by Marion Nestle
Dec 21 2011

Keeping up with the cereal news

Sugary breakfast cereals are a hard cell these days, and marketers are getting increasingly creative.

Item: The Cornucopia Institute’s investigative report on “Natural” cereals warns consumers that “natural”—a term with no regulatory meaning—is marketing hype.  “Natural” is not the same as Organic.  “Natural” cereals have all kinds of things not allowed in Organic cereals.  It’s best not to confuse them.

Item: Researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity report in Public Health Nutrition that the households in their study tended to buy cereals advertised directly to children 13 times more frequently than non-advertised products, and that African-American and Hispanic families were most likely to buy cereals advertised directly to children. 

Item: The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) reports that General Mills is using claims about whole grains to distract consumers from the sugar content. 

The company’s claim of “More Whole Grain Than Any Other Ingredient*” comes with an asterisk.  This goes to the disclaimer “*as compared to any other single ingredient.”

PHAI suggests taking a look at the General Mills’ web page about sugar.  This says that “Ready-to-eat cereals account for a relatively small amount of a child’s daily sugar intake.”

General Mills compares plain Cheerios (1 gram of sugar per serving) to Trix (10 grams of sugar per serving ), and asks:

From a calorie and nutrient standpoint, are both products a good breakfast choice?

The answer:  “Yes, they are. In fact, all General Mills cereals are lower calorie, nutrient dense choices.

From a calorie and nutrient standpoint, are both products a good breakfast choice?

Yes, they are. In fact, all General Mills cereals are lower calorie, nutrient dense choices.

From the standpoint of nutritionism (judging a product by its nutrient content), Cheerios is a better-for-you choice.

But both are highly processed cereals, thereby raising that same old philosophical question: is a somewhat better-for-you processed food necessarily a good choice?

A good question to ponder as you wander down the cereal aisle.


  • Dan
  • December 21, 2011
  • 9:14 pm

The biggest question is , why anyone want to eat that processed to death , factory manufactured , counterfeit , lab vitamin , nasty chemicals loaded industrial products?
It’s so bogus it sweetened by liquid satan instead sugar.

It should also be pointed out that “organic” especially when it comes to processed cereals is not a synonym for “healthy”. If you are going to choose the occasional processed snack, better that its organic, but that is mostly for its impact on the environment than your health.

  • Linda
  • December 21, 2011
  • 11:23 pm

1 cup of cheerios = 22.4 grams of carbohydrates.
1 cup of Trix = 27 grams of carbohydrates.
They are both garbage.

[...] claims to “distract” consumers from the sugar content of their cereals.  (Thanks to Marion Nestle for calling attention to the article.) Exhibit [...]

  • john
  • December 23, 2011
  • 3:09 pm

Of course it’s better for you, just like getting hit in the head with a brick twice is better than three times.

  • Doug
  • January 9, 2012
  • 11:27 am

When I saw this on my kid’s cereal, my first reaction was that General Mills had increased the amount of Whole Grain in its cereals.

Psychologically, I thought, “Great, now I can feel a little bit better about buying this cereal.”

Nope. Just restating the obvious from the ingredient label.

So, I should feel better that there are more oats than sugar? But possibly not more oats than sugar, corn syrup, corn meal and brown sugar syrup combined?

What a worthless, dishonest marketing gimmick.

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