How to choose among the maze of kids’ cereals

When you’re choosing a cereal for your kids, dietitians say, you should always be mindful of one word: sugar.

Jessica Knurick, a registered dietitian and assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said a lot of cereals marketed to kids contain way too much sugar.

“We wouldn’t think of giving our kids a piece of cake or a Twinkie for breakfast,” she said, but some cereals can contain similar amounts of sugar.

Knurick said it’s especially important to consider not just the overall content — which may include sugar that occurs in food naturally — but the amount of added sugar.

“Added sugar’s a little bit different than sugar in general, because it’s basically sugar without any nutrition,” she said.

Seth Kapoi, a registered dietitian at University Medical Center, pointed out that the most recent federal dietary guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture in early January, advised limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories. The guidelines are revised every five years.

“This is the first time those recommendations have actually put a limit on sugar,” Kapoi said, “which for dietitians is really, really cool, because we’ve been pushing for that for a long time.” He added that the World Health Organization advises that added sugars be limited to 5 percent of total calories.

“We’re actually pushing for lower,” he said of dietitians. “In terms of anything I eat I’m always watching sugar, and breakfast cereals can definitely be high in sugar.”

Knurick said she thinks the most important thing for parents to do is not consider just the nutritional information.

“I always recommend reading the ingredients list, even before looking at nutrition labels,” she said. “If the No. 1 ingredient is sugar, you’re going to want to avoid that,” since the ingredients are listed in decreasing order of volume. She added that the list may not say simply “sugar”; it can take on numerous guises, including dextrose, maltose, sucrose or even honey.

“All of those mean added sugar,” Knurick said. “They add the sugar because, first of all, they’re marketing toward kids, and sweetness improves taste. It also helps with preservation.”

Kapoi said if you do look at the nutrition panel you’ll see, under the carbohydrates category, a listing for sugar. That number, he said, covers both natural and added sugars.

“Most cereals are just grains, so if they have sugar, it’s added sugar,” he said.

How do you figure out your child’s daily caloric needs? Kapoi suggests consulting with your child’s doctor or checking with a resource such as the USDA’s

While added sugar is the most important thing to consider, they said, it’s not the only thing. Salt also is used as a preservative, Knurick noted; check to be sure sodium levels aren’t excessive. The recent federal guidelines recommend that sodium intake not be more than 2,300 milligrams a day for those 14 or older, and less for younger people.

And then there’s a more recently discovered dietary quagmire.

“Another thing you want to look at when you’re looking at the ingredients list is something that says ‘partially hydrogenated,’ like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils,” Knurick said. “What that is, is trans fats.”

This is another example, she said, of when it’s important to look at the ingredients list and not just the nutritional information. Government regulations require trans fats to be listed only when they are 0.5 grams per serving or more, she said. Listed serving sizes for cereal usually are ¾ cup, but a lot of kids eat more. If the amount of trans fat in the cereal is, say, 0.49 grams per serving, and a child is eating 1½ cups of cereal, the trans fats will be doubled along with everything else.

“You’re getting almost a gram of trans fats,” she said.

Kapoi said another thing he looks for is fiber, because the typical American diet doesn’t contain enough and a grain product such as breakfast cereal is a good place to get it.

And Knurick made a few more points about labels: Just because a cereal has changed its name to sound more healthful, or just because the label says it now contains less sugar, it still may be beyond recommended limits; don’t assume a company has really made a nutritional improvement.

“Some companies have, but certainly not the majority of companies,” she said. “I think they’re doing a better job with their marketing, and make it seem like that.”

In the marketing of a cereal, she said, there are three types of claims likely to be made. Two — nutritional content and whether a product is likely to reduce or help avoid a disease — must go through FDA approval. That’s not the case, she said, with a “structure function” claim.

“Fortify your cereal with 2 grams of calcium, and you can put ‘builds strong bones’ on your label,” Knurick said. “They do that to market to parents as well.”

She recommends looking for a cereal that contains whole grains, because that indicates beneficial nutritional content such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium and selenium.

Kapoi said something such as oatmeal can vary greatly even within the same brand — between different flavors, for example.

“It will naturally be high in fiber, but packaged microwavable ones can be high in sugar,” he said. He said he buys microwavable oatmeal, but gets the plain or “original” variety and adds his own toppings, such as fruit.

“That’s another thing the typical American diet lacks — enough whole fruits,” he said. “I try to go a little bit plain with my cereals. It gives me the freedom to flavor it however I want to.”

And as in practically all things, Knurick said it’s best to not go too far one way or the other.

