How do I choose a suitable breakfast cereal for my child?
Breakfast cereals can provide slow release energy, be a means of increasing a child’s milk intake for healthy bones and teeth, increase fibre and wholegrain intake for good digestive health, and also many provide vitamins and minerals. However, many breakfast cereals have high sugar content, particularly those marketed for children. Recent reports have highlighted that consuming foods and drinks high in added sugars in childhood can increase the risk of developing obesity, many chronic diseases, and dental caries.
To make a healthy choice, label reading is key. There are two main things to check. The first thing to look at is the list of ingredients. Ingredients are always listed in order of volume starting with the ingredient that is present in the biggest quantity. If sugar appears as any of the first few ingredients, it’s likely that it is present in a significant quantity. It’s important to realise that sugar may not appear simply as “sugar” but could also be called sucrose, glucose, dextrose, maltose, fructose, honey, molasses, treacle or syrup. The second place to look is the nutritional information. Look at the amounts of nutrients per 100g and use the guide below to identify a low sugar, high fibre product. Fat and salt contents can also be taken into account.
|These amounts or less mean a little||Look at the amount per 100g||These amounts or more mean a lot|
|0.3g (120mg)||Salt (Sodium)||1.5g (600mg)|
When reading labels think 365 for healthy choices: < 3 low fat; > 6 high fibre; < 5 low sugar
Be aware that the “sugars” value will also include naturally occurring fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose) as well as added sugar. So if the product contains dried fruits or a milk based ingredient, the sugars value reflects these ingredients as well as the added sugar. See here for information on understanding food labels on yoghurts
Many cereals have added vitamins and minerals. It may be useful to be aware that “organic” cereals (e.g. organic porridge, organic wheat biscuits) by definition do not have any added vitamins or minerals. The iron content of breakfast cereals is particularly significant. Pre-school children require 8 – 9mg of iron daily and for example one breakfast wheat biscuit provides 1.5 – 2.5mg of iron depending on the brand. This iron, unlike the iron in meat, is not easily absorbed by the body. However, it can be converted to a more absorbable form if taken with a food containing vitamin C, for example fruit. So serving this low sugar, high fibre, iron-rich breakfast cereal with full fat fresh milk and topped off with some fresh or dried fruit, makes for a very healthy, nutritionally-balanced start to your child’s day.