Unhealthy cereal under fire
Cereal is a real point of contention when it comes to health. On one hand whole grains can be very nutritious and beneficial to heart health, fibre can combat hunger and support digestive transit whilst milk provides an essential first hit of daily protein, calcium and vitamin D. Others would argue that the combination of processed high GI carbohydrates combined with milk is a huge dietary mistake resulting in an early morning blood sugar spike and crash as well as indigestion as different enzymes battle breakdown these different foods. Also the suggestion that to eat only Special K for weeks in order to loose weight has anything to do with health can often be enough to make most nutritionists blood boil. However it is the hot topic of sugar content which has once again put cereal in the firing line.
Following the 2012 Which? Breakfast Cereal Report which revealed worryingly high amounts of free sugars in 50 breakfast cereals, three years on, a new survey by Action on Sugar has surveyed the same 50 products and revealed that cereal manufacturers have made little attempt in tackling the issue – shockingly, certain products even contain more sugars than they did in 2012.
One bowl (30g) of Aldi’s Harvest Morn Choco Rice with 39g sugar/100g is almost half of the draft 25g maximum adult daily intake of free sugars, i.e. 3 teaspoons of sugar and the equivalent of 7 ½ Cadbury Fingers.
Alarmingly the cereals with the highest sugar content have not responded to the calls for less sugar, and have either increased or stayed the same since 2012.
Some products have improved by lowering their sugars content. The largest reductions included Aldi’s Harvest Morn Crunchy Honey Nut Corn Flakes with a 19% reduction from 34.4g to 28.0g/100g and Honey Monster Puffs (previously Sugar Puffs) with a 17% reduction from 35.0g to 29.0g/100g.
There is no reason why cereals that are high in sugars can’t be reduced as there are identical products with less sugar. For example:
- Sainsbury’s Honey Nut Corn Flakes (36.3g/100g) contains 43% more sugars than Lidl’s Crownfield Corn Flakes Honey & Peanuts (20.8g/100g).
- Kellogg’s Special K (with 17g/100g) contains 36% more sugars than Lidl’s Crownfield Special Flakes Rice & Wheat (10.9g/100g).
There have been notable achievements among food manufacturers in reducing salt content since the 2012 survey, with the likes of Lidl’s Crownfield Corn Flakes coming down by 1.02g/100g (60%) and Simply M&S Cornflakes coming down by 0.45g/100g (36%). All cereal manufacturers are being asked to follow their success with reducing salt, which has lowered the nation’s blood pressure, and to reduce sugars.
Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar says:
“One of the greatest failures in tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic is the governments’ appeasement of the food industry; we cannot allow this to go on any longer. The so-called ‘Responsibility Deal’, which allows the food industry to regulate themselves (a likened to ‘Dracula being put in control of the blood bank’), has clearly failed. It’s time for it to be scrapped."
Cereals fight back
It may well be that food producers have got the message and are beginning to alter their approach to appeal to the more health aware family unit. Innova Market Insights found that three quarters of all breakfast cereal launches between October 2013 and October 2014 featured some kind of health perspective, increasing to as much as 94% in markets such as Australia. It claimed that the “proliferation of relatively high-sugar products” was being broken by breakfast cereals’ traditionally healthy image.
Innova found that 65% of cereals being introduced to market featured claims about their wholegrain or fibre content levels – by far the two most popular health positions taken. It added that 10% of cereal launches claimed to be a source of protein, nearly 8% said that they would improve heart health, and 7% boasted mineral or vitamin fortification. Claims relating to improved weight management, energy or alertness, and digestive health were also popular.
Lu Ann Williams, director of innovation at Innova, said:
“There is a growing interest in products featuring a more general health or multi-benefit positioning, running alongside the wide range of health benefits now associated with many breakfast cereals. This is exacerbated by regulatory restrictions on claims in some regions, including North America and the EU.”
The research said that Cheerios’ expansion of its protein line, which followed the launch of new protein options in to the company’s Fiber One range, highlighted the trend. It also pinpointed the growing popularity of granola and muesli products in a number of global markets.