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Raisin Bran Deconstructed - Sugar and Fiber Math

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Raisin Bran is such a popular brand of breakfast cereal that it has become a generic name used by many manufacturers (Post, Kellogg's, and private labels). It was first introduced almost 90 years ago. Its name implies wholesome goodness -- raisins are fruit, and fruit is good, and bran is also something people vaguely remember as very healthy.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

What you need to know:

We inspected the nutrition facts and ingredients of Kellogg's Raisin Bran, but other brands are very similar. In cereal, the top 2 parameters to consider are sugar and fiber. You want less of the the first, more of the latter. How does Raisin Bran stack up? Here's the info from the nutrition facts panel:

Fiber - 7 grams. Very good, that's almost 30 percent of the daily minimum.

Sugar - 19 grams. That's a lot -- almost 5 teaspoon's worth! For comparison, sugary kids' cereals such as Froot Loops contain only 12 grams.

But perhaps the sugar comes mostly from the raisins?

Raisins are considered a better source of sugar than soda for example, because alongside the sweet, one earns the beneficial fiber and other nutrients from the dried grape.

So how much fiber comes from the raisins? And how much sugar is added to the cereal? Let's do some math.

A serving of Raisin bran is 2.1 ounces. Each ounce contains approximately 15 raisins, or 30 raisins per serving. According to the USDA, 50 raisins provide just 1 gram of fiber and contain 15 grams of sugar. So the thirty raisins in your bowl are 9 grams of sugar (2 teaspoons equivalent) and less than 1 gram of fiber.

Now let's return to the nutrition facts panel. A serving contains 19 grams of sugar. If we subtract 9 grams from the raisins, we still get 10 grams, or 2 and a half teaspoons of added sugar. By the way, Kellogg's lists both table sugar and high fructose corn syrup as ingredients.

The fiber count is very high for this cereal -- 7 grams. The main source is the added wheat bran, which is the healthy exterior layer whole wheat.

Here's the full ingredient list:

WHOLE WHEAT, RAISINS, WHEAT BRAN, SUGAR, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SALT, MALT FLAVORING, VITAMINS AND MINERALS: NIACINAMIDE, REDUCED IRON, ZINC OXIDE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID, VITAMIN B12 AND VITAMIN D.

As you can see, raisins are the #2 ingredient, which is fine. But why add so much sweetness with sugar and HFCS at #4 and #5?

What to do at the supermarket:

Watch out for health halos misrepresenting the truth about a product. For cereal -- look for a sugar count lower than 6 grams AND a fiber count higher than 3 grams.