When I was a kid, there was a simple rule in our house when buying cereal: sugar couldn’t be the first ingredient in the list.
This led to cereals being lumped into two groups. There were “sugar cereals” and “all others”. Looking back, this seems laughable, but it kept the peace. My siblings and I became masters, however, at gaming the system. We knew the ingredient list of every cereal and could quote you – at length – lists of cereals that passed the test yet still seemed awfully sweet to us.
We have no such rule in our house today, partially because my wife and I are tyrants and just don’t allow some cereals even to be debated. Plus, no cereals seems to have sugar as the number-one ingredient anymore. So I assumed they were all just healthier.
Boy, was I wrong:
To critics, every bowl of Cap’n Crunch is a sweet, crunchy example of all that is wrong with America’s food system. Some brands feature whole grains, few chemical additives, and relatively tame amounts of sugar, but as a category, many breakfast cereal brands fall toward the calorie-dense, nutrient-poor end of the spectrum. Consumer Reports found that 11 popular brands are more than 40 percent sugar by weight, and even brands that at first glance may seem relatively healthy include some surprises in the fine print of their nutrition labels. For example, one cup of Cascadian Farms Organic Oats and Honey Granola contains 348 calories and the same amount of sugar (19 grams) as a standard-sized Hershey bar; once you add a half cup of 2 percent reduced fat milk, it has roughly the same amount of fat (11.5 grams) as a McDonald’s Cheeseburger.
I guess the cereal companies are good at gaming the system, too.
I’ve always been a skeptic of menu-labeling as obesity prevention, especially since there’s no guarantee it will work well in practice. But this just appalls me. Honestly, I’d rather have that cheeseburger than a bowl of granola. I’m eating the cereal because I thought it was healthier.
There’s got to be some way to make this more transparent, in a way that will make sense to people.