washingtonpost.com  > Health > Nutrition

How Big Is Your Cereal Bowl?

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Wednesday, February 23, 2005; Page F02

No matter how few grams of sugar are listed in a cereal's nutritional label, the catch is in the serving size.

A serving of most sweetened breakfast cereals, according to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, is 30 grams. That comes out to about three-quarters of a cup, as listed on the label.

Ponder those numbers.

If the cereal eaters at your house fill their bowls to the top, chances are good that they're eating a lot more than a standard serving.

Many nutritionists say that six grams of sugar per serving of ready-to-eat, sweetened cereals is the maximum to shoot for, with the exception of those cereals that contain dried fruit. Six grams of sugar equals 1 1/2 teaspoons.

University of Maryland professor Mark A. Kantor offers a common formula to calculate how many teaspoons of sugar (the combination of all natural and added sugars) are in a serving of dry cereal:

Check the nutrition label on the side of the box for grams of sugars listed under "Total Carbohydrates." Now divide by four, since one teaspoon of sugar, a simple carbohydrate, equals four grams of carbohydrates. Some reduced-sugar cereals have already done the math for you and include the per-serving teaspoons of sugar on their labels.

Take Tony the Tiger: Kellogg's original Frosted Flakes has 12 grams of sugars in a serving (defined on the label as three-quarters of a cup, or 31 grams), the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar. Frosted Flakes With 1/3 Less Sugar has eight grams, or two teaspoons of sugars.

The amount of so-called "total carbohydrates," in both the regular and reduced-sugar cereals we tested, remained about the same. Their calories per serving stayed the same. How could that be? Because sugars, fiber and "other carbohydrates" all come under the total carb heading on the label. The reduced-sugar cereals we tested contain greater amounts of other carbohydrates such as the starchy powder maltodextrin that help offset and compensate for the properties of the missing sugar.

Kantor says that cereal serving sizes can vary due to the cereals' density; the serving size of some reduced-sugar cereals is not the same as that of their original counterparts. And a standard serving of a cereal with a lot of air in it may be 1 1/4 cups, while one serving of a bran cereal may be a half-cup.

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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