Sugar in Cereals – New Information from EWG

Well friends, Environmental Working Group, the same folks who bring us the annual sunscreen report, have done an analysis of boxed cereals, and as we’ve suggested in the past, the news is not good. The worst of the bunch are 12 cereals that are more than 50 % sugar. Let me say that again, cereals that are more than 50% sugar.

Take a moment and picture a bowl of say, Rice Krispies or Cheerios. Now picture that bowl with a line down the middle, cereal to the left and sugar to the right, in equal measure. That is what a bowl full of Froot Loops with Marshmallows or Honey Smacks is. All of these cereals that EWG places in the “Hall of Shame” are marketed with animated characters, bright colors, and some even make nutrition claims about high fiber and other benefits that are drowned in half a bowl of sugar.

If you or your tribe members eat boxed cereal, give this writeup a look, see where your favorites are. If you need to make some changes, EWG has made some general suggestions on how to cut back on the morning sugar rush. In our house when the sugar numbers on cereals started creeping up (meaning above 5g per serving), we began insisting that the kids mix that cereal with one that is MUCH lower (like 1g). We also limit the quantity and will offer them other food if they are still hungry. I found that the kids would continue eating cereal long after they were satisfied. When they asked for more and I offered an alternative, they’d say “No, I’m full.” The sugar keeps them coming back, long after their appetites are satisfied. Part of the magic of that sweet demon I suppose, but one over which we have some control.

Not sure why all the fuss over sugary cereals? Take a look at this on what sugar does to your brain. Or read about the insulin response produced by eating the sugar regularly included in processed foods that researchers believe may be the leading cause of obesity here.

Thank you EWG for looking at this serious issue and helping to shed some light on the giant and ridiculous cereal aisle.

For more information about teaching children about healthful morning choices, see Lessons From the Cereal Aisle. For more information about reducing the sugar in your diet, see Big Sis’ post about Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time.

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Fed Up with Diet By Advertising

Sugar – looks pretty innocent, doesn’t it?

In honor of the release of Fed Up, a documentary about the power of sugar in our food supply, I’ve decided to take another look at my own (and my children’s sugar intake), and to remind myself WHY I would still be concerned about it.

This documentary, and most of what I’ve read about sugar and processed food in the last 10 year,s leads me to the conclusion that I cannot trust food manufacturers with my health. (See Salt, Sugar, Fat for more about that.) And it seems to me that there is often an inverse relationship between the amount of packaging and readiness and the healthfulness of the actual item. There are, of course, exceptions in the “natural foods” category. I can purchase prepared foods with less sugar, fewer chemicals, but these items ARE exceptions.

I don’t particularly want to build a life of eating exceptions. Processed food that doesn’t contain excessive salt, sugar, and fat is usually very expensive, and frankly, it’s just unnecessary. Somewhere along the way some very smart guys (think Mad Men with fewer cocktails and hopefully a little less infidelity) did a real good job of convincing Americans that we don’t have time to actually prepare (rather than warm) our food and that we’ll be fine just purchasing and warming the stuff their corporate sponsors produce.

The notion that we should be eating processed food, that it’s yummy, that it’s nutritious, that it’s convenient, that it’s inexpensive is an ad campaign. That’s it. And ad campaign. It’s not science. It’s not sound personal finance or family friendly economics. It’s not what your doctor recommended or what your grandma told you to do. It’s an ad campaign. I don’t want to build a life on an ad campaign. I don’t want my children’s health to be the result of an ad campaign.

Here at the pantry Big Sis and I have consistently embraced the fundamental importance of real food – food that you cook for yourself – as the cornerstone of a healthy diet. There are lots of models of “healthy” eating out there and they differ in some pretty important ways, but almost all of the ones that involve a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary restriction or substitution of their processed food for your preferred processed food, will lead you to Michael Pollan’s very sound, and very simple advice about food. 1) Eat food (by this he means food, not packages or chemicals), 2) Mostly vegetables, 3) Not too much.

Notice that nowhere in this simple advice does Mr. Pollan suggest that you consume a whole lot of sugar. If you are convinced that you don’t have time to eat better, or that there’s no way that changing your eating habits can really work or be affordable or fit into your schedule, I implore you to see Fed Up, or read Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. Don’t have time for all that? Check out our posts on sugar, on Salt, Sugar, Fat. Make sure you know the true cost of that easy food. If you’re convinced, but not sure where to turn, we can help. Check out our Sugar Busting and Baby Steps to Better Health series. Or take 5 minutes and read about cutting sugar at breakfast time. You can do this; you really can. We’ll help.

While you get started, I’ll be doubling back, checking for slippage, doing some quick calculations of my and my kids’ regular sugar intake. When it comes right down to it, we just don’t need that much, and the less we eat, the less we need to enjoy a little sweet satisfaction in our long, healthy lives.

