Many cereals equivalent of junk food

BY REBECCA TODD
Last updated 05:00 31/07/2010
Finn Kerr
KIRK HARGREAVES/The Press
HEALTH BREAKFAST: Finn Kerr, 4, devours a spoonful of rice cereal.

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Would you give your child a glass of cola and a packet of chips for breakfast?

Nutrition experts say that is what some parents are unwittingly doing when they fill their children's breakfast bowl with sugar and salt-laden cereals.

Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Coco Pops both contain more sugar per 100g than Coca-Cola and more salt than a packet of potato chips.

Canterbury Community & Public Health nutrition adviser Janne Pasco said some cereals were more like junk food than a nutritious breakfast.

Cereal manufacturers used layers of "sugar on fat on salt on more sugar" to get people hooked on the product.

The No1 reason to buy cereal should be for the fibre because most people did not eat the recommended 30g a day, Pasco said. People should check the nutritional panel and if the cereal did not have at least 7g of fibre per 100g, "put it back".

The sugar level should be less than 15g, unless the cereal contained a lot of dried fruit, when it could be up to 25g. Fat levels should be less than 10g and sodium less than 450mg.

Percentages of recommended dietary intakes were based on a 70kg man, not children, Pasco said.

Last year, she checked the 84 cereals available at a Christchurch supermarket and found only 28 per cent had acceptable levels of fibre, sugar and fat.

She advised eating Weet-bix, homemade bircher muesli or porridge.

She said cereal manufacturers should not be allowed to make health claims on the front of packs, as they were often designed to confuse people and hide the high levels of sugar and salt.

Consumer NZ deputy chief executive David Naulls said people should not buy cereal based on claims on the packaging about vitamins, minerals and other nutritional benefits.

"Cereals can be fortified with vitamins and minerals, but still contain lots of sugar, so check the sugar content on the label," he said.

Christchurch mother Toni Kerr said the idea of cereals being worse than junk food was not a surprise.

Her son, Finn, was allowed Weet-bix, porridge or puffed rice for breakfast. Finn had allergies, so she did not give him cereals with added colours and flavours.

High-sugar cereals in colourful boxes also tended to be expensive, she said.

Stephanie Vincent said the need to switch her son, Oliver, 2, to a gluten-free diet meant "nutritionally obvious things, like porridge and Weet-Bix, were out".

"We chose to go with an expensive gluten-free cereal, which we knew to be high sugar, as a way of getting calories into him."

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Vincent said Oliver had since outgrown his gluten-intolerance and was happily back to eating puffed rice, cornflakes and Weet-Bix.

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand is working on food-labelling standards and is considering the suggestion that foods that are particularly high in sugar, fat or salt should not be allowed to make health claims.

Kellogg's and Sanitarium have agreed to reduce the sodium content of their cereals by 15 per cent over the next four years.

Kellogg's spokeswoman Tina Wall said its Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes and Nutri-Grain contained less sugar than a 200g pottle of fruit-flavoured yoghurt.

"It's about alternatives. We have a huge range of cereals. It's all about providing a range of options to smart consumers with different lifestyles."

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said manufacturers had already reduced the salt and sugar content of their cereals, but "only so much can be removed without removing taste and flavour".

- The Press

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