Are Lucky Charms Better for You Than Granola?

Newsweek Lucky Charms granola photo

Scanned from the Oct 13, 2008 issue of Newsweek

The October 13, 2008 issue of Newsweek features a confounding face-off between Lucky Charms and low-fat granola. "If your first instinct is to reach for the granola, think again," writes reporter Tina Peng. "Compared with Kellogg's Low-Fat Granola cereal with raisins, one cup of General Mills' Lucky Charms is actually healthier, with less fat and sugar and fewer calories and carbs."

Sure enough, Lucky Charms has only 147 calories, 1.3 grams of fat, and 14.7 grams of sugar, compared with its crunchier cousin's 345 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and 27 grams of sugar, respectively. Newsweek's assessment, while looking good on paper (literally), is nothing if not misleading, however.What constitutes a cup?
As astute readers have pointed out, a serving of Lucky Charms is 27 grams, while a serving of Kellogg's granola, at 60 grams, is more than twice that amount. Although the magazine used one cup from each product as a point of comparison, it didn't compensate for the fact that granola is denser and will fill up more of the cup than the lighter, fluffier Lucky Charms.

Not all granola is created equal
If you didn't read the introduction and your eyes went straight for the chart, you'd probably assume that Newsweek tarred all granola products for their criminally high calorie count and fat and sugar content. The magazine makes its comparison using one particular brand of low-fat granola, however: Kellogg's, which isn't particularly representative of the healthier granola options on the market, considering that it's chockfull of artificial preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, the latter of which, contrary to what the Corn Refiners Association would have you believe, is linked to obesity and heart disease.

What about organic granola?
Cascadian Farms' certified-organic Oats and Honey Granola, just to pull something off the shelf, however, contains 230 calories, 6 grams of fat (albeit from "good fat" sources such as sunflower, safflower, and canola), and 13 grams of sugar per 55-gram serving.

Nature's Path Hemp Plus Granola Cereal, to quote another example, has 140 calories, 5 grams of fat, and 5 grams of sugar per 30-gram serving.

And if low fat's a priority, GrandyOats Granola's handmade Low-Fat Cranberry Chew contains a mere 1 gram of fat in each 55-gram serving, while Galaxy Granola's offerings typically supply between 1.5 to 2 grams of fat per 50-gram serving.

What's in those Lucky Charms?
Claiming that Lucky Charms are nutritionally superior to granola in general is spurious at best. Not only did Newsweek fail to take into account the high-fructose corn syrup the cereal is drenched in, but the magazine also turned a blind eye to artificial food coloring (Yellows 5&6, Blue 1, Red 40 sound appetizing to anyone?) that has been linked to behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

Granola does have its drawbacks
To be fair, all-natural granola, by itself, can be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, so parental types who want to make sure their kids get a healthful breakfast should make sure their cereal is fortified with the right nutrients and skips as much of the artificial additives as possible. (Another alternative: Pair your granola with some fresh fruit and fortified milk.) Saying that sugared-up, overprocessed cereal packed with brightly colored marshmallows is a better option than a bowl of oats, however? That's just crazy talk.

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