“I would always look for a good balance,” she said. “It’s OK to have a little bit of sugar in your cereal, because your kids probably aren’t going to eat it if there isn’t. But you don’t want to start them off with half of their sugar for the day in their bowl of cereal.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Find more of her stories at and follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

Barber sets up shop in grandfather’s old shop
Andres Dominguez’s new barber shop is filled with memories of his grandfather, who ran the El Cortez landmark for more than 30 years. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Life and times of a 90-year-old horse player
Leo Polito of Las Vegas describes meeting legendary jockey and trainer Johnny Longden on the beach at Del Mar. Mike Brunker/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Learning the history of singing bowls
Presentation at Summerlin Library teaches residents about the history of singing bowls (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learning live-saving techniques in Stop the Bleed class
Leslie Shaffer, an AMR paramedic, shows how to control bleeding during a Stop the Bleed course at the Summerlin Library. The class is designed to teach anyone how to control and stop life-threatening bleeding. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vicki Richardson speaks about on the power of art
Artist and arts advocate Vicki Richardson talks about the power of art to inspire and challenge. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DressCoders pairs tech with haute couture
DressCoders is a startup focused on haute couture garments. The company uses illuminated thread that is washable and can be sewn right into the fabric. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Brava infrared oven
In cooking with the Brava infrared oven,there’s no preheating. the bulbs can reach 500 degrees in less than a second. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sinks Merge Style And Utility
Study could determine cause of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases
Dr. Aaron Ritter, director of clinical trials at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, discusses his research on how inflammation in the brain impacts Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Jessie Bekker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holocaust survivors talk about tragedy and friendship
Janos Strauss and Alexander Kuechel share their perspectives on life. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'Siegel Cares' Santa delivers toys to kids at Siegel Suites in Las Vegas
Siegel Cares, the charitable wing of The Siegel Group, delivered toys to families at their apartment complexes in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Revisiting “Christ the King” sculpture
A longtime admirer of the sculpture at Christ the King Catholic Community in Las Vegas shares her perspective. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terry Fator Christmas House
Arguably better than a hotel holiday display, is Terry and Angie Fator's home located in southwest Las Vegas.
UNLV Winter Graduation Packs Thomas & Mack
UNLV's 55th winter commencement ceremony included approximately 2,146 undergraduate and graduate students who recently completed their studies. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Build-A-Bear comes to Reed Elementary School
Students participated in a Build-A-Bear-Workshop at Doris Reed Elementary School in Las Vegas, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the LVRJ
Rev. Father Seraphim Ramos talks about Greek Orthodox icons during an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center art depicts names of God
Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center founder Sharaf Haseebullah talks about new diamond-shaped art panels featuring some of the 99 names of Allah at the main entrance the Las Vegas mosque. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Holiday poultry with Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine
Tim and Chemaine Jensen of Village Meat & Wine explain the different types of poultry available for the holidays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Catholic Charities hosts early Christmas meal
Students from the Bishop Gorman High School football and cheerleader team helped to serve food at the Christmas meal sponsored by the Frank and Victoria Fertitta Foundation at Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada on Sunday. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Incarcerated Christmas
This is the fourth year HOPE for Prisoners has worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to create a Christmas for prisoners to visit their families. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2018 Homeless Vigil
Straight From The Streets holds its 23rd annual vigil to remember the 179 homeless individuals who died in Clark County this year.
Getting through the Holiday blues
Psychologist Whitney Owens offers advice on keeping your mental health in check during the Holiday season in Henderson, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military
Operation Homefront Holiday Meals for Military program gave meal kits to 200 families at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10047 in Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. It all started with a chance encounter in a supermarket in Utica, N.Y., near Fort Drum. A soldier, his wife and infant had a handful of grocery items they couldn't afford. A Beam Suntory employee picked up the $12 cost for the groceries. The program has grown from providing 500 meal kits to military families in 2009 to providing more than 7,000 nationally this holiday season.K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @KMCannonPhoto
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women
An elegant Tea Party for substance abuse and homeless women at WestCare Women Children Campus in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Former 51s manager Wally Backman chats about new job
Former Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman talks about his new job with the independent league Long Island Ducks during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 10, 2018. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside the kitchen at Springs Preserve
The staff of Divine Events do party preparation in the kitchen at Divine Cafe at Springs Preserve. With nine parties the following day, this is a particularly busy time for the crew. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pearl Harbor survivor Edward Hall talks about his memories of Dec. 7, 1941
U.S. Army Corps Edward Hall, a 95-year-old survivor of Pearl Harbor talks about his memories of that horrific day. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Roy Choi on cooking for Park MGM employees
As he prepares to open his new restaurant Best Friend later this month at Park MGM, celebrity chef Roy Choi took the time to cook for the resort’s employees Tuesday. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Best Friend Menu Reveal Wednesday
Chef Roy Choi tells us what to expect from Wednesday’s Facebook Live Menu Reveal for his new Park MGM restaurant Best Friend. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like