Honey Nut Cheerios Are 9 Times Sweeter Than Regular Cheerios

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Is this really what our kids should be eating for breakfast?

There are only a few breakfast cereals that my kids are allowed to choose when we go to the grocery store. Their options are restricted to regular or Honey Nut Cheerios, Rice Krispies, and Oat Squares. As for all the other colorful boxes in the aisle? The answer is a categorical 'no.'

My decision to allow Honey Nut Cheerios, however, might need to be revisited. Danny Hakim writes in the New York Times about a sneaky move made by cereal-maker General Mills. In 2009 the company promised to reduce the sugar in some of its sweeter cereals by decreasing the amount per serving to the single digits. At the time, there were 11 grams of sugar per one-cup serving of Honey Nut Cheerios. Now there are 9 grams -- except that, today, a serving is only three-quarters of a cup. Hakim writes:

"The serving size of regular Cheerios remains one cup. If Honey Nut Cheerios still had a one cup serving size, the sugar content would be in the double digits. General Mills said little about what had happened, or when."

I'm no stranger to the corporate machinations that are so carefully designed to sell products, but sometimes one doesn't analyze these details critically enough when multiple children are hanging off your arm, begging for chocolate marshmallow puffs of some kind and there just happens to be a box of Honey Nut Cheerios nearby, which, by comparison, seems innocuous and less likely to give your kid diabetes on the spot.

But as Hakim points out, three of the top six ingredients in Honey Nut Cheerios -- which is the top-selling breakfast cereal in the United States, by the way -- are sugar, brown sugar, and honey. Honey Nut Cheerios are not just a slightly sweeter version of regular Cheerios; they are nine times sweeter than Cheerios. Wow.

Apparently General Mills does not appreciate this being pointed out. A company spokesperson told Hakim in an (amusing) written statement:

"You mentioned that three of the top six ingredients in Honey Nut Cheerios are sugar, brown sugar and honey. What you didn’t mention is that the number one ingredient is oats. To be so singularly focused on one ingredient — sugar — is irresponsible and doesn’t help consumers look at the total nutrition offered."

Let's just turn that around. I take the view that focusing singularly on the oats is irresponsible, considering that the three-sweetener combo likely has more of a bad effect on my kids than the quantity of oats offers benefits for them.

Parents need to move away from allowing children to eat dessert (or the sugary equivalent of dessert) for breakfast each day. The Environmental Working Group found that a one-cup serving of Honey Nut Cheerios is equal to three Chips Ahoy! cookies when it comes to sugar content, and that, in 'real life' servings, a kid gets a whopping 20 grams of sugar by the time they're finished with the Honey Nut Cheerios. That is not a good way to start off the day.

Let's bring back savory breakfasts, ones that prioritize higher fat, protein, and less processed fibre, and get their sweetness from fresh fruits.

That's it. My kids are getting plain oatmeal for breakfast from now on.