Keeping Up With Sugary Cereal News: Still Not a Good Choice

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The Cornucopia Institute warns consumers that "natural" -- a term with absolutely no regulatory meaning -- is just a bunch of marketing hype.

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Sugary breakfast cereals are a hard sell these days, and marketers are getting increasingly creative.

Item: The Cornucopia Institute's investigative report on "natural" cereals warns consumers that "natural" -- a term with no regulatory meaning -- is marketing hype. "Natural" is not the same as organic. "Natural" cereals have all kinds of things not allowed in organic cereals. It's best not to confuse them.

Item: Researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity report in Public Health Nutrition that the households in their study tended to buy cereals advertised directly to children 13 times more frequently than non-advertised products, and that African-American and Hispanic families were most likely to buy cereals advertised directly to children.

Item: The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) reports that General Mills is using claims about whole grains to distract consumers from the sugar content.

The company's claim of "More Whole Grain Than Any Other Ingredient" comes with an asterisk. This goes to the disclaimer "as compared to any other single ingredient."

PHAI suggests taking a look at the General Mills' web page about sugar. This says that "ready-to-eat cereals account for a relatively small amount of a child's daily sugar intake."

General Mills compares plain Cheerios (1 gram of sugar per serving) to Trix (10 grams of sugar per serving ), and asks:

From a calorie and nutrient standpoint, are both products a good breakfast choice?

Yes, they are. In fact, all General Mills cereals are lower calorie, nutrient dense choices.

From the standpoint of nutritionism (judging a product by its nutrient content), Cheerios is a better-for-you choice.

But both are highly processed cereals, thereby raising that same old philosophical question: Is a somewhat better-for-you processed food necessarily a good choice?

A good question to ponder as you wander down the cereal aisle.

Image: Kamira/Shutterstock.

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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