EXCLUSIVE: The 'healthy' looking cereals that are anything but

The ‘healthy’ looking cereals that are anything but – so how bad is YOUR favourite?

  • A MailOnline audit found some ‘healthy’ cereals have 12g of sugar per portion
  • For comparison, a 40g serving of Coco Pops, a family favourite, has just 6.8g 

They’re branded as healthy alternatives, with claims of being high in fibre or packed with vitamins on their packaging. 

Yet experts are warning they can be packed with sugar, which increases the risk of tooth decay and weight grain. 

MailOnline looked at 12 cereal brands found that some of Britain’s bran flakes, muesli and granolas, many of which carry health claims on the packaging, such as being made with wholegrains and containing no artificial ingredients. 

But some actually have nearly twice as much sugar as Kellogg’s Coco Pops. 

The worst offenders, all with 12g of sugar per 40g serving, are Kellogg’s Sultana Bran, Naturya Breakfast Boost Superberries and Mornflake Crispy Muesli Fruity.

A MailOnline audit found that some of Britain’s healthier-looking cereals, many of which are listed as such in supermarkets, actually have higher sugar levels than the likes of coco pops

The high sugar content can be explained, in part, due to the dried fruit in these breakfast options, such as sultanas, goldenberries and goji berries.

These are high in natural sugar — that found in fruit, vegetables and milk.

While the NHS does not set a limit on the amount of natural sugar an adult should have per day, it can still lead to blood sugar spikes, and, over time, weight gain and tooth decay.

But it says they should consume no more than 30g of free sugars — around seven sugar cubes — which are those added to food and drinks, or found in items such as honey, fruit juice and smoothies.

And the daily recommended free sugar intake for children aged seven to 10 is 24g.

Food manufacturers are not required to break down how much of the sugar content in their product is natural or added.

Other high-sugar breakfast options sold in UK supermarkets include Nature’s Path Pumpkin Granola, Mornflake Crunchy Granola Original and Waitrose Free From Granola.

Each contains 10 to 11g of sugar per 40g portion. 

For comparison, a 40g serving of Coco Pops has just 6.8g of sugar. But that is all added sugar.

A bowl of Nature Path’s Nice and Nobbly Berries Granola has the same amount of sugar as a bowl of Oreo O’s cereal — chocolate and vanilla flavoured hoops and discs — which has 10.8g. 

READ MORE: Most calorific beers REVEALED amid calls for nutritional info on beer taps 

Dr Duane Mellor, one of Britain’s leading dietitians, said that often the high sugar content in cereal comes from syrups — which he said are added to stop it from becoming soggy in milk.

‘Too much of this free or added sugar is not great as it can increase the risk of tooth decay and has been associated with higher energy intakes which can lead to weight gain and increased risk of weight related conditions,’ he added.

But Professor Gunter Kunle, an expert in nutrition at the University of Reading, said: ‘There is always the question [of] whether there is “healthy” and “unhealthy” sugar.

‘For the body, the source of the sugar doesn’t really matter, but it can make a difference whether it is absorbed rapidly or not.’

However, he added: ‘Sugar embedded in a complex matrix — such as e.g. in many fruits — might be absorbed much more slowly which is generally considered to be better and healthier.’ 

Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a dietitian and diabetes educator who has been published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, offered some advice on what to look out for when choosing a cereal.

She said: ‘My advice would be to choose plainer cereals, or those labelled as “no added sugar”.

‘If sweetness is needed, add either fruit or one of the 11 non-sugar sweeteners approved for use in the UK, for example natal stevia or Xylitol — both of which are virtually calorie free and do not compromise dental health. 

‘Breakfast cereals vary greatly when it comes to their nutritional quality, and as a dietitian I often tell people to look at the ingredients list, rather than the nutrition label. 

‘This is because you can see clearly what exactly is in the box, starting with the biggest ingredient.’

Rosie Martin, an NHS staff dietitian and advisory board member at plant-based health professionals, recommended wholegrain cereals.

She said: ‘A bowl of steel-cut or rolled oats as hot porridge or overnight oats will provide different types of healthy fibre, as well as beta-glucan which can help lower your cholesterol.’ 

A Kellogg’s spokesperson said: ‘Since 2011, Kellogg’s has removed 11,000 tonnes of sugar from the diet of consumers, and reduced salt by 60 per cent. We still offer a broad range of cereals to meet our shoppers’ needs, whether that’s an indulgent cereal for a treat or a family breakfast cereal that’s low in sugar.

‘Many of our cereals, including Coco Pops, Special K Original, Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes are classed as non-high in fat, salt and sugar (non-HFSS) using the Government’s own nutrition standards.’

A Waitrose spokesperson said: ‘We’re committed to reducing sugar across our products without compromising on taste or quality.

‘We’ve already reduced sugar across our range of breakfast cereals by 20 per cent and sell a number of “no added sugar” options. We have traffic light labelling on all our breakfast cereals so our customers can make an informed choice.’ 

A Weetabix spokesperson said: ‘We’re proud that the overwhelming majority of our sold products – 99 per cent – do not contain high levels of saturated fat, sugar or salt. 

‘We also want consumers to make informed choices about our cereals, so all of them feature clear traffic light nutritional labelling on their packaging.

‘We’ve made good progress in improving the nutritional profile of our products over the past few years but won’t stop there, we’re committed to exploring ways to further reduce sugar while preserving the taste that makes Weetabix high fibre, nutritious cereals so popular with consumers.’ 


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