“Healthy” cereals a large source of sugar for UK consumers, survey finds

636742380954161531woman eating cereal.jpg

04 Oct 2018 --- UK consumers often consume more than a kilo of sugar a week – 238 teaspoons – much of which is from unknown sources, according to a study by consumer watchdog Behind the Label. The researchers sought to identify some of these sources; starting with cereal. The Behind the Label experiment, run by Wren Kitchens, previously looked into the contents of some of the nation’s favorite processed foods, but now it has widened its net to explore how much cereal the average UK consumer eats, and how sugar-laden the quantities are.

The study found that 63 percent of consumers consider breakfast cereals a regular part of their diet. However, just over half were able to recognize cereal as a processed food, often with added sugars in the form of dextrose, molasses and glucose syrup.

The average bowl of cereal poured by participants for breakfast weighed 73 grams, which is over double the most common guideline of 30g.

Click to Enlarge
The image depicts the recommended portion size of each of the eight
cereals in the study.

Special K Original, which is positioned on a healthy platform, was found to be the cereal which participants poured the largest portion size of with the average bowl weighing 93g – over triple that of the guided portion size.

“The concern with products that are often seen as “healthier alternatives,” is they don't always match up to their reputations. Additionally, there is a danger that people may consume more of a product if they consider it to be “healthier.” As a nutritionist, I've seen this first hand in weight loss clinics where clients may eat even as much as double a portion size of a product if it's perceived to be healthy,” Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reeds says.

The increase in portion sizes led to steep sugar levels. The average portion of Special K Original was 351 calories, and 14 grams of sugar –more than an Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut which has 12.6 grams.

The average bowl of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut poured was 78g (over double the guided portion size) which brings the bowl’s sugar content to 28.46g (over 7 cubes of sugar) and the equivalent of nearly 2 and a half Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. 

Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Granola has the highest sugar content based on the guided portion size (12g to every 45g portion). However, the average bowl poured throughout the experiment was nearly double this (82g), making the average bowl 389 calories and 21.84g of sugar (over 5 cubes).

Alpen Original has one of the highest sugar contents among the cereals within the experiment with the average portion poured nearly double that of the guided portion size (82.5g to the guided 45g) – meaning the average portion contains 17.4g of sugar and 308 calories – the same sugar as nearly one and a half Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Although some of the sugar in Alpen Original is naturally occurring within the raisins, sugar is added to the ingredients.  

The sugar sweet spot?
A previous survey by Behind the Label identified that just over 1 in 3 British consumers (36 percent) say they track their sugar intake – with less than a quarter (24 percent) monitoring “free sugar” or “added sugars.”

Click to Enlarge
The average bowl of cereal poured weighed 73 grams,
which is over double the most common guideline of 30g. The image shows how
much sugar is in each 73 gram portion in sugar cubes.

Free sugars are thought to be more harmful than naturally occurring sugars from fruits or dairy as they are often added to foods alongside sugars that occur naturally.

However, nutrition labels in the UK only show the total sugar in the product, meaning it’s difficult to assess how many added sugars a product might contain. The researchers further point out that added sugars are often labeled under an array of terms of food packaging, including high fructose corn syrup, glucose, nectars, sucrose, fruit juice concentrate and molasses.

Sugar can sneak into products without consumers taking notice. A recent survey published in the BMJ highlighted that fewer than 9 percent of products surveyed contained less than the 5g of sugar per 100 grams threshold required to be classed “low sugar” and carry a green “traffic light” nutritional label in the UK.

This study similarly identified that products that are perceived as healthy, such as yogurt and certain cereal brands, may be a large unrecognized source of free/added sugars in the diet.

Our sister website FoodIngredientsFirst reported on Behind the Label’s previous investigation into the lack of meat in some processed foods and what UK consumers think is classified as “ultra-processed products.” You can read the full article here.   

By Laxmi Haigh

To contact our editorial team please email us at editorial@cnsmedia.com

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