Breakfast cereals are often given a hard time about sugar, but new research warns against missing out on the advantages of this important core grain food and its nutritional benefits.

The results from two new research projects are now available; a secondary analysis of the ABS Australian Health Survey by Nutrition Research Australia[i] and an audit of the nutritional profile of Australian breakfast cereals by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC)[ii]. Together, these provide accurate, evidence-based data on the total sugars in Australian breakfast cereals and the effect on Australian’s nutrient intakes and body weight.

The data showed Australians who ate breakfast cereals had healthier diets and were more likely to meet their nutrition needs compared to people who ate other types of breakfasts. For example, breakfast cereal eaters had significantly higher intakes of iron, calcium, fibre, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, potassium and magnesium.

These nutrition benefits were consistent for all breakfast cereal eaters, whether people ate ready-to-eat cereal, muesli or oats.

Adult breakfast cereal eaters were also more likely to be a healthy weight and had slimmer waists than people who ate other breakfasts. It may surprise some that the sugars content of breakfast cereals made no significant difference to the body weight of adults or children. In fact, amongst breakfast cereal eaters, the total sugars from breakfast cereals accounted for less than 2% of their daily kilojoules (1.6% for adults, 1.4% for children).

The data also showed that regardless of whether people ate breakfast cereals lower in sugars (less than 15g total sugars/100g) or breakfast cereals with a bit more sweetness (15g total sugars/100g or more), they had the same daily intake of total sugars.

One reason for this is that people who ate breakfast cereals lower in sugars tended to add around a teaspoon of sugar or honey, whereas people who ate other breakfast cereals tended to add almost no sugars. Interestingly, the majority of Australians who ate breakfast cereals chose lower sugars cereals (62%), which was similar when split by adults (63%) and children (60%).

GLNC found that the majority of breakfast cereals in Australia had less than 2 teaspoons of total sugars in a 40g serve (63%, more than 264 products) and 15% (64 breakfast cereals) were classified as low in sugar.

So what’s the bottom line?

It’s time to rethink the focus on sugars in breakfast cereal. By focussing on one nutrient Australians risk missing out on valuable nutritional advantages from these core grain foods. We already know that Australians are not eating enough core grain foods, dietary fibre or whole grains for good health.[i],[iii]

Breakfast cereals provide 43% of the wholegrains and 10.6% of fibre in the Australian diet. GLNC also found 60% of breakfast cereals were classified as high in whole grains and 45% high in fibre.

Anti-grain campaigners often argue that you can get enough fibre from fruit and vegetables. This view completely misses the important and unique role cereal fibre plays in protecting health.

A strong body of scientific evidence clearly links whole grains and cereal fibre with reductions in chronic disease. For example, a recent Harvard study showed a reduced risk of death from chronic diseases including cancer (15%), heart disease (20%), respiratory disease (21%) and diabetes (34%) for those with the highest cereal fibre intake[iv].

Breakfast cereals are one of the quickest and easiest ways to get more vitamins, minerals, cereal fibre and whole grains in the diet. The new research shows that people who aren’t eating breakfast cereal really are missing out. It clearly supports choosing ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, muesli or oats in the morning for better health.

For more information on the new research, view or download the research report Bowled Over at Breakfast.

Nutrition Research Australia’s analysis was funded by a research grant from the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF).

July 2016.

Leigh suit cereal variety IMG_0882 Leigh Reeve is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and Director of the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum (ABCMF). Leigh has over 30 years experience as a dietitian and is passionate about sharing practical, evidence-based nutrition information and delicious food ideas.


[i] 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

[ii] Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), Australian Breakfast Cereal Category Audit, Sydney, December 2015

[iii] Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), Grains for Health Report, 2015,

[iv] Huang et al. Consumption of whole grains and cereal fibre and total and cause-specific mortality: prospective analysis of 367,442 individuals. BMC Medicine 2015; 13:59 DOI 10.1186/s12916-015-0294-7

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