistically want a simple, plain cereal without added sugar, something that can be poured right out of the box, and not require processing or cooking (like plain rolled or steel-cut oats or the original Cream of Wheat, both of which have no added sugars, but beware: the flavoured Cream of Wheat varieties have 10-11g of added sugar and same with the flavoured oats).
For sweetness, I can buy cereal with nuts or dates (or add them later), so I don’t want added sugar on top of that. I can also top it with banana, blueberries, or other fruit, so more (and especially processed-refined) sugar isn’t welcome.
I also top my cereal with plain kefir and often a dollop of flavoured yogurt. Milk products have intrinsic sugars in them (as much as 15g in a bowl of cereal with skim milk), so I don’t want to add more sugar on top of everything. Plus there are intrinsic sugars in nuts, raisins, and fruit (I like to add a small handful of blueberries to the cereal). I can get more than enough sweetness from intrinsic sugars. The combined kefir and yogurt add between nine and 12 grams of intrinsic sugar to my cereal, plus another two to five in the blueberries (a medium-size banana has about 15g of sugar).
Sure, sugars are part of the necessary, daily caloric intake, but should be restricted to ten or preferably less than five (5) percent of that, according to recent WHO standards. Five percent is still a lot of sugar: about 25 grams for an adult or six to seven teaspoons (based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet). The article continues:
To put it into context, five per cent would be about six teaspoons of sugar a day; a can of sugar-sweetened soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar… The recommendations relate to what are called free sugars — those added by manufacturers, cooks or consumers. And they abound in prepared foods.
Look at the breakfast cereal quantities mentioned above: many of them equal or exceed that recommended amount in a single serving. But there’s more:
According to Statistics Canada, in 2004, the average Canadian consumed 26 teaspoons of sugar per day. That works out to 40 kilograms per year —– or 20 bags. Experts say that amount should not exceed 13 teaspoons per day, if sticking to the 10 per cent benchmark.
Basically, one teaspoon of sugar is close to one percent of daily requirements. I personally don’t drink any soft drinks, even the “diet” types, and haven’t had one for many decades. I don’t even drink tonic water, even though I really like the bitter flavour, because it has around 27 grams of sugar in a single can! No G&Ts for me, unfortunately. No rum-and-Coke or even batangas, either. Anyway, I digress.
Dorset, which has become my favourite cereal of late, has seven different muesli products, four of which have no added sugar. Metro sells four of them, Freshco just the blue box (“simply delicious”) shown above. I’ve tried three of the four available locally, but find the blue box is the best. It still has 9 grams of intrinsic sugars (per 60g serving), mostly from the dried fruit (raisins and dates). More than enough to sweeten any cereal.
I personally would never eat anything with chocolate for breakfast, be it cereal or yogurt (yes, there are several available), and find the idea of chocolate in cereal gagworthy***. Yet surprisingly, the Dorset Dark Chocolate muesli has only 5g of sugar, although it weighs in at 240 calories compared to the 220 of Simply. But it includes added (cane) sugar, of course. Their highest sugar content is in the “classic fruit, nuts & seeds” variety, at 15g, again I suspect mostly from the dried fruit (raisins, chopped dates, sultanas, dried banana chips). Since it also contains cane sugar, I’ll never try it. At least I have four without added sugar to eat.
The Dorset Simply has 220 calories for a 60g serving. That is, admittedly, a bit higher than I really want, given that the kefir, yogurt, and fruit add more calories. But still, I like the texture and taste better than anything else I’ve tried. Over the next few months, I plan to do my own taste tests of those few other no-sugar-added cereals I can buy locally, to see how they compare. So there is more to come, then.
And, no, I didn’t get anything from the company to write this, am not on anyone’s payroll, and have never been paid as much as a penny for posting anything on this blog. I just wanted to pass along what I’ve learned about finding a good, no-sugar-added breakfast cereal.
* The criteria for “healthy choice” cereal in the Irish study included:
- Low fat: ?3 g of fat per 100 g of food
- Low saturated fat: ?1.5 g of saturated fat per 100 g of food
- Low sugar: ?5 g of sugar per 100 g of food
- Source of fibre: ?3 g of fibre per 100 g of food.
** I realize that my not finding a product does not mean a product is not sold here. It may have been out of stock when I visited. Or perhaps (as many less-popular products are), it is shelved on the lower shelves, closer to the ground, where a product easily disappears from the view of a standing shopper if the front package is removed. And older shoppers are unlikely to bend towards. I don’t know if this is a practice here, but in some stores, companies pay for prime shelf space and location, which pushes other companies’ products to less visible locations.
*** Why do so many companies put chocolate with peanut butter? It is impossible to find an ice cream that has peanut butter but no chocolate. It is an unpleasant pairing of flavours that gets subdued by egregious amounts of sugar to be even barely palatable.
**** The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends (emphasis added) “no more than 10% total calories per day from added sugars, and ideally less than 5%; that is, for an average 2,000 calorie-a-day diet, 10% is about 48 grams (or 12 teaspoons) of added sugars. One can of pop contains about 85% (or approx. 10 teaspoons) of daily added sugar.” Diabetes Canada notes (emphasis added):
It has been estimated that Canadians eat 110 grams of sugars per day (26 teaspoons or 21 per cent of total energy intake, based on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet). This included sugars from all sources including milk products, vegetables, and fruit as well as free sugars. This estimate varied across sub-groups. People with diabetes were estimated to consume 73 grams of sugar (18 teaspoons) per day. Teenage boys between 14 to 18 years consumed 172 grams daily (41 teaspoons). Almost half of the average daily sugar intake of children from 1 to 8 years old and adolescents from 9 to 18 years old came from beverages, specifically milk (20% and 14%, respectively) fruit juice (15% and 9% respectively), regular soft drinks (4% and 14% respectively), and fruit drinks (6% and 7% respectively). Milk was the primary source of sugar among children aged 1 to 8, but in those age 9 to 18, regular soft drinks ranked first. Beverages accounted for 35% of adults’ daily sugar intake.