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sugary diet

Kellogg's spent millions to attack calls to limit sugar - but are cereals that unhealthy?

Some cereals have plenty of sugar, but Kellogg’s has funded research to argue that health guidelines on sugar are incorrect.

THIS WEEK, IT emerged that Kellogg’s had helped to fund a study that attacked calls to limit the amount of sugar in our food and drinks.

An investigation by the Sunday Times in the UK discovered that the cereal company had contributed to the study which undermined current policy, as proposed by bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the British government.

The WHO, for example, recommends that we get less than 10% of our energy each day from sugars, and says that this is “based on the latest scientific evidence”.

The study which Kellogg’s helped to fund, on the other hand, concluded that “guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations [and] are based on low-quality evidence”.

However, there is as much sugar in a typical bowl of Crunchy Nut, for example, than many cakes, doughnuts and ice cream, and would constitute more than half of the recommended daily maximum intake of added sugar for a six-year-old.

Sugary diets have been linked to increased rates of obesity, type-2 diabetes and complications relating to them.

Companies including Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s have funded studies that become a part of scientific literature, are cited by other researchers, and are touted in press releases, that argue that sugar does not contribute as heavily to public health issues as is claimed.

These companies say they adhere to scientific standards, and many researchers feel that industry funding is critical to advancing science given the growing competition for government funds.

But critics say such studies are often thinly veiled marketing that undermine efforts to improve public health.

So, what is in our cereals? And what are the ones that are most healthy for us? asked dietician Sarah Keogh from Eatwell to find out.

Balancing act

As a rule, we shouldn’t have a single umbrella category for breakfast cereals when it comes to healthy eating, according to Keogh.

“Some are very good, and some are very, very sugary,” she said.

I always ask people why’d they be surprised that their sugar-coated cereal is full of sugar.

In terms of the healthy ones, people should aim to have a wholegrain cereal as they are usually high in fibre, but people should be wary of its sugar content.

This can simply be a matter of looking at the label in the supermarket, because all of the nutritional information is on the box.

“If you go for a cereal that is a wholegrain cereal – look at the sugar that’s in it,” Keogh said.

It’s so important to get that fibre. Around 80% of Irish people don’t get enough.

A cereal that has around 6g of fibre per 100g is one that you should aim for, with the cereals that are higher in sugar usually having less fibre in them too.

People just need to educate themselves a little, and parents especially. If it were like traffic lights, seeing 22g of sugar per 100g in your cereal should set off a red light.

While these are general guides, Keogh says that it’s important not to overthink it.

“If a cereal with a bit of added sugar gets children to eat more fibre, then that may not necessarily be a bad thing,” she said. “It’s a balancing act.”

She added that as the average Irish person would usually intake more than their recommended added sugar a day anyway, care was required to other parts of the diet and not just breakfast.

Whatever you do for breakfast, people should make sure they don’t skip it, Keogh added.

She said: “Some people do well without a morning meal, but you rarely get the same balance of nutrition from what you eat for the rest of day if you skip breakfast.

By skipping breakfast, you’re skipping an opportunity to nourish the body.

Sugary cereals can certainly contribute to high-sugar diets, and there are stark warnings about the nation’s health going forward in this regard.

A report from the World Health Organisation estimates that, on current trends, nearly all Irish adults are likely to be overweight by 2030. In a bid to take steps to combat obesity in the recent budget, the Government said that Ireland will be getting a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks, but it won’t come into effect until 2018.

According to a Claire Byrne Live poll for, 54% of people said that they would be in favour of a tax on sugary drinks.

Our FactCheck on whether a tax on sugary drinks works found that it was mostly true to say that a tax on sugary drinks does not decrease consumption of these drinks, but pointed out that is was also too early to say whether or not it would decrease consumption in the long-term.

With reporting from the Associated Press.

Read: Sugar-free drinks won’t help you lose weight

Read: Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been quietly lobbying against anti-obesity measures in the US

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