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How much added sugar comes from breakfast cereals?


If you haven’t heard about the “added” or “free” sugar intake of the nation by now, it’s worth checking out. The ABS released these figures for Australia at the end of April and they were telling. Whilst the data is estimated because it’s not easy to calculate free sugar intake, it does tell a pretty grim tale.


Free sugars are sugars added to food products as part of the preparation process including honey and concentrated fruit juices. Natural sugars are ones that are naturally present in foods like fruit and milk. What’s difficult about getting these figures is that you can’t analyse for free sugars so it has to be calculated through formulation – not an easy task. The ABS have done a great job on being able to pull this data together for so many foods and food groups.


What stands out for me, is that one in two Australians are currently exceeding the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendations for free sugar in-take, which advises that free sugars should contribute to less than 10 percent of our total daily energy intake, the ideal being 5  percent  or roughly about 6 teaspoons.


The survey showed that the majority of free sugars come from discretionary or “sometimes” foods (81%) with just over half of free sugars coming from drinks, such as soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juices. Other foods such as cakes and baked goods were also large contributors to free sugar intake and it’s great to see that the core foods were not significant contributors to free sugar intake. To me, a whole milk sweetened yoghurt with protein and calcium, is a much better choice than the large slice of banana bread (actually cake) or blueberry muffin any day.


What may surprise some, is that sugar content in breakfast cereal, which is often discussed as a key contributing factor to our dietary demise, is not showing up as a major contributor. In fact, the data clearly shows that breakfast cereals contribute very little free sugar to the overall diet. The numbers are low at 2.9% of free sugars (and for discretionary cereals its 0.4%). To me, there are much bigger fish to fry when it comes to tackling our sugar intake in Australia. And yes, there are cereals that have more sugar, but the vast majority contribute around 2 tsp per serve (no need to add more), which isn’t a lot for foods with fibre, whole grain and essential nutrients – and don’t forget the extra nutrition in the milk you add.


Key Findings of the Survey:


  • In 2011-12, Australians consumed an average of 60 grams of free sugars per day (equivalent to 14 teaspoons of white sugar).
  • Just over half of all Australians aged 2 years and over exceeded the WHO recommendation to limit energy from free sugars to less than 10% of dietary energy.
  • The majority (81%) of free sugars were consumed from the energy-dense, nutrient-poor ‘discretionary’ foods.
  • Just over half (52%) of free sugars in the diet were consumed from beverages, with the leading beverages being soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks (19%), fruit and vegetable juices and drinks (13%) and cordial (4.9%). The leading foods were confectionary and cakes/muffins (each contributing 8.7%).
  • The free sugar contribution of breakfast cereals was 2.9% (this was made up of 2.5% core cereals and 0.4% discretionary cereals).

Senior Nutrition Manager, Kellogg Australia and New Zealand