DAA Shares New Research On Sugar In Breakfast Cereals

This article was updated in February 2024.

Generally speaking, breakfast cereals have gotten a pretty bad rap over their excessive sugar content and seemingly exaggerated nutritional benefits that are claimed on the packaging. That’s why we thought it was interesting that the Dietitians Association of Australia shared this research that shows breakfast cereal-eating Aussies might actually be doing pretty well for themselves!

Notably, the sugar in breakfast cereals might be less of an issue than we’ve been led to believe. Here’s what we learned:

Is breakfast cereal healthy?

An analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data has revealed that regardless of sugar content or cereal type, eating breakfast cereal is linked with lower BMI, slimmer waists, and better nutrition.

Breakfast cereal eaters scoring well on nutrition

While brekkie cereal eaters (be it ready-to-eat, muesli, or oats) ate the same number of kilojoules in a day, they had far better nutrition than other breakfast eaters. Adults got 28% more iron, 22% more calcium, 19% more fibre and 13% more magnesium, with 13% less sodium and 7% less saturated fat.

Waistline winners eat cereal for breakfast

Those who started the day with a bowl of breakfast cereal had 1cm slimmer waists than those who ate other breakfasts and 2cm slimmer than those who skipped breakfast altogether. Brekkie cereal eaters were also more likely to have a healthy weight and meet nutrient targets.

Gut health linked to fibre and whole grains 

Breakfast cereals are one of Australia’s leading sources of whole grains and dietary fibre for Australians, which are particularly important for gut health and preventing chronic diseases. 60% of brekkie cereals are classified as high in whole grains and 45% high in fibre.

Putting sugar in perspective

Did you know the total sugars from breakfast cereals make up less than 2% of the daily kilojoules of breakfast cereal eaters? So when you weigh this up with all the extra fibre, vitamins, and minerals you get, brekkie cereal is an easy choice.

sugar in breakfast cereal

What are Australian habits when it comes to breakfast cereal?

The breakfast cereal aisle has more than 420 options for Australians – more than half of these have the Health Star Rating and the majority (82%) are rated 4 to 5 stars.

Below is a summary of key research findings from a new analysis of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australian Health Survey data[1] and the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council’s 2016 breakfast cereals category audit[2].

Breakfast cereal choices of Australians:

• Breakfast cereals are a popular choice – 41% of adults and 45% of children ate breakfast cereals at breakfast and the average portion size was 42g.

• The most popular breakfast cereals were ready-to-eat cereals, wheat-based cereals (whole wheat biscuits, puffs and flakes, and bran cereals), followed by oat-based porridge styles, and mixed grain cereals with fruit and/or nuts (muesli or mixed grain flakes).

• Most Australians (62%) ate minimally pre-sweetened breakfast cereals – 63% adults and 60% children.

• Breakfast cereal consumers had five times the milk intake at breakfast than people who ate other breakfasts (155mL vs 31mL).

• The most common foods eaten by people who did not eat breakfast cereals (47% of adults and 46% of children) were bread, milk, sugar/honey/syrups, coffee/tea, and margarine.

Overall nutrition of cereal-eaters compared to non-cereal-eating Aussies

People who ate breakfast cereal have more nutritious diets, and lower sodium compared to people who ate other breakfasts. Specifically:

• Australian adults who ate breakfast cereals had 28% higher iron intakes, 22% higher calcium intakes, 19% higher fibre intakes, 17% higher folate intakes, and 13% higher magnesium intakes. They also had 13% lower sodium intake.

• Australian children who ate breakfast cereals had 32% higher iron intakes, 23% higher calcium intakes, 15% higher fibre intakes, 11% higher folate intakes, and 11% higher magnesium intakes. They also had 9% lower sodium intake.

• Australians who ate breakfast cereals were more likely to meet nutrient needs (Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) or Adequate Intake (AI)), including 37% more likely to meet both fibre and calcium requirements.

How does breakfast cereal affect daily sugar consumption?

There was no difference in energy intake while having slightly higher total sugars compared to people who ate other breakfasts.

• Australians who ate breakfast cereals had the same daily energy (kilojoules) intake.

• Adults and children who ate breakfast cereal had slightly higher daily total sugar intakes (9% for adults and 7% for children) over the day, including naturally occurring sugars (e.g. from milk and fruit).

• The total sugars in breakfast cereals accounted for less than two percent of total energy (kilojoules) in the diets of Australians who ate it.

Adults who ate breakfast cereal were slimmer

• Adults who ate breakfast cereals had slimmer waists – an average of 2cm slimmer than breakfast skippers and 1cm slimmer than people who had other breakfasts.

• Adults were more likely to be a healthy weight. Adult breakfast cereal consumers had the highest prevalence of normal weight, while breakfast skippers had the highest prevalence of obesity.

is breakfast cereal healthy

Photo by Isak Fransson

It’s worth mentioning here that the above findings were pretty consistent regardless of the type of breakfast cereal chosen. The benefits for breakfast cereals were consistent whether Australians ate ready-to-eat cereals, muesli, or oats and whether the breakfast cereals were minimally pre-sweetened (less than 15g sugars/100g) or pre-sweetened breakfast cereals (15g sugars/100g or more).

The Australian breakfast cereals category has strong nutrition credentials:

• Half carry the Health Star Rating and 82% of those have 4-5 stars

• 60% are classified as high in whole grains

• 45% are high in fibre

• 95% meet the Australian government’s benchmark for sodium

• 63% have less than two teaspoons of total sugars in a 40g serve

References

1. Nutrition Research Australia, Breakfast and Breakfast Cereal Consumption Among Australians – A secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, Sydney, February 2016

2. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC). GLNC 2015-16 Grains and Legumes Product Audit: 2016

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