Low-sugar Cereals Lead to More Balanced Meals


Children who eat low-sugar cereals for breakfast tend to make smarter nutritional choices than those who start the day with sweet-filled meals.

Children who are served low-sugar cereals are more likely to eat a nutritious, balanced breakfast—even if they add a little table sugar, according to a new study published in Pediatrics.

The American Heart Association has recommended that people of all ages reduce their intake of added sugars. And although ready-to-eat cereals offer some health benefits for children, the high-sugar products that are marketed extensively to children have raised concerns among many parents and physicians who believe that consuming these products contributes to unhealthy levels of added sugar in children’s diets.

In a recent study, Jennifer L. Harris, PhD, of Yale University, and colleagues tracked the breakfast habits of 91 children at a summer day camp to test whether children will consume low-sugar ready-to-eat cereals, and to determine the effects of serving high- versus low-sugar cereals on the consumption of cereal, refined sugar, fresh fruit, and milk.

Children were randomly assigned to receive a breakfast that included either the choice of one of three high-sugar cereals or low-sugar cereals, as well as low-fat milk, orange juice, bananas, strawberries, and sugar packets. Participants served themselves and completed a background questionnaire after eating; researchers measured the amount and calories consumed of each food.

Harris and colleagues found that children who were offered high-sugar cereals and those who were offered low-sugar cereals both said they “liked” or “loved” the cereal they ate. However, children in the high-sugar group ate larger portions of cereal, consuming almost twice as much refined sugar (24.4 grams) as those in the low-sugar group (12.5 grams), despite the fact that children who ate low-sugar cereals added significantly more table sugar to their bowls. They also found that children who ate low-sugar cereal consumed similar amounts of milk and total calories, and were much more likely to add fresh fruit to their cereal (54% compared to 8%).

The researchers concluded that children appear willing to eat low-sugar cereals, and that “parents can make these choices more appealing by adding a small amount of table sugar and/or fresh fruit,” they wrote. “This strategy could help reduce the amount of added sugar in children’s diets while also promoting a balanced first meal of the day.”

For more:

  • Effects of Serving High-Sugar Cereals on Children's Breakfast-Eating Behavior (Pediatrics)
  • Determining Creditability of Breakfast Cereals for Child Nutrition Programs (USDA)
  • Better cereal choices for kids? (Consumer Reports)
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