by Marion Nestle
Jun 23 2014

Annals of marketing: Protein cereals

Hoping to cash in on the current protein craze, General Mills has come up with this (thanks to Kasandra Griffin of  Upstream Public Health in Portland, OR,  for sending):



Cheerios Protein has 7 grams of protein per serving.  But it also has 17 grams of sugars.

I use sugars, plural, for good reason.  Here’s the ingredient list:


In case you can’t read this: Whole grain oats, cluster (whole grain oats, brown sugarsoy protein, lentils, sugar, corn syrupnatural flavor, molassesrice starch, caramel (sugar, caramelized sugar syrup), salt, calcium carbonate, baking soda, color added, BHT added to preserve freshness), sugarcorn starch, honeysalt, refiner’s syruptripotassium phosphate, rice bran and/or canola oil, color added, natural flabor, brown sugarvitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT added to preserve freshness.

A trip to the supermarket also turned up these:

This one has 16 grams of sugars.

And here’s another.  This one only has 7 grams of sugar per serving.  How come?  Sucralose!

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets.

This is about marketing, not health.

I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.

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  • pawpaw

    My students do detailed food diaries. A significant number are eating only 7-10% protein per day, to their surprise. Which is below the CDC guidelines at your link. Due to chicken nuggets and other processed foods which are mostly carbs, though the name implies more protein. And due to their (misguided?) fear of meat/sat fat. 70-80% carbs, mostly processed, is the bulk of these students’ calories. I agree with you that sugared foods are marketed in all manner of creative ways. But so are breadings, another form of processed carbs. When breakfast meats, eggs and dairy are frowned upon, what to do for adequate protein at breakfast? Enter high PROTEIN, breakfast cereals…
    Eat whole foods!

  • Nate

    The CDC website says that we should be getting between 10%-35% of our daily energy as protein, but fails to mention that protein needs are actually based on a percent of an individual’s body mass, the RDA being 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day. Sadly, the CDC website also presents a one-size-fits-all approach, suggesting, for instance, that an American male age 19+ years needs 56 grams of protein. Well that’s true, for a sedentary man who happens to weigh 154 lbs (70 kg). If that man is physically active, his protein needs could be as high as 140 grams per day. I happen to not be an average American male, (physically active and nearly 280 lbs) so my protein needs will be considerably different than what the CDC website recommends for that man nearly half my size. I understand your concern with the sugar content and marketing of these cereals, but please at least give your readers a link to a more nuanced and widely applicable set of information than what the CDC provides. You could also mention that Americans still retain the power to choose not to buy these cereals.

  • Hattie

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, most cereals are absolutely full of sugar and this is just another marketing tactic companies use to trick people into thinking they’re being very healthy by eating this, when in fact it’s very unhealthy! By eating sugar fuelled cereals, people are setting themselves up for sugar cravings for the rest of the day. I agree that this sort of food should be completely avoided and people should be eating whole foods.

  • K. Paris

    Five ways to determine protein requirements. Option number 2 skips the “one size fits all” approach.

  • StellaBarbone

    Are eggs, lean breakfast meats and low-fat dairy really frowned on?

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  • David Martin

    I quit eating cereal a while ago and it really helped me improve my day. Replacing it with something like Oatmeal has always seemed to help me get off on the right foot.

    I don’t believe that sugars are completely bad, but I definitely don’t think putting that much sugar in your body every morning can be good for you.

  • Wow, this is appalling! I don’t believe I even tasted Cheerios, and for a good reason.

  • Larry Karp

    I have to agree with an earlier comment regarding oatmeal. Add some seasonal fresh fruit, and throw in a few walnuts for an extra boost of protein if you don’t drink milk. The cereals’ ingredients lists are ridiculous.

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  • TR

    Oatmeal is a cereal.

  • TR

    You are referring to the glycemic crashes that one sets themselves up for when they eat refined carbohydrates.

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  • Toon

    Hi everyone sorry to disturb but PLEASE help complete the survey below for my Masters dissertation about ===Shockvertising’: A Case Study of PETA’s Advertising and the Effects on Consumers===


  • Againstthegrain

    Wow, I didn’t think CIAB (Crap-In-A-Box, Bag, or Bottle) could be made any worse, but I was wrong, so wrong.

    I’ll stick to eggs for breakfast.

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  • David Martin

    Hahahaha how embarassing.

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  • Most industrial products today are destroying the healthy life of people. TV commercials polluted them people’s minds.

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