Sugar Busting

Looking around the blogosphere, it seems like sugar is on everybody’s lips… and no, I don’t mean they all just ate powdered donuts (please don’t do this).  I guess what I should say is that sugar is on everybody’s mind; according to a growing number of doctors and research scientists, sugar is also on our hearts, our arteries, our cancer cells, our livers, our EVERYTHING.  If you didn’t watch it, or haven’t seen it on some other blog since Sunday, here’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s story on sugar as a toxin.  This is 60 Minutes, folks.  Not a guru in Big Sur (no offense, California because I love you, this was useful as hyperbole only) describing his cosmic understanding of sugar.  This is a conventional news outlet running a story on what many doctors think is the biggest health problem in the United States.

If you have the stomach for it, the 60 Minutes website has a few links to off-air conversations about sugar.  The lead doctor interviewed, Robert Lustig, also has a longer documentary about the toxicity of sugar in the diet.  There is a shorter version, with the a great explanation of the science for non-science folks by Underground Wellness. If you find ANY of these remotely convincing, you’ll be wanting to decrease your sugar intake pronto. So, we’ve decided to become a little more focused (say WHAT?!) in our posts for the next several days to offer some simple strategies to cut sugar in your diet. Not enough on their own, but baby steps are, in our collective experience, a good place to start.

So we began our Sugar Busting Series this morning with Big Sis’s post about the ease and wisdom of brewing iced tea for the road when traveling rather than guzzling sugar poo from a convenience store. In a perfect celebration of the upcoming calvacade of candy that is Easter in the U.S., we will be offering several more posts about increasing the natural sweetness of a less sugary life.

The Habit-Driven Holiday

So I attended the twins’ pre-K Easter party today.  Mercy.  I actually really enjoy rooms full of pre-schoolers because I’m weird like that.  I do have to admit, however, that my enjoyment becomes somewhat strained when we give them all a plate full of “treats” to eat and then set them loose on the world.  The volume increase alone can be staggering.  In my attempts to reinforce my kids’ good eating habits I usually feel like a Scrooge at all holiday affairs.  Don’t get me wrong, I let them partake, but do a fair amount of talking beforehand and whatever meal they have before an event like this is exceptionally nutritious and my expectations for their participation in consuming that meal are very high.  While the table of offerings at their parties have, thankfully, decreased a bit since the parties at the beginning of the year, it is still chock full of nibbles that my kids don’t usually get (including candy) and each of these parties includes some kind of take-away that also includes candy. …  See, you’re even thinking I sound a little mean.  And maybe I am, but I just don’t think a 5 year old needs to consume the sugary equivalent of a King Sized Snickers bar (and even I can appreciate the wonder of a King Sized Snickers bar) as an afternoon snack to celebrate Easter.

So in my concern about these dietary issues, I’ve assumed that I am alone, that the other parents think this is fine and dandy, and that I am the only one who thinks this whole equation doesn’t add up.  But today I listened.  Each of the parents that came to help was coaching children to take some of the healthy choices, pushing grapes and carrots and popcorn, eagerly offering water over juice boxes, placing limits on the time and amount of take away candy consumption that would occur.  Sighing and shaking their heads as they watched the escalation begin.  So I left wondering why, if we all think this is a bit much (as we seem to), we continue to do it this way?  These kids are 4 and 5 year olds; wouldn’t now be the easiest time to train them NOT to expect all of the junk?  Wouldn’t now be the time to develop family and community traditions that don’t require us to walk around harping after our children and thinking we didn’t pull it off anyway at the end of the day?  Let me be clear; I am not suggesting that we stop having parties.  And you should know from my earlier posts that I am also not suggesting that we ban chocolate.  I just want to explore the scale.  So many of our daily dietary choices are based on habits, and often on habits that are not particularly healthful.  Do we continue to binge and to teach our children to do the same out of habit?  And do we then grimace at the amount of noise and the tears that follow 40 minutes later when they crash?

Lest you all think that you should send my children Easter treats in the mail, I should tell you that next weekend, they will get Easter baskets and that those baskets will have some candy.  A chocolate bunny, some mini chocolate bars, and some lovely white Jordan almonds.  No high fructose corn syrup (which wasn’t THAT hard to do) and none of the food colorings that are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Food Additives to Avoid” list (this was harder).  Their baskets will also have a small toy (thank you Legos).  As for eggs we will, at some point, be dying eggs…  I have yet to decide HOW we will be dying them as all of the “kits” also include “Avoid” colors.  I am sure, however, that I will be able to convince my children that any method we choose for coloring eggs is fun.  What 5 year old doesn’t want to do a messy art project as a family?

Should you do what I do?  That’s not what I’m saying.  Is all candy bad?  I have NO idea (except about chocolate, which is good, plain and simple).  I do know that for ME responsible parenting means trying to bring as many days as possible into some kind of alignment with my fundamental beliefs.  I fundamentally believe that the additives in much of our food are cumulatively harmful; I actively stress the importance of teaching our children to eat better than we do.  Celebrating a holiday does not mean giving up who I am, and who I want us to be.  Separating our harmful habits from our cherished traditions may well help us to enjoy our holidays and celebrations even more, as ourselves, and as who we want to be.

So that’s my plan for the upcoming holiday. What’s yours? Is it what you want it to be? Are you celebrating by habit or by design? And, more selfishly, if you do something cool and food safe with eggs, do tell. Yes, there are millions of things out there on the web… Which are your favorites?