Many popular breakfast foods and drinks for children contain so much added sugar, it can be the equivalent of eating dessert for your "most important meal of the day."
For example, "juice" drinks commonly contain as much sugar as soda, as do breakfast cereals that contain marshmallows and chocolate.
Even foods that are advertised as whole grains can contain lots of sugar, so it's difficult to make smart choices.
The sugar trap doesn't just affect kids... many favorite breakfast foods among adults (think mocha-caramel frapuccinos and donuts) are really milkshakes and cake in disguise.
Even the popular flavored yogurts that are supposed to be so healthy have the sugar equivalent of frozen yogurt. Some even come with toppings, too.
So, how can you identify the foods that are just as bad as candy and soda?
Brian Parr, PhD, joins Melanie Cole, MS, to share the misleading healthy foods you might be eating and how you can create a healthy start to your day.
RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: June 2, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Brian Parr, PhD
Your health, your wellness, your fitness, around the world, around the clock, around the block. This is RadioMD. This is Train Your Body with Melanie Cole and expert guest from the American College of Sports Medicine on RadioMD.
MELANIE: Are you feeding your children candy and soda for breakfast? Of course, the answer is going to be, “No! I would never do that.” But the truth about the popular children's breakfast foods just might kind of blow you away and you might be doing just that. My guest is Dr. Brian Parr. He’s an Associate Professor of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of South Carolina - Aiken. So, Dr. Parr, are we really feeding our children candy and soda for breakfast? What are we feeding our children and how do we know?
DR. PARR: Yes. So, we think we're giving kids healthy breakfasts every day when we give them juice or something like juice to drink. We give them cereal. Maybe we get some of their favorite breakfast snack like pop tarts or even something like yogurt and we think that’s a good healthy breakfast. We see advertisements to suggest that the kids love it but when you look at what’s in those foods, especially the sugar content, what you find is we are really giving kids candy and soda -- what would be typically be thought of as dessert for breakfast. And it’s not just kids, adults do it all the time, too.
MELANIE: Ok. So, you mentioned pop tarts. I don't know if there's anyone on the planet that thinks pop tarts a healthy food but maybe. I think my producer might be one of those people who thinks so but pop tarts are clearly not healthy. Granola bars, people have a lot of confusion. Those kind bars just came out in the media as being not as healthy as you would think. So, you know, in certainly breakfast cereals you’ve got to look at those labels. What else do you want us to do to make sure we're not feeding our kids complete junk that's going to play heck with their insulin levels and their sugar spiking and they're going to fall asleep at their desk at school.
DR. PARR: Yes. I think the key thing to look for is added sugar. I’ll give you an example. Look at a lot of yogurts that kids eat. The yogurt that comes in a tube that my kids love so much, and the yogurts that a lot of adults eat: the fat free-flavored yogurts some of which comes with toppings you can add in. If you look at how much added sugar is in there, it’s essentially like eating frozen yogurt. It’s very different than plain yogurt or plain yogurt that’s flavored with some fruit in it. So, there's nothing wrong in doing that from time to time but would you, realistically, eat frozen yogurt for breakfast every day? The answer is probably no and most people would identify that as inappropriate. The issue comes where it looks like it's something that we should be eating for breakfast and it turns out it really is more like dessert.
MELANIE: Yes. Well, those yogurts with those added colors and sugars in it.
DR. PARR: Sure. Oh, yes.
MELANIE: Some of the yogurts now, Dr. Parr, have like chocolate chips on the top so that you can add them in and M&M's and, of course, kids are always be going to like, "Oh, give me those yogurts," but if we look for an organic. In this case, I feed my kids a full fat yogurt or a low fat. I don't want the fat free. Not yet. But I want organic or no additives, all-natural Greek yogurt, mixing it with fruit and almond milk for a nice smoothie for them to change it up a little. So, it's really that we have to start feeding our children whole foods but what if we don't have time to make eggs and a bowl of nice fruit or a smoothie, what can you grab that isn't that crap?
DR. PARR: Well, I think the first step is to not grab the candy and soda. So, if you're thinking of breakfast and you're thinking of a donut that has frosting on top you should see the frosting and think, “Gosh, that’s not healthy for breakfast.” If it's a breakfast cereal and it has chocolate and marshmallows in it that should be a clue that that isn't a healthy cereal. So, the next step, then, would be to pick something that is different from that. So, you look for cereals that don't have lots of added sugar. They don't have marshmallows in them, right? I think that should be a dead giveaway. When you're getting a muffin or something like that, don't get a muffin that has frosting on top, right? I mean, that should be the giveaway that you're picking something that really isn't an appropriate healthy breakfast food. Pick something different from that. When you're picking juices, pick real 100% juice rather than those flavored juice drinks that are essentially soda without bubble.
