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Kids’ Cereals May Contain an FDA-Banned Ingredient

Cereal is among the most common breakfast choices for American children. However, a recent analysis found that some cereal brands contain ingredients whose intake should be strictly limited.

Over 80% of children and adolescents aged 2–19 in the United States eat breakfast regularly. Having a nutritious first meal of the day can help children maintain a healthy weight and has been associated with improved academic performance and better overall diet quality.

Milk and cereal are the most frequently consumed breakfast foods and beverages among American children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows, emphasizing the importance of choosing the right products.

In the latest Healthnews analysis, nutrition scientist Lauryna Nelkine evaluated the ingredients of the 15 most popular cereals. The team looked at the content of fiber, protein, and essential vitamins and minerals, all of which support children's health.

The ranking was also based on the ingredients that should be minimized, such as added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats.

While certain cereal brands may excel in specific nutritional aspects, they may also lack in other areas, according to the analysis.

An FDA-banned ingredient

The analysis revealed some concerning findings. For example, Kellogg's Froot Loops contains hydrogenated oil which consists of unhealthy fat.

The FDA prohibited companies in the U.S. from adding partially hydrogenated oil (PHOs) to foods in 2023. The oil containing trans fat is not recognized as safe and is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The agency said that removing PHOs could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.

However, the ban does not mean that trans fat will be completely eliminated from foods: it occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products and at very low levels in other edible oils.

Moreover, products containing fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving are labeled as having 0 grams of trans fat.

Back in 2015, when the ban was first introduced, scientists warned that misrepresentations of trans fat content are very clinically significant because the WHO recommends that a person consume less than 2g of trans fat per day.

unexpected finds in less healthy cereals

Meanwhile, fully hydrogenated oil is free of trans fat and is considered safe for sparing use in food products, but it is not necessarily a good option for children's breakfast.

This oil is mostly saturated fat, which is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, and is primarily found in highly processed foods. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, less than 10% of daily calories should come from saturated fats.

Healthnews investigators found that Nesquik Choco Waves contains palm oil, a source of saturated fats and one of the main drivers of deforestation: cropland expansion, including oil palm plantations, causes nearly 50% of global deforestation.

The good and the nasty

Raisin Bran made the list of the healthiest cereals due to its high fiber content, which increases satiety, enhances nutrient uptake, and reduces the risk of constipation.

Healthnews investigators found MultiGrain Cheerios to be richest in calcium and vitamin D, both of which are crucial for the development of children's bones, muscles, tissues, and immune systems.

Healthiest cereals ranked

Among the least healthy options are Fruity Pebbles, which are the lowest in fiber and protein and the highest in added sugar. These may increase the risk of childhood obesity, related metabolic conditions, and dental caries.

A tiny serving of Fruity Pebbles contains three spoons of added sugar, almost reaching the maximum daily added sugar levels recommended for a sedentary 6-year-old by the World Health Organization.

most unheathy cereals ranked

What is a healthy breakfast for children?

Breakfast and other meals for children should include a healthy balance of fruits and vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy. It is important to ensure that foods are nutrient-dense and low in sodium and added sugars.

The FDA recommends not limiting breakfast foods to the usual eggs or cereal. Instead, children could be served a turkey sandwich or tuna fish with celery on a whole wheat English muffin.

Leftovers from last night's dinner, such as pizza with a whole-grain crust and veggies, can work, too.

If your child likes sugary cereal, mix a little bit of that cereal with a whole-grain, nutrient-packed, healthier brand of cereal.

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