skip the sugar
More than just a balanced meal: Why it's important to start your kids' day witha healthy breakfast
Did you know that one in three children who graduate from elementary school are either overweight or obese? And, not surprisingly, many of these overweight graduates go on to become overweight adults. Obesity is such a public health menace that it’s now being called "the new smoking"; if something isn’t done soon, our kids will be the first generation of Americans who don’t live as long as us.
There is one very easy thing we can do right now that will start us on the journey to end to childhood obesity: stop feeding our kids high-sugar cereals for breakfast. A popular cereal tag line tells us that cereal is a “part of a complete breakfast,” but what it doesn’t tell us is exactly what a complete breakfast should contain: whole grains, low-fat protein, low-fat dairy and fruit, not marshmallows and cocoa powder.
Breakfast cereals may be a convenient popular choice for kids but, because many of these cereals are extremely high in sugar, they merely add “empty” calories. High-sugar cereals increase children's total sugar consumption and reduce the overall nutritional quality of their breakfasts. Foods high in sugar have been linked to obesity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, potential nutritional deficiencies can occur when kids eat cereal every day. Don’t be fooled by another cereal slogan, “fortified with 10 essential vitamins and minerals.” Most of them are, basically, junk.
At nearly 56 percent sugar by weight (we’re talking about 14 teaspoons of sugar), three popular children’s 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. A single serving of nearly 44 types of cereals, including Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Jacks and Cap’n Crunch, are equivalent to three Chips Ahoy cookies — they’re dessert for breakfast! Actually, it’s probably worse than that; after all, how many of us actually measure out our servings?
Childhood favorites, such as Fruit Loops and Cocoa Pebbles, have recently fallen under public fire in response to research led by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. The investigation focused on the marketing tactics that make kids desire a sugary start to each day. According to the Rudd findings, preschoolers view an average of 507 cereal ads that are designed to appeal to kids each year. The data clearly demonstrated that the least healthy cereals were the ones marketed most aggressively during primetime TV programming. And grocers don’t help the situation by putting this junk right at the kids’ eye level.
While picky eaters might threaten it's sugary cereal or nothing, making the switch might not be that difficult. Studies have found that kids will eat low-sugar cereals when offered and they do provide a superior breakfast option. Researchers suggest that low-sugar cereals will promote lower total sugar intake throughout the day; potentially a step in the right direction to lowering the risk of obesity among youth in the United States.
While the sugar content of the popular cereals is unlikely to change anytime soon (and TV will continue to advertise the junky ones), there are many 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. (If the low-sugar options don’t cut it, then try mixing high- with low-sugar brands of cereals and cut the sugar by 50%. For example, mix original Cheerios in equal parts with Honey-Nut Cheerios and cut the sugar content in half.)
Parents, let’s make sure we give our kids a healthy future. After all isn’t that what being a parent is all about?