A Which? investigation into the sugar content of ‘adult’ breakfast cereals has found that there could be more than three quarters of the recommended daily maximum of free sugars hiding in just one portion.
Of the cereals we looked at, the worst breakfast offender was Mornflake Golden Syrup Top Porridge Pot, which contains 28.6g of sugar per 100g.
In contrast, McVities Digestive Biscuits contain 16.6g of sugar per 100g.
Compare the amount of sugar we discovered in other popular cereals by watching our video below.
Sugar was the second- or third-highest ingredient in seven out of 10 flaked cereals we looked at. Nestlé Oats & More Almond cereal contains 25g of sugar per 100g, and the ingredients list has six different forms of sugar, including sugar, glucose syrup and honey.
We also found that cereals such as Kellogg’s All Bran, which are perceived to be healthy, contain two teaspoons of sugar in a 40g portion.
Mentions of fruit can be misleading – Quaker’s Oats So Simple Apple & Blueberry Porridge only contains 1% of fruit, and the bulk of the 20.9g of sugar per 100g comes from added sugar. In fact, the sugar in many ‘fruit flavoured’ porridges we investigated came from added sugar and not fruit.
In 2015 the government updated its advice that free sugars (including added sugars) should not make up more than 5% of our energy intake. This means that adults and children over 11 years old shouldn’t consume more than 30g of free sugars daily, compared with the previous allowance of 90g.
Free sugars are those added to foods and drinks – such as breakfast cereals, cakes, biscuits and drinks – either by the manufacturer or by you adding sugar yourself at home. Sugars in honey, maple syrup, unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies also count as free sugar, even though they occur naturally.
The cereals that are lowest in sugar of those we investigated are Nestlé Shredded Wheat, which contains no added sugar, and Weetabix Original which contains 4.4g of sugar per 100g. Plain porridge is also a healthy choice and contains no added sugar
Confusing portion sizes
Inconsistent portion sizes on packs make it confusing to try and keep track of how much sugar you’re consuming in your breakfast cereal.
For example, most Kellogg’s cereals recommend a portion size of 30g, whereas Nestlé’s portion sizes vary from 30g to 45g.
We also spotted that Dorset Cereals has reduced its portion sizes since we last investigated cereals back in 2010. Then portion sizes for its Simply Delicious and Simply Fruity mueslis were stated as between 60g and 75g. Now they’re 45g. This could lead consumers to believe there’s less sugar in these cereals than before, when in fact it is the portion size that has shrunk.
Adding to the confusion is that, on the front of packs, when the sugar content is given as a percentage of your daily sugar allowance, it’s based on the 90g pre-2015 allowance, not the new 30g one. This is because the original allowance is set in the Food Information Regulations, and until these are updated manufacturers must legally stick to using them.
For example, the 23.5g of sugar in a Mornflake porridge pot is 78% of the 30g free sugars we should have in a day but the packaging states it makes up 26% of our daily sugar allowance.
Traffic light labelling
Which? is calling for traffic light labelling on food and drink which shows the nutritional information for 100g of a product. This makes it easy to compare between products and allows consumers to make informed choices.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: ‘It is clear that the current, non-standardised food labelling system is at best confusing and at worst misleading. Helping people to compare at a glance how much sugar, salt and fat a product contains has proven to be an effective way of helping them to make healthier food choices.
‘The government must not miss this opportunity to use Brexit to make traffic light labelling a legal requirement, so consumers finally have clear information to make better and more informed choices.’
A Kellogg’s spokeswoman said: ‘We recognise we have a role to play in helping people make healthier choices. That is why, at the end of last year, we announced our most ambitious plan to overhaul our cereals, including a 40% reduction in the amount of sugar in Coco Pops, taking high-sugar Ricicles off supermarket shelves, and launching a range of vegan, organic and no-added sugar granolas.’