A Spoonful of Sugar: The Cereal Trap & Guidelines for Sugar Intake

By Rita Larsen, Elite Sports Clubs Dietitian & Nutritional Counselor Sugar Cereal Photo

Every night, millions of Americans hit the sack for a 7-8 hour opportunity to recharge the batteries. As we sleep, our bodies work hard to keep our hearts pumping blood, our lungs breathing, and our brains constantly functioning. This takes work on the part of the body, and in the morning, our body is looking for nutritious nourishment. Why then do so many of us replenish with sugary cereals?

A large percentage of popular cereals on our grocery store shelves contain massive amounts of simple sugars. Simple or added sugars (or simple carbohydrates) are digested quickly and are usually void of essential vitamins and minerals. The American Heart Association was one of the first to issue formal guidelines on sugar intake.

Last year, the AHA recommended no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar for women and no more than 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons a day for men. They backed their recommendations with a scientific statement in the journal Circulation which stated, “…excessive consumption of sugars has been linked with several metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions, as well as shortfalls of essential nutrients.” The AHA did not go after any one type of sugar/syrup or manufacturer of sugar; its focus was instead on sugar consumption as a whole. There has been strong scientific data linking excess sugar above these limits and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes (Malik VS, et al “Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes” Diabetes Care 2010; 33(11): 2477-2483).

So how many grams of sugar should you aim for? As little as possible, but try to stay within the American Heart Association guidelines.

  • Women: no more than 100 calories per day which equals 6 teaspoons or 24 grams
  • Men: no more than 150 calories per day which equals 9 teaspoons or 36 grams

The majority of sugar-sweetened cereals contain at least 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving. More complex sugars occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and dairy products; these foods are nutritious staples of any good diet and are not a threat to your diet or health. The simple sugars you need to look out for are added simple sugars. In addition to the adverse health effects discussed earlier, added sugars actually cause us to eat more and thus, put us at risk for weight gain.

HOW SUGAR CONTRIBUTES TO HUNGER

Most of us, however, don’t notice the effect that sugar may have on our appetite. We just know we’re never quite satisfied after our sugary breakfast and are usually looking for more unhealthy foods not long after having breakfast. Why? Processing and preparation do play a factor, but overall, added sugar consumption causes a spike in blood sugar and insulin followed by a crash.

Man at Vending Machine PhotoThis leaves us feeling even hungrier than we were before, and more likely to continue eating until we can find something to make us full. It’s not far off to say that having a can of cola or a candy bar will not make you full, is it? If you’ve ever consumed something like this in place of lunch on a busy day, you can feel it, literally. Perhaps you have a doughnut every morning on the way to work yet still find you’re looking for the vending machines not long after you arrive.

Whatever your sugar vice, the effects are for the most part the same and it leaves you wanting for more. You give in to your hunger, you eat more calories than you can burn, and before you know it, you’re up a notch on your belt buckle.

1-can of sweetened soda is absorbed within the body in 20 minutes!

Remember, you make the choices best for you! Have a great week, and let us know if you need help kicking your morning cereal habit!

Just getting started at changing your dietary habits? Check out these other nutrition & diet articles.

What was your favorite sugary cereal as a kid? Have your tastes changed since then? Tell us in the comments!



This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

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