Chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for children: how healthy are they?

Last week, as I wandered the grocery aisles with my two youngest children, we noticed that Cheerios have joined the ‘chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for children’ trend.

“Can we try them, mom?”

“Cheerios are healthier than Corn Pops and Fruit Loops. You said so.”

“They’re made with whole grains; you’re always telling us how good whole grains are.”

For years, I said NO to Lucky Charms, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops and Alphabits (and their relatives).

I don’t believe in feeding my children dessert for breakfast. Artificial colours, chemical preservatives and too much sugar. Despite their begging and cajoling, I always held firm. The original, whole grain Cheerios were our cereal of choice (my heart aches when I picture them struggling, as babies, to pick up those little ‘O’s’ from their high chair trays…).

Well, what can I say. I succumbed to their pleas and bought a small box. They were Cheerios, after all. A brand I’d long ago deemed healthy enough to inhabit my pantry. So what if they’re ‘chocolatified’? The box says ‘made with real cocoa’; cocoa has health benefits and is itself, sugar-free…

(I’d like to think it was because I really thought they were a healthy option, but alas, the truth is that I’m desperate to find breakfast items that they can MAKE THEMSELVES! I long for a vacation from the morning hot breakfast routine…)

They opened the package as soon as we got home, dove in and immediately decided that chocolate flavoured Cheerios were the ‘best thing ever’.

chocolate breakfast cereals

After they’d finished their snack (they managed to leave some in the box for ‘next time’), I sat down to take a good look at the nutrition panel (something I usually do before leaving the store…),

chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals for kids

and ingredient list,

chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals

I was surprised to see sugar and corn syrup ranking so high on the list. And 9 grams of sugar per serving seemed like an excessively sweet way to start the morning.

Out of curiosity, I googled the nutrition labels of two other children’s cereals (Corn Pops and Fruit Loops), as well as a cereal marketed towards adults (Bran Flakes) and the original Cheerios, to see how they compared. (Note: I am not attempting to vilify Cheerios here. There are lots of other chocolate flavoured cereals on the market. This is just the brand that happened to come home from the grocery store with me.)

chocolate flavoured cheerios

Well, not as bad as I thought they might be, at first glance. The sugar load is similar to the other two ‘children’s cereals’ and just a bit higher than that of Bran Flakes. Not much protein or dietary fiber, but that’s not surprising either; breakfast cereals are heavily processed foods (they come in a box, right?). But certainly a lot sweeter than Cheerios’ original formulation.

According to the American Heart Association, the acceptable daily added sugar intake for children age 4-8 is about 30 g. (Note we’re not talking about the natural sugars in fruits, grains and dairy here; just the extra stuff added to make real food taste sweeter). That means that 1 serving of chocolate flavoured breakfast cereal constitutes 1/3 of a child’s recommended daily added sugar intake.

I’m not sure what the takeaway from this post is. Resist packaged foods? Sugary cereals are evil? Familiar brands are desperate to get consumers to buy their products? Children don’t need sugar and chocolate to be persuaded to eat? Consumer beware? The food industry is conspiring to make us fat?

I am, however, disappointed in Cheerios for moving into the ‘chocolate flavoured breakfast cereals’ category. I’m also disappointed in myself for not being a more vigilant label reader.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the practice of adding sugar and chocolate flavourings to foods as a way of getting our children to eat them…





Good carbs, bad carbs, right carbs, wrong carbs; what’s a girl to eat?

A couple of weeks ago, I described my current relationship with carbohydrates as a ‘roller coaster’; an endless cycle of carb cravings, indulgence and blood sugar highs and lows.

Your comments to the video confirmed my belief that I am not alone in my tendency to be drawn to sweets; particularly when tired, stressed, pre-menstrual and super busy. (Isn’t that what June is usually like for mom’s of school age kids???)

In an attempt to understand why my usual strategies for maintaining control over my diet weren’t working, I decided to do some research. For me, intellectualizing a problem is the first step to solving it (I was the nerdy kid who played ‘school’ during summer vacation). I created a reading list and got to work.

