What’s healthy? Proposed new rules target added sugar

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Your cereal may not be as healthy as you think it is.

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued a proposed rule that updates criteria for claiming a food is healthy. While cereal seems a wise way to start the day – with boxes proclaiming the goodness of whole grains, fiber and a healthy heart – a closer look may reveal a not-so-sweet secret.

“What we’ll find is a lot of America’s favorite cereals, even those that they think are quote/unquote healthy will no longer make that definition of healthy,” said dietician Amber Groeling of Cotton O’Neil Weight Management in Topeka.

Under the FDA’s proposed new criteria for “healthy” foods, items in the grain group must have less than 2.5 grams of added sugar per serving. Some cereals missing the mark have clues in their names: Honey Nut Cheerios or Frosted Mini Wheat, for example. But others surpassing the threshold may surprise you. Among them: Corn Flakes, Special K and Raisin Bran.

“While the raisin part won’t count as the added sugar, the raisins are actually sugar-coated,” Groeling said, adding it’s not enough to look at the buzz words on the front of the box. “Marketing can be really misleading and make things seem a lot healthier than it is. You might think this is a good source of protein so it must be healthy, then you turn it around and see it has 12 grams of added sugar. We really have to ignore a lot of the noise on the front and look at the nutrition facts label.”

Groelling says there’s a good reason the new rules are sour on added sugar.

“Sugar has been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” she said.

Nutrition guidelines recommend we get less than 10 percent of our calorie intake from sugar. That equals about 50 grams a day on a 2,000 calorie diet. The proposed rule exempts whole fruit and veggies.

“The sugar is in there naturally and then you’re also getting a whole great nutrient-rich package. You’re getting some fiber, you’re getting some potassium, you’re getting plenty of vitamins and minerals along with that fruit,” Groeling said.

Groeling says people who choose cereal for its low fat content are missing a key ingredient for weight management: protein.

“Protein in the morning can actually reduce hunger throughout the day. It can reduce cravings,” she said.

The proposed criteria also remove cholesterol and total fat limits, and instead focus on saturated fat, so Groeling says rather than pouring a bowl, consider cracking an egg.

“Those can be sautéed with some veggies, you can add some cheese – so you get three different food groups there,” she said.

For people who can’t part with their cereal, Groeling says look for a low-sugar variety, then add some fruit for fiber and try topping it with Greek yogurt, which has more protein than milk. Another option would be Greek yogurt with berries and walnuts.

The proposed criteria are in the comment period. They also reduce sodium limits, and, in addition to fruit, vegetables, and eggs, nuts and seeds are also exempt, because they contain good fats. However, watch the labels for added sugar and salt.

Read the full list of limits in the FDA proposed rule.


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