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Environmental Working Group
With 20 grams of sugar per one-cup serving, Kellogg's Honey Smacks has more sugar than a Twinkies snack cake, which has 18 grams of sugar.
By TODAY diet and nutrition editor
updated 12/7/2011 9:57:33 AM ET 2011-12-07T14:57:33

Breakfast is a healthy start to everyone’s day, and it’s especially important for children and their school performance. Nothing could be easier than a bowl of cold cereal and milk. While we’re all aware that some popular cereals contain whopping amounts of sugar, a new report by the Environmental Working Group reviewed 84 popular brands, and revealed some eye-popping comparisons of the sugar content with some popular cookies and snack cakes.

At nearly 56 percent sugar by weight, three cereals (Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, Post Golden Crisp, and General Mills Wheaties Fuel) weigh in with 20 grams of sugar in a skimpy one cup serving. That’s a whopping five teaspoons of sugar — roughly the same as one Twinkie snack cake. And with today's oversized cereal bowls, a typical serving size is likely to be double that amount, or closer to two cups.

A single one-cup bowl of an additional 44 cereals, including the popular Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Jacks and Cap’n Crunch, are equivalent to eating three Chips Ahoy cookies — about three teaspoons of sugar.

While the sugar content of these popular cereals is unlikely to change anytime soon, there are a lot of tasty lower sugar options to choose from. These include Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats (frosted or unfrosted), General Mills’ original Cheerios and Kix, Post Shredded Wheat (all varieties), and Quaker Oats Cinnamon Oatmeal Squares. I’ve also got some easy ways to include some of your child’s favorites without a sugar overload.

Read back package labels (not the front!): Don’t be fooled by the front of the box nutrition claims. Look at the nutrition panel on the back, and make your own decision. Grams of sugar per serving doesn’t connect with most people, so translate this into teaspoons of sugar by dividing the sugar grams on the label by four. A cereal with 20 grams of sugar contains 5 teaspoons of sugar. And skip the “good source of whole grains” on the front; instead, look for three grams of fiber per serving, found on the back.

Cut the sugar in half by mixing with low-sugar cereals: Many brands of cereals contain a low-sugar “basic” with higher-sugar product. Mix original Cheerios in equal parts with Honey-Nut Cheerios, and cut the sugar by 50 percent. This works for any high/low combination of cereals.

Add some fresh, frozen or dried fruit to low-sugar cereals: Boost the nutrients and provide nature’s sweetness by adding fruit to a low-sugar cereal. For pricey berries, try frozen bagged fruits like blueberries, or strawberries, two kid-friendly options.

Use the high sugar cereals as a dessert: Portion out a single serving (about 1 cup) in a small bag for your child to enjoy as a treat or dessert, instead of a cookie or other treat.

And remember to choose low fat or non-fat milk, or soy milk (if there is a health reason for excluding dairy). These are calcium- and vitamin D-rich options — important for kids of all ages.

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