I decided to start with the 2nd book on the list; I’ve read it before and the arguments presented made sense to me then (given the things I already know about nutrition and physiology and my own body’s response to certain foods).

The book is based on the premise that hormones determine whether your body burns or stores fat. Too much of one hormone?  Fat storage is turned on and you gain weight. Keep those hormones in check? Fat burning ramps up and the weight comes off. The trick is understanding how food affects your hormones and manipulating your diet to get the desired results.

According to my answers to the book’s questionnaire, I am a classic ‘mixed burner’.

My body uses both sugar (derived from the protein in my muscles) and fat as sources of fuel, and can shift easily between the two according to the lifestyle I choose to adopt. Too many carbohydrates? Elevated stress? Inactivity? Menopause? Each will push a mixed burner into the fat-storing, muscle-burning state. Low-calorie diets that may have worked when they were younger will lose effectiveness as they age.

All of this rings true for me.

According to the authors, my diet should consist primarily of

  • vegetables and fruit (except for the very sweet ones; banana, pineapple, watermelon, mango and grapes)
  • lean protein and
  • nuts (up to 1 cup per day)
I should minimize my consumption of dairy (using it as a condiment only), avoid alcohol (except at my once-a-week cheat meal) and eat starch (including starchy veggies and fruits) according to ‘bites’. Just 5-10 bites of starchy carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
fitknitchick food
The other dietary recommendations are all things I currently do; eating 3 meals and 2-4 snacks daily, snacking on protein and veggies, increasing water intake and reducing caffeine.
The second part of the book talks about  exercise; in particular, the type of exercise you should be doing to ‘spark’ your metabolism and shift into fat burning and muscle building. No surprise here; weight training is key, compound movements are advocated over isolation exercises, short, high-intensity workouts are superior to long slow distance. These elements form the foundation of the way I currently exercise, so I expect the nutrition information to be more important for my own personal fat loss goals.
Perhaps the three most important take-home points about the metabolic approach for me are;
  • count bites of starchy carbohydrates rather than measure out portions or count calories
  • pay attention to how your body responds to the level of starchy carbohydrates you’re eating (if you’re eating 5 bites per meal, are you hungry before or after eating? do you experience cravings between meals? how are your energy levels?). Adjust your ‘bite number’ up or down accordingly, with the goal of eliminating cravings and improving energy
  • combine high intensity rest-based interval training with daily walking to improve my hormonal profile

Now that birthday season is over in my house (3 birthdays in 10 days means lots of extra dessert nights, more wine than usual and a box or two of dark chocolate caramels…), my plan is to give the Metabolic Effect Diet a test drive for the next 8 weeks or so.

I’ll be monitoring my energy levels and paying close attention to cravings and feelings of hunger until I figure out exactly how many bites of starchy carbs are best for me.

I’m also starting a new workout plan The New Rules of Lifting For Life: An All-New Muscle-Building, Fat-Blasting Plan for Men and Women Who Want to Ace Their Midlife Exams based on core strength, whole body compound exercises and high intensity intervals which should further enhance fat burning and mood stabilization. The first two phases of the program will overlap with my new nutrition plan, at which point, I’ll recap my progress and thoughts about both.

I still plan on reading and reviewing Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health and The Carb Sensitivity Program: Discover Which Carbs Will Curb Your Cravings, Control Your Appetite and Banish Belly Fat because both sound intriguing and the best researchers compare and contrast their findings!

P.S. June is gearing up to be a big month for challenges! I’m also participating in Sweet Tooth Sweet Life’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge and Running Loving Living’s Virtual 5K.

Have you read any of the books on my summer reading list?

Are you a ‘self-help’ book reader like me? What’s your favourite healthy lifestyle self-help title?

High fructose corn syrup, obesity and metabolic disease: the 55% solution

Today is the first day of the latest installment of the  No Sugar Challenge, hosted my Skinny Ms. and the Gracious Pantry. Once again, I’ll be joining in, aiming to kick the old sugar habit that snuck up on me over the holidays. (Sound familiar? You should join in and be sure to follow along on Facebook for  motivation and accountability).