MELANIE: Well, the muffin thing, if you're going to do that, rather than get bags of Little Debbie muffins or one of those that has so many preservatives that their shelf life is longer than a Twinkie, you go to a bakery. If you a get a muffin from there -- a blueberry or cranberry orange muffin or something -- you at least know that that was probably baked with real ingredients and they didn't shove a lot of preservatives in it because they throw them out if they don't sell in a day.
DR. PARR: Yes. I would agree with that. I think you do have to be careful about sugar content, though, because a lot of times you can find chocolate chip muffin, right?
DR. PARR: And that, I think, is taking a step away from a healthy blueberry muffin. And that’s the problem is we think, "Oh, a blueberry muffin is healthy. Muffins are healthy. Eating chocolate chip muffin with vanilla icing on top, that must be healthy, too." That's not right and I think we've kind of messed up our perception of what a healthy breakfast food should look like.
MELANIE: So, I just said that I feed my kids almost every day. They get some sort of an egg thing. Maybe a piece of whole grain toast with peanut butter or almond butter, a smoothie and a bowl of fruit. What about you? What do you do for your breakfast or your kids’ breakfasts or what do you think is a good healthy breakfast that they can do quickly because oatmeal takes a long time. You know, they won't take a hardboiled egg on the road with them because it makes bad breath. So, what do you do?
DR. PARR: I do a lot of the same things you do. I find that the toast with peanut butter is a really easy thing to make in the morning. I think juice--100% juice-- is good. I think milk is good. I think fruit is an excellent thing to have for breakfast. I mean, my kids, a lot of times on their way to school, will be eating a banana on the way to school, because that’s an easy thing for them to eat along the way. But the trick is a lot of the things that come prepackaged, that are the convenience breakfast foods, are the ones that tend to be highest in sugar. That’s what makes it so difficult. You have to really plan ahead and you have to make some tough choices because you know the kids are going to be saying, “I don't want to banana. I want the pop tart.”
MELANIE: Of course. Whenever pops tarts are involved.
DR. PARR: Yes, that’s exactly right.
MELANIE: Well, so, what about protein. We’ve talked about keeping the sugar content down. Fruit has a lot of sugar but yet it's a good quality sugar. You know, your body utilizes most of that. So, what about the protein? If we're giving them a yogurt or a smoothie, what else can we give them that’s sort of a protein on-the-go?
DR. PARR: So, I think cheese is good. My kids, like a lot of kids, absolutely love those mozzarella cheese sticks. I think that’s a great way to get some protein and more importantly, not added sugar in a meal. Again, that’s something that they can take with them and eat on the way to school or wherever they are going. They are really versatile, I think, and my kids love them. So, we use those for snacks an awful lot.
MELANIE: Do we need to add protein powder to a smoothie and then that gets the protein?
DR. PARR: I don't think so. I think, especially with kids, getting them to eat food that contains protein is a better way than sneaking protein into other foods. I worry sometimes that we kind of sneak nutrients into kid’s foods in a way that we're not teaching them to be making the healthy choices for the foods that naturally contain those nutrients.
MELANIE: I agree completely.
DR. PARR: I think protein is a good example.
MELANIE: It is. So, 30 seconds, Dr. Parr. Wrap up the candy and soda for breakfast, the real truth about popular children's breakfast foods.
DR. PARR: Well, I'd say the first thing is, it's not just children. Take a good look at what you're eating too, grownups. But the big thing is added sugar and, gosh, I’ll tell you what. If it's got marshmallows in it or frosting on top, that should be a dead giveaway that that's not part of a healthy breakfast.
MELANIE: Love that. Marshmallows in it, chocolate chips in it, frosting on top, sprinkles, M&Ms--any of those kinds of things should really be the giveaway. Thank you so much. It’s really great information.
If you missed any of the good information, you can listen anytime on demand or on the go. Look for the Healthy Radio Show page and this show is Train Your Body with our great friends the American College of Sports Medicine. Motivate and perform. What a great organization they are. This is Melanie Cole.
Thanks so much for listening. Stay well.