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The Alarming Truth About 'Healthy' Cereal

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Unreal Eats is Healthy Living's original video series, where we go behind calorie counts and health claims to examine what's really in the processed foods that scream loudest in our food environment.

Dunkin' Donuts is wrong -- America runs on cold cereal. The quintessential breakfast dish accounted for 31 percent of Americans' morning meals, beating out eggs, bagels and other pastries, according to an ABC poll.

Although researchers began to notice a dip in cereal sales in 2011, there's no question that many of you are buying boxes of the stuff. And for those who struggle to make a healthy choice in the breakfast aisle, things like health claims and packaging can really get in the way. Many of the cereals that look the healthiest are anything but. To prove our point, we decided to pick up six healthy-looking cereals at our local grocery store and compare them to one of the sugariest cereals we recalled from childhood: Fruity Pebbles.

One serving of Fruity Pebbles (three-quarters of a cup) has nine grams of sugar. That actually sounds pretty good, except that a serving doesn't really mean the same thing as a portion. When we poured the serving size into a bowl, we stared down at a pretty sad little breakfast. We doubled the serving to more accurately reflect cereal eating behavior that we've, ahem, seen. With 1.5 cups of cereal in the bowl, the breakfast began to resemble what we see in commercials and as promotional images on the front of boxes. On the other hand, the sugar count ratcheted up to 18 grams.

The cereals we compared it to were the sort that our nutrition-minded moms would have let us pick out at the grocery store -- Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran and Cascade Granola. What we found was shocking. While one cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, had an equivalent amount of sugar to the Fruity Pebbles. Every other cereal had significantly more. In fact, some of the cereals sailed past the halfway mark for how much sugar many experts believe we should consume in a day.

The healthy-looking appearance of some cereal boxes wasn't the only tricky factor we encountered when calculating sugar content. We found a significant disparity in cereal volume -- while one 1/2 cup of flakes could have a weight of 27 grams, a 1/2 cup of another cereal could weigh nearly twice that.

Which all goes to show that if you're taking sugar reduction seriously, it pays to spend a little extra time in the cereal aisle to make the right choice.

Camera: Amber Genuske
Editor: Amber Genuske
Reporter: Meredith Melnick
Producers: Amber Genuske, Meredith Melnick & Laura Schocker

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