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Snap, crackle and pop: How healthy are kids' breakfast cereals?

Now here's a surprise: most cereals marketed to kids are chock full o' sugar and salt but don't contain much fiber. Wondering which ones are the best of the lot? Whether any are really the breakfast of champions—or just sugar-saturated lucky charms for the little laddies? Good news: Consumer Reports has analyzed the nutritional value of cereals targeted to children. The results, published in the mag's November issue: only four of 27 brands tested were rated as "very good," based on their (low) sugar, (relatively high) fiber and calcium content; the rest were "fair" to "good."

"If you're going to buy one of these kids' cereals," Consumer Reports says, "we recommend you pick one that is rated very good."

Topping the list: Cheerios, which weighed in with one gram of sugar and three grams of fiber, followed by Kix, Honey Nut Cheerios (all from General Mills) and Life (Quaker Oats).

At the bottom of the heap, er, bowl: Corn Pops, Honey Smacks, Golden Crisp, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Rice Krispies, Cap'n Crunch and Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch.

The losers are packed with sugar, have little fiber and, in many cases, are high in sodium. According to Consumer Reports, Post Golden Crisp and Kellogg's Honey Smacks each are more than 50 percent sugar (by weight)—and nine other kiddie cereal faves contain at least 40 percent sugar. In other words, the mag says, there's as much (if not more) sugar in a serving of each of these as there is in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts.

Did you think that Kellogg's Rice Krispies would fare better than a mere "fair" rating? Wrong! Though the old standby has but four grams of sugar, it is higher in sodium than others in the bunch and has zero fiber (needed to keep the intestines clear and clean). Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size was rated "good" even though it  is loaded with 12 grams of sugar per serving. The reason? It's low in sodium and has six grams of fiber.

The nutrition score reflects a balance between the amount of beneficial nutrients such as fiber and calcium and ingredients like sugar, sodium and fat that should be limited. Consumer Reports says "low" sugar was a teaspoon or less and low sodium was 140 milligrams or less per recommended serving (as shown on a cereal box label). High fiber was considered five grams or more per serving.

Making matters worse: The mag notes that 91 youngsters (ages six to 16) that it studied, on average, helped themselves to 55 to 65 percent more than the suggested serving of three of four tested cereals.

Apparently, Americans like their sugar (not exactly a shocker, given the obesity epidemic here). According to Consumer Reports, some of the cereals on U.S. store shelves contain more of the sweet stuff  than the same brands sold abroad. For example, Honey Smacks sold in Switzerland, Germany and Slovenia were about 40 percent sugar, compared with 55 percent sugar in the boxes sold here.

Seeking alternatives? Among those recommended in Eat This, Not That! for Kids!: Be the Leanest, Fittest Family on the Block! by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding: Cascadian Farm's Clifford Crunch, Kashi 7 Whole Grain Honey Puffs and Might Bites, and Kellogg's All-Bran Yogurt Bites.

 

 

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