Deja Vu All Over Again! Cereal, Sugar, and Iowa Kids

[by Cathy Lafrenz]

Does this really surprise you?

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was a young mother.  I (like lots of Baby Boomers) was a rebellious mother and did such subversive things as nursed my daughter and made my own baby food.  I was a radical. I found highly processed baby food and childrens’ cereals unacceptable for my growing daughter.

But when we complained about high salt and sugar levels in baby food – the companies changed.  And although, I still encourage mothers to make their own baby food – at least, the options are much much better than they were 30 years ago.

Thirty years ago …. we didn’t talk much about nutrition.  The slogan of the day was “Better Living through Chemistry”.  We thought the food industry had our best interest at heart. After all, we were certain Betty really did make all those cake mixes.

But there were people that spoke about nutrition and the connections between feeding our family and health issues. One of my “go-to” authors was a wise, well-balanced mother named Vicki Lansky.  Lansky wrote the book “The Taming of the C.A.N.D.Y.* Monster”

* Continuously Advertised Nutritionally Deficient Yummies 

I was shocked as a young mom to see breakfast cereals on the grocery store shelves that contained over 25% sugar.  Not one – not two – but over and over again. According to Lansky and the Journal of Dentistry for Children in 1974 – Cap’n Crunch contained 43.3% sucrose content.  Trix, Froot Loops and Honeycomb were all over 46% sugar.  And Lucky Charms and Apple Jacks were 50 and 55% sugar.

It was with that knowledge I suddenly became the meanest mother alive and limited my daughter to 5 cereals – Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies which had 10% sugar content.  I thought I was being generous with that one!

If the name contained the word “frosted” “coco” or “super” – it wasn’t coming home with me!  Cuz as soon as I served it for breakfast, I would have a “souped-up” two-year-old on my hands.  And let’s not even talk about a cereal that was inspired by a toy or the Saturday morning television line-up!!!!

So I hit the grocery store and the cereal aisle to see how things have changed in the last 30 years.

As that very Daughter would say …. Not so much, Mom!!!!

I checked out the nutritional information for Froot Loops.  Froot Loops had been named a Smart Choice cereal due to the addition of fiber. Fortunately, the FDA may be coming to their senses. Remember in 1974, the Journal of Dentistry for Children stated that they contained 47.4% sugar?  Ok – calorie count doesn’t look too bad.  110 calories for a 1 cup serving…. but then go down to the sugar content.  12 grams. Hmmmm?

This is where it gets tough for the average American. Teaspoons…  I understand.  Calories …. I understand.  Grams … Not so much!!!

Well – here’s the scoop.  There is 4.2 grams in a teaspoon of sugar.  So 12 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 1 tablespoon of sugar.  And one tablespoon of sugar is 46 calories.

So in that 110 calories of Froot Loops, there are10 calories from fat and 46 calories from sugar. 

Let’s compare that to cereals directed at adults.  Let’s look at my personal favorite … Cheerios. Cheerios  is being marketed to adults to help lower cholesterol levels because of its soluble oat fiber.

A 1 cup serving of Cheerios has 110 calories … 15 calories come from fat and 6 come from sugar.

Almost 25% of the 9-12th graders in Iowa are overweight or obeseDon’t our children deserve better cereals?????

What can you do??  First of all, you can take control of the shopping cart and avoid buying overly-sweetened cereals.  Speak with your dollars…. look for cereals that have 5 or less grams of sugar. And don’t be fooled by fancy labeling on the front of the box.  Learn to read those labels and understand what they mean.

And write your Congressman demanding clear and concise labeling that show the calories from sugar in all foods.  We have fat calories clearly listed….. it is time to have sugar calories listed.

It is a new day.  Let’s start it right.

Cathy Lafrenz is a regular contributor for Blog for Iowa on the topic of food.  She serves on the board of the Quad-Cities chapter of Buy Fresh-Buy LocalShe raises hens for egg production and is Animal Welfare ApprovedIn
her spare time she advocates for health care reform, spins yarn, and
knits every pair of socks she wears.  Check out her blog, Miss Effie’s Diary


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One Response to Deja Vu All Over Again! Cereal, Sugar, and Iowa Kids

  1. Anonymous says:

    Since I am on a 3 week elimination diet, and can't have any sugar or artificial sweeteners, this year I decided I couldn't in good conscience give out candy. My 19 year old daughter warned the house would get teepeed! But I bought little Halloween toys – playdoh, bubbles, erasers, stampers, stickers, plastic insects, and so on – and so far the reaction has been very positive. Typical comment: “By the way, this is awesome.” And I tell you what – it was cheaper than candy and I can save the left overs for next year!
    Thanks for the timely post, Cathy!
    Alta Price

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