Today’s blog post is timely and relevant and important to all of us seeking to understand the relationships between sugar intake, obesity and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease to name just a few of the representative afflictions).

No trans fats, but high fructose corn syrup is at the top of the ingredient list

Sugar, in general, and high fructose corn syrup, in particular has recently come under fire in the media. While I’ve been working hard to get through and understand the latest scientific research, the cross-disciplinary nature of the work (as well as all the jargon!) has made my head spin. My hubby, good egg that he is, offered to summarize the research for me and even went as far as to write this post! Enjoy (and thanks, sweetie)!

(The following article was written by Bernard Crespi, Professor of Evolutionary Biology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. For more information about his research program, please visit his university website.)


Everyone loves a good mystery – unless we are the victim.

Our modern world harbors billions of victims, of obesity, adult-onset diabetes, high blood pressure, and resulting heart disease.  The crime? Slow, early death.

Who, then, is the criminal?  There is a host of usual suspects – most of them either personal (sloth, gluttony) or corporate (greed, envy, pride). But few solid clues.

Let us zero in, and deduce.

The ‘epidemic’ of obesity and metabolic disease is now about thirty or forty years old, and has been getting worse.   Over that time, the USDA – who keeps general track of what Americans eat – reports that total calorie intake has very slowly increased, as have the proportions of food from fats, flour and sugar.  But whether these increases in calorie count and composition can solve our mystery is unclear – bodies are normally reasonably good at keeping body weight within a narrow zone, and links of food intake alone with metabolic diseases remain weak. So the evidence for this obvious culprit remains circumstantial.

We need another clue.

What else has changed in the past 30-40 years? Until the 1970s, most all of our sugar intake came from sucrose – table sugar – which is made up of one glucose molecule stuck onto a molecule of fructose.  Then clever chemists found a way to convert corn starches into a new compound – high-fructose corn syrup, comprised of 55% fructose, 42% glucose, and 3% other forms of sugar.  Since then, high-fructose corn syrup has been steadily replacing sucrose in our diets, and creeping into myriad formerly-unsweetened foods, such as salad dressing, low-fat yogurt and barbeque sauce.
Sounds innocent, you say?  One sugar (50% fructose and 50% glucose) just being superseded by another slightly-different one (55% fructose and 42% glucose)?

But a sugar by another name does not metabolize so sweet.

Glucose is the body and brain’s usual main fuel, for everyday activities like moving and thinking.  It is trafficked into all our cells by insulin, using an elegant physiological system with built-in feedbacks to keep levels of blood and brain glucose just about right.  This glucose-insulin system dovetails with our system for ‘feeling full’ – satiation – nicely avoiding the twin perils of slow starvation and runaway caloric excess.

Fructose does none of these things.  It does not stimulate the insulin system to take sugars out of the blood.  It does not serve as fuel for the brain, or the pancreas. It is preferentially converted by the liver into fats.  It raises your blood pressure. Eating it does not make you feel full, as other foods do – instead, it may make you want to eat more.   How can a simple sugar be so bad?  By itself, in small amounts relative to other foods, and balanced with glucose, it is not.  But up the amount and proportion, and your metabolism enters an altered state.  Guilty, guilty, guilty? Not quite yet.

Our final clue comes from experiments in the lab, where rodents and monkeys fed diets relatively high in fructose develop obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure – just the suite of inter-related ills that have been increasing in humans since high-fructose corn syrup came along.  Is the increase in amount and percent fructose in our diet over the past 30-40 years master-minding the obesity and disease epidemic? Shadows of doubt will remain, until new studies provide additional clues. Until this mystery is solved, no one’s metabolism is safe.

Do you try to watch your sugar intake?

How many products do you have in your pantry that contain HFCS?

No sugar, no chocolate, no cancer!

Yesterday, after a long and difficult wait, my husband got the final pathology report from his surgeon; no cancer!

With this milestone behind us, it now feels ‘safe’ to write about the experience (a bit superstitious, no?) and it’s surprising effects on my fitness and nutrition.

A quick recap, since I haven’t really blogged about what’s been going on.

