Think kids need their Tony the Tiger, Toucan Sam, or Fred Flintstone to eat their breakfast in the morning? Most kids prefer eating the unhealthy sugary cereals that are heavily advertised on TV. A study conducted by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, though, showed that kids will be just as satisfied eating low-sugar cereals, increasing the overall nutritional quality of their breakfasts.
At a very young age, you learn that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Eating breakfast increases attentiveness at school and consumption of milk. Plus, most cereals today are fortified with a bunch of important micronutrients: iron, folic acid, Vitamin D, calcium. Parents fear that if they take away the high-sugar cereals, they take away breakfast entirely. And a sugary breakfast is better than no breakfast at all.
However, a study published in the December issue of Pediatrics suggested that children will still consume low-sugar cereals when offered. In this study, kids were randomly assigned into high- and low-sugar cereal groups, which offered participants 3 cereal options. The high-sugar cereals included Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, and Cocoa Pebbles, which contain 11 or 12 grams of sugar per serving. The low-sugar cereals, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, and Corn Flakes, contained only 1 to 4 grams of sugar per serving. Along with their choice of cereal, kids were also offered fresh fruit, low-fat milk, orange juice and sugar packets. They served themselves, adding sugar or fruit to their cereal when deemed necessary.
When the children were asked how much they liked all 6 cereals used in the study, not surprisingly, they liked the 3 high-sugar cereals significantly more (mean: 4.2 of 5) than the low-sugar cereals (mean: 2.7). However, after eating breakfast, children reported nearly equally liking both the high- and low-sugar cereals they chose (mean: 4.6 of 5 in the high-sugar condition and 4.5 in the low-sugar condition).
Including table sugar that kids added to their cereal, children who ate high-sugar cereals consumed nearly twice as much refined sugar compared with those who ate low-sugar cereals. While milk consumption was the same in both groups, kids in the low-sugar condition were more likely to add fruit and sugar to their cereal.
Both groups consumed nearly the same number of calories. However, the calories consumed for individual breakfast items differed significantly. In the high-sugar group, 25% of all calories (~94 calories) came from refined sugar, which only comprised 14% of calories in the low-sugar condition.
The bottom line: adding fruit or a even a little bit of sugar to low-sugar cereals can increase their appeal and make for a more nutritious breakfast. There is no battle between high-sugar cereals and no breakfast at all. The American Heart Association recommends that people reduce their sugar intake, and this is a simple, healthy way to start your day.