Low-sugar cereals not the diet answer after all

Silly rabbit, those new low-sugar cereals may be for kids, but the trick is on all of us.

Parents who believed that reduced-sugar cereals were an answer to their prayers received a rude awakening recently when scientists announced that there is zero nutritional advantage to the lower sugar versions of popular sweetened breakfast cereals. For households seeking healthier alternatives and an ally in the battle against the growing obesity trend, that’s a shame. With 90 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 12 regularly eating cereal, manufacturers clearly missed an opportunity to make meaningful dietary improvements to their products.

Unless you’re on a serious diet, taking time to read the nutrition labels on products you purchase might seem like a waste of energy. This recent development proves that it isn’t. Consumers who took the time for a side-by-side comparison of the reduced sugar cereals to their original versions quickly realized that there was virtually no difference in calorie count, carbohydrates or fat content.

Those who failed to read the small print may have felt a bit misled by the large, front-of-the-box print touting “1/3 less sugar” and in some cases even “75 percent less sugar.” Assuming that these new versions were somehow healthier, consumers began scooping up boxes and dropping them into their grocery carts. New and improved is a classic marketing ploy, and a lot of us fell for it. While sales of traditional cereals have been dropping, sales of the reduced-sugar option accounted for nearly $357 million in an industry raking in $6.2 billion each year. We can only hope that the cereal makers are paying attention to this growing demand for healthier alternatives. Replacing sugar with refined carbohydrates isn’t the answer.

It’s evident that the obesity problem has reached epidemic proportions and we can’t lay all of the blame on Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes and Cocoa Puffs. Parents and kids need to take ownership of their diet and activity levels, and stop expecting someone else to provide a magically delicious solution to the problem. With health care costs escalating and experts predicting a lower life expectancy for our children, now isn’t a moment too soon.

Savvy consumers need to do more than follow their nose in the cereal aisle, they need to engage their eyes and brains and make informed choices for their families. While these new lower-sugar breakfast cereal versions may taste g-r-r-reat to kids, you’re cuckoo if you believe they’re healthier.

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