In early August, hubby was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with severe anemia and received several blood transfusions. Tests were ordered to determine from where the blood was being lost. Both endoscopy and colonoscopy (‘top’ and ‘bottom’ of the digestive tract, respectively) were normal but a CT scan revealed a suspicious looking mass somewhere in the small bowel.

A subsequent biopsy was inconclusive and we were told that the tumor had to come out regardless of what it was. The surgery would be ‘exploratory’ with possible outcomes including ‘gastrointestinal stromal carcinoma’, some other lesser known bowel cancers and ‘duodenal polyp’ (go ahead, Google them; I did). The pancreas may or may not be affected and the bowel may need to be re-sectioned. Estimated time in hospital, eight to 10 days, with another six to eight weeks recovery at home.

Despite the urgent sound of the potential diagnosis, surgery was not scheduled until the 7th of October (and we live in Canada, home of excellent access to medical care…).

We did our best to fill the rest of the summer with holidays and fun activities with the children, but the possibility that life might change dramatically for our family was never far from our thoughts.

With the help of friends and family (thank you all!), I did what I, and all moms, do best; take care of everybody, everybody else that is. All through the countdown to the surgery date, the operation itself and the seven-day hospital stay. Concerned with staying positive for my husband and children and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, I failed to take care of myself.

I missed my workouts, even though a quick visit to the gym (or even better, the yoga studio) would have certainly made me feel more energetic. I gave in to convenience foods, serving frozen pizza and takeout for dinner when I was too rushed to cook. I soothed my worries with baked goods, chocolate and wine.

I love my Miss Me's

I fell off my health and fitness wagon (tight jeans don’t lie; by the way, that’s not me in the picture, it’s the model at on the Miss Me site).

Now that things are back to normal (or what passes for normal in my house), I need to get back on track. Be more mindful of what I put in my mouth. Be more diligent about my workout schedule (last week was awesome!). My timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Tiffany and Gale have a new round of their ‘2 week no added sugar challenge’ starting today, November 1st. Coincidentally, Kirri announced a ’30 days without chocolate challenge’ that starts today as well.

I’m in and I’m in! Both are exactly what I need to jumpstart my nutrition salvage. What better way to get over Halloween and start preparing for the upcoming holiday season.  I figure that the first two weeks will be a cinch; since chocolate has sugar in it, I won’t even be tempted (ha!). Double dipping, as it were, without the nut butter and chocolate chip calories.

Unsure whether it’s for you? Check out this and this and this post about my last round of ‘no sugar’ and I bet you’ll change your mind! Feel free to leave your comments below!

Are you up for a challenge or two? 

‘Like’ fitknitchick on Facebook for moral support and to join the discussion.

Can I really go 14 days without sugar?

Last week I mentioned a great clean eating blog I found on the web; The Gracious Pantry (wonderful, clean recipes and fabulous food photography). On Saturday, I followed a link from this website to another inspirational site; Fit Fabulous Forever (more wonderful, clean eating recipes and lots of tips about exercise and weight loss).

Not sufficient with being incredible mentors on their own, the authors (Tiffany and Gale, respectively) of these two sites have teamed up to create ‘The 14-day No Sugar Challenge‘. The goal of the challenge is exactly as it sounds; eliminate all forms of processed sugar (including, but not limited to white sugar, brown sugar, glucose-fructose, honey, maple syrup and agave nectar) from your diet for fourteen days.

Always up for a challenge 🙂 , I decided to join in!

Now I knew where my weaknesses would be; Hershey’s chocolate syrup in my morning coffee, a handful of chocolate chips mid-afternoon, dessert on Fridays and Sundays. But it’s only two weeks. I don’t anticipate that I will go completely sugar-free once this challenge is over; I really look forward to and enjoy dessert nights with my family. For me this challenge is more about finding those extras that I can live without.

I started by taking a look in my pantry. Since I don’t tend to buy candy or packaged baked goods (I bake my own, often cleaning up old favourites by subbing in whole wheat flour, bran and flax seed for white flour, applesauce or pumpkin puree for the fat, and brown sugar for white) and make a habit of reading product labels before I buy, I figured