Take a second look before picking cereal because those marketed to children are often high in sugar.
Food giant General Mills is reducing sugar in cereals advertised to children to single-digit grams per serving. According to their press release, the initiative is in place and progress made with continuing reductions “until single-digit levels are reached on all cereals advertised to children.”
“As a leader in our industry, I think they’re doing the right thing,” says UIC professor and director of cariology Christine Wu.
Diets high in sugar feed bacteria that produce acids in the mouth, which in turn cause cavities. Although milk has been argued to neutralize the acid, sugary cereals stay acidic with or without milk, according to Wu.
“The important thing is to brush your teeth after eating sugar,” says Wu. She recommends treating sugary cereals like any sugary snack.
Apple juice, pop, and anything high in sugar subject your mouth to “acid attacks,” eventually eroding enamel and causing cavities. Wu says sugar substitutes are good alternatives but still acidic.
“The decision to decrease to single digits is significant to General Mills,” says Marlene Schwartz, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Yet, she believes the change is “not close enough.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 12 grams of sugar for children 4-8 years old.
“I wouldn’t want to see parents thinking of these cereals as low-sugar cereals,” says Schwartz, adding that a low-sugar cereal is one at 4 grams or less.
Cereals like Fruit Loops have 11 or 12 grams of sugar while healthier alternatives like Rice Krispies have 2 or 4 grams.
“If you’ve been buying high sugar cereals, you can expect some argument,” says Schwartz, “but I’d recommend explaining to your child that these cereals have way too much sugar.”
A good compromise is to let your child add a packet of sugar. They’ll still be getting substantially less than pre-sweetened cereals, says Schwartz.