Many families start their day with a big bowl of cereal. Not only is it quick to prepare and filling, it can add valuable fiber, vitamins and nutrients to your diet. All good things.

A new study by the Environmental Working Group says that some of the most popular cereals give you something you may not want- lots of sugar.

Why is this a problem?

To start with, studies have also shown that children who eat high-sugar breakfasts have more problems at school. They become more frustrated and have a harder time working independently than kids who eat lower-sugar breakfasts. By lunchtime they have less energy, are hungrier, show attention deficits, and make more mistakes on their work.

Another important issue is childhood obesity. More than a third of American children are overweight or obese.  They are at a higher risk for heart problems, and are more likely to develop diabetes.

Those are good reasons to read the nutritional information on any box of cereal you’re thinking about feeding your family.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed 84 brands of children's breakfast cereals and found that two thirds of them contain more added sugar by weight than is recommended by the federal government. 

Researchers noted that only 1 in 4 cereals primarily marketed to children (adults love them as well) met all of the recommendations for a healthy cereal including caps on sugar, sodium, and saturated fat and a minimum for whole grains. 

 Sugar was the leading violator.

In April, The Interagency Working Group (IWG) released a draft of optional guidelines to improve the nutritional quality of foods that are marketed to children. The guidelines say cereals should not contain more than 26 percent added sugar.

The study revealed that 54 of the 84 cereals tested exceeded this limit. Two cereals in particular showed very high levels of sugar content. Kellogg's Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp - are more than 50 percent added sugar by weight. If you’re holding a box of either of these cereals in your hand, more than half of the weight is sugar.

The study examined 39 cereals from General Mills, 25 made by Kelloggs, 11 from Quaker Oats and 9 from Post. 

All 9 Post cereals failed to meet proposed federal standards, and 27 of General Mills' cereals did not pass muster. 

Consumer Reports also did a study on children’s cereals. Researchers found that of the 27 cereals marketed to children, 23 rated only good to fair. Kellogg's Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp showed the same results in their test- more than 50% sugar by weight. Nine other cereals were at least 40% sugar by weight.

What are some of the healthier cereals?

Actually there’s quite a few. Honey Nut Cheerios and regular Cheerios (General Mills), Life (Quaker Oats), and Kix (General Mills) are top-rated by Consumer Reports because they are low in sugar and sodium, and high in fiber.  They won’t cause your child’s blood sugar to skyrocket and are more likely to keep them full until lunchtime.

Other cereals to consider are:  Kashi Summer Berry Granola (Kashi) , Cinnamon Puffins (Barbara’s Bakery), and Mini-Wheats – Unfrosted/Bite Size (Kelloggs.)

A regular serving size for almost any cereal is going to be between ¾ and 1 cup. Children and teens tend to pour more than that when they eat cereal. If they are eating one of the high sugar content cereals, they can be loading up with a whopper of a sugar high heading off to school, and also a whopper of a sugar crash on the way. 

Cereals can be an excellent breakfast choice, or a good after school snack. Just check the label first before you buy.