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They make for a quick and easy breakfast but watch out for the high sugar content in cereals, say health experts
Mums across the country have been replacing traditional Indian breakfast items like paranthas and idlis with bowls of cornflakes. But despite what advertisements would have us believe, are breakfast cereals healthy? With the UK's Labour Party asking for a ban on some brands, questions are being raised about the high sugar levels in most processed cereals.
Cereals, which come packaged in colourful boxes and in an array of tempting flavours, have been finding place on many Indian breakfast tables thanks to taxing work schedules that leave very little time to cook in the morning and advertising that makes them seem aspirational. But these sugary concoctions aren't all that healthy.
Rekha D Sharma, director of Clinical Nutrition, Dietetics and Lifestyle of the Diabetes Foundation (INDIA), who is also the chief dietician at AIIMS says that from a health perspective one serving of 30g is not that bad.
"But most people, including children, consume a lot more than that. The worst is that it's consumed as a snack. Nowadays even tiffins are full of flavoured cereals, ' she adds. A study conducted by Yale University's Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity in 2011 found that children who eat highsugar cereals consume significantly more sugar (61g) than children who had lowsugar cereal (35g). Children eating highsugar cereals also consumed almost twice as much refined sugar, 24. 4g, as compared to others who consumed 12. 5g. Ryan Fernando, nutritionist at QUA Nutrition, a Bangalore-based company, says the glycemic index of cornflakes is very high. "It is about 80 while sugar has a GI value of 100. " The glycemic index (GI) provides a measure of how quickly blood-sugar levels (i. e. levels of glucose in the blood) rise after eating a particular type of food. In a country with a high incidence of diabetes like India, high GI foods are even more dangerous, says Fernando. When it comes to sugar, the key is to ignore the 'per serving' figure - the food company's bowl size probably will not equate to your children's portion - and look instead at the table marked 'typical values per 100g'. Then look down to the figure next to 'sugars'. More than 15 per cent is deemed to be a high-sugar product. Something like Kellogg's Chocos has 9. 4g of sugar in a 30g serving, which adds up to 34. 7g for 100g. The idea that any parent will be comfortable with their child eating anything that is made up of more than 30 per cent sugar is a little hard to digest. Even Special K, which claims on its website 'to manage your weight' consists of 28. 1 per cent sugar.
In its response, Kellogg's says they "fully declare the amount of all nutrients, including sugar, and all ingredients on our packs. People can read these packs at point of purchase to make an informed decision about the foods they will feed their families. "
Some cereal manufacturers cite research that supports feeding children pre-sweetened cereals. According to them, children who eat breakfast, including the pre-sweetened variety, have been shown to have healthier body weights. But nutritionists dispute that. "10 grams of sugar is equivalent to one tablespoon of sugar. How can anything that is loaded with sugar be called healthy?" questions Fernando.
According to a 2011 report released by the US-based Environmental Working Group, children who eat high-sugar breakfasts have more problems at school. By lunchtime they have less energy, are hungrier, show attention deficits and make more mistakes on their work. Tests have shown sugar is habit-forming, stimulating the same brain responses like opiates. "Kids feel hungry again because high sugar does not have a high satiety value, " Sharma says.
Kellogg's, the frontrunner when it comes to the breakfast cereal market, maintains that its offerings are in line with guidelines recommended by US Institute of Medicine. "We follow the Kellogg Global Nutrient Criteria (KGNC) which sets an upper threshold of < 200 calories, < 2 grams of saturated fat, labelled 0 grams of trans fat, < 230 milligrams of sodium and < 12 grams of sugar per serving, " said a spokesperson.
Most parents don't realise the amount of added sugar that can be consumed in a day. The term is explicitly meant to exclude the sugars naturally found in fruit and milk. Added sugars are what you get when you drink aerated beverages or fruit juices.
Added sugars also include table sugar, but also cane syrup, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses, rice syrup, fructose, dextrose, maltose, and many more. "Anything more than 4 tablespoons of added sugar per day is plain and simple unhealthy, " says Fernando, who works with high-performance athletes. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume less than three teaspoons of sugar per day.
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