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Breakfast Cereals Are Not Healthy According to the FDA's New Criteria

Breakfast cereals might not be good for you. Recently the FDA proposed an update to its criteria for healthy foods, and by these new standards, some breakfast cereals are no longer considered healthy. Breakfast cereal was first invented in 1863, and by the 1900s, the Kellogg brothers had created Corn Flakes, added sugar, and began selling them.

Many of us eat cereal for breakfast, but the FDA is creating a new awareness of the lack of nutrition in some cereals. Breakfast cereals are quick and easy, ready to eat, and fit our busy lives. So, what’s the problem? Let’s discuss why some breakfast cereals will no longer be considered healthy by the FDA.

What is the FDA?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. It is responsible for protecting U.S. public health by ensuring food, medicine, and cosmetics safety.

The FDA is tasked with helping consumers improve nutrition and decrease chronic disease.

In 1994 the FDA issued a regulation that the term healthy could be used on food package labels if the food "<...> because of its nutrient content, may help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices." This old guidance focused on individual food nutrients, which may lead consumers to eat a food repeatedly if they feel it meets "healthy" standards.

Current nutrition science shows us that the old guidelines are out of date. The FDA wants to provide current nutrition information, which also agrees with the federal Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 for Americans.

Some breakfast cereals aren't healthy

The FDA’s new recommendation is that packaged foods should not contain more than 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving. This means that popular cereals like Corn Flakes (4 grams of added sugars) and Frosted Mini Wheats (12 grams of added sugars) would no longer be considered healthy because of the added sugars they contain. The added sugars can be found on the nutrition facts label on the food packages. In addition, white bread and highly-sweetened yogurt would also not qualify as healthy under the proposed guidelines.

FDA requirements for healthy food

In order for a packaged food to be considered healthy by the FDA’s new criteria it needs to:

  1. Contain a certain, meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.) recommended by the FDA Dietary Guidelines.
  2. Adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

To be healthy under the proposed criteria, a cereal needs to have: 3/4 ounces of whole grains and no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars per serving. So when you see that Honey Nut Cheerios has 12 grams of added sugars and Raisin Bran has 9 grams of added sugars, it's clear why these brands and others will no longer make the cut of FDA-approved "healthy" foods.

So what are healthier options?

Part of the new criteria emphasizes that we should be eating a pattern of healthy foods that avoids added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. The USDA’s guidelines define a healthy food pattern as: “the combination of foods and beverages that constitutes an individual’s complete dietary intake over time. This may be a description of a customary way of eating or a description of a combination of foods recommended for consumption.”

The FDA and the USDA advise us to seek out nutrient-dense foods. These are foods that give us vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Fruits;
  • Vegetables;
  • Whole grains;
  • Seafood;
  • Eggs;
  • Beans;
  • Peas;
  • Lentils;
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds;
  • Fat-free and low-fat dairy products;
  • Lean meat and poultry.

We all know that avoiding excess sugar is a smart health decision. Too much sugar can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. However, there is no need to banish breakfast cereals from your grocery list entirely. There are healthy cereals out there. Read the nutrition facts and look for cereals with less than 2.5 grams of added sugars. For example, the original Cheerios meets the FDA’s proposed criteria for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars — among others.

Other great breakfast options include avocado toast, eggs, chia pudding, protein smoothies, nut butter on whole grain toast, and fruit on low-sugar yogurt.

The FDA, USDA, and the federal Dietary Guidelines 2020-2025 are great resources when it comes to making nutritional choices. The FDA has begun researching the possible use of a healthy symbol that the food industry could voluntarily use on food labels. The symbol would be a quick way for consumers to identify foods that are part of a healthy eating pattern.

Educate yourself, seek your doctor’s advice, and use the Food Pyramid as a guide. Ultimately, your health and nutrition are up to you!

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