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Sugarjacked

It's really hard to figure out how much sugar you're eating when downing a bowl of breakfast cereal. For starters, serving sizes are usually 30 percent more than what's listed on the box. Another problem is that naturally occurring sugars and the more dangerous added sugars are lumped into one "sugar" category on the nutrition label. And let's not forget that sugar-laced cereals are legally allowed to make healthy-sounding front-of-label claim about whole-grain, fiber, and/or vitamin or mineral content without addressing the toxic levels of sugar in the products.

Neither the Food and Drug Administration in the USA or Health Canada has set a limit on the amount of added sugars allowed in products that make nutritional claims, nor do they include a percent Daily Value for sugar on the Nutrition Facts panel required on food products to help inform consumers how much sugar is too much.

So, once again, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) comes to the rescue. Their new list is called "The Hall of Shame" and it consists of thirteen cereals that are more than a whopping 50 percent sugar by weight. The researchers at EWG looked at more than 1,500 cereals, including nearly 200 marketed specifically to children. The analysis showed that the average serving of cereal (which is a smaller amount than most people eat in a sitting) contained about the same level of added sugars as in three Chips Ahoy cookies. The EWG found that kids (or adults) that eat a bowl of sugary cereal every day are swallowing up to 10 pounds of sugar a year!

"When you exclude obviously sugar-heavy foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, soft and fruit drinks, breakfast cereals are the single greatest source of added sugars in the diets of children under the age of eight,” said nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the study. The organization’s report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound, says. "Cereals that pack in as much sugar as junk food should not be considered part of a healthy breakfast or diet. Kids already eat two to three times the amount of sugar experts recommend."

So how do you get sugar intake under control? The average American consumes around 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar every day, and both the World Health Organization and the American Heart Association (AHA) note that we should really be eating a fraction of that amount.

The first step is knowing your recommended sugar intake levels. The AHA says that adult women should get 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per day, adult men 9 teaspoons (36 grams), and children 3 teaspoons (12 grams). For comparison, a can of soda can have 40 grams, or about 10 teaspoons of sugar. Next, read nutrition labels. That means purchasing cereals with no more than a teaspoon (equivalent to 4 grams)per serving. Try preparing unsweetened hot cereals and eating fruit or other whole foods with no added sugar. Then encourage the kids to try 'grown-up' cereal. The so-called children's cereal contained an average of 40 percent more sugar per serving than adult cereals. If you are needing a sweet fix use your own organic sugar. And, just as important, learn about the places sugar hides, including foods like ketchup, bread, and other unexpected "health" foods!