- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

New reduced-sugar versions of popular children’s breakfast cereals — everything from Froot Loops to Frosted Flakes — sound promising, but consumers might want to hold off chiming in when Tony the Tiger says, “They’re gr-r-reat.”

Nutrition scientists who reviewed the lower-sugar versions of six major brands of sweetened cereals at the request of the Associated Press found they have no significant nutritional advantages over their full-sugar counterparts.

The scientists from five universities found that although the new cereals do have less sugar, the calories, carbohydrates, fat, fiber and other nutrients are almost identical to the full-sugar cereals.

“You’re supposed to think it’s healthy,” said Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of a book critical of the food industry’s influence on public health. “This is about marketing. It is about nothing else. It is not about kids’ health.”

Blame the calorie woes on crunch. To preserve cereals’ taste and texture, sugar is replaced with other carbohydrates that have the same calories as sugar and are no better nutritionally.

That also is why not even diabetics benefit from these cereals. The body treats all refined carbohydrates the same, whether they are sugars or grains, said Dr. Lilian Cheung of the Harvard School of Public Health.

“The changes don’t buy you anything,” she said. “From a health point of view, I really can’t see the difference.”

Dr. Christina Economos at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition said less sugar might mean fewer cavities, but she said it is not clear whether the decrease (an average of 7 grams per serving) is enough.

Officials at General Mills, Kellogg’s and Post were not able to explain why the new cereals are a better choice, but noted they give consumers more options about how much sugar they eat.

Company officials said they were responding to parents’ demands for products with less sugar and they aren’t claiming these cereals are any healthier than the originals.

That may not be obvious to consumers. On some boxes, the lower-sugar claim is printed nearly as large as the product’s name, and only by carefully comparing the nutrition labels of both versions of a cereal would a shopper know there is little difference between them.

Only one cereal, General Mills’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch, saw a true calorie reduction, dropping from 130 calories to 120 per three-fourths cup serving.

The reduced-sugar versions of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops; General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs and Trix; and Post’s Fruity Pebbles all have the same number of calories per serving.

Although overall cereal sales have been sliding, sales of reduced-sugar cereals grew by almost 50 percent last year, accounting for nearly $357 million in sales, ACNielsen reported.

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