“You mentioned that three of the top six ingredients in Honey Nut Cheerios are sugar, brown sugar and honey,” Mike Siemienas, a spokesman for the company, wrote in a statement. “What you didn’t mention is that the number one ingredient is oats. To be so singularly focused on one ingredient — sugar — is irresponsible and doesn’t help consumers look at the total nutrition offered.”
Honey Nut Cheerios debuted in 1979. The cereal’s forebear, Cheerios, originally called Cheerioats, was born in 1941 and has a more favorable nutrition profile. The plain version is low in sugar, “and you’re getting some oat fiber that can help lower your cholesterol modestly,” said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Unfortunately, that makes the contrast with its spinoffs difficult. Those include far more sugary options like Pumpkin Spice Cheerios and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The newest offering, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheerios, has what looks like sugar flakes on it, but it actually has a lower sugar content than Honey Nut Cheerios.
“The company has capitalized on the good name of the original,” Ms. Liebman said. “We’ve been saying for years that Honey Nut Cheerios has more sugar than honey and more salt than nuts, in fact it’s got no nuts at all, it’s just got almond flavor.”
The center has quarreled with General Mills before. It sued the company over health claims made about another Cheerios offshoot, Cheerios Protein.
General Mills refers to cereals like Honey Nut Cheerios as “presweetened” — putting the sugar, brown sugar and honey into your cereal so you don’t have to. Back in 2009, the company made news by announcing an initiative had already been underway to drop the sugar figure into single digits in such cereals marketed to children. In the last decade or so, Honey Nut Cheerios has fallen to nine grams of sugars per serving, from 11. Or so it seems.
I undertook a review of highly sensitive corporate documents. And by that, I mean I looked at pictures of old cereal boxes on eBay, because apparently there’s a market for vintage, flattened cereal boxes. I found a box from 2003 that showed the serving size of Honey Nut Cheerios to be one cup, weighing 30 grams and having 11 grams of sugars. Today, a serving is three-quarters of a cup, and just 28 grams, with nine grams of sugars.