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Cereal, with a heaping of sugar

We don't tend to equal cereal with junk food, but if we take a closer look at the sugar content of many cereals, we will likely change our minds. According to a new report from the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), on average children's cereals contain 10.4 grams of sugar (2.6 teaspoons) per serving, with sugar providing a whopping 34 percent of the calories. Thus, eating children's cereal is like having two or three cookies for breakfast, or a Hostess Twinkie!

Adult cereals did not fare much better, averaging more than 7 grams of sugar per serving, supplying nearly 20 percent of the calories; and those "healthy" granolas? They contain slightly more sugar than children's cereal.

This is important information to know as more and more studies reveal just how bad sugar is for us, and how much of it we actually eat. Americans on average consume about 90 grams of added sugar (22 teaspoons) a day. Food regulators (in Canada as well) are working to put out guidelines of how much sugar we should be eating, and it is much less than 90 grams per day. For example, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a strict limit of 25 grams of added sugar for the average woman, 37.5 grams for the average man, and just 3 to 4 teaspoons a day for children.

So how can we make sensible cereal choices? First of all, we need to look at the nutritional label on the back of the box and ignore the nutrient claims on the front, as they are put there to distract us from focusing on the unhealthy sugar content. Cereals made from unsweetened whole grains are the best option, and those with no more than 4 to 6 grams of sugar per serving (a hard task to find as I found out! I was pretty much left with a choice of All Bran or Wheetabix cereals). We also need to pay attention to the serving sizes. The average person pours 30 percent more cereal than the listed serving size! Hot cereals are another good option. They have the least amount of sugar (less than 6 grams of sugar on average per serving), although beware the flavored ones have slightly more sugar (8 grams per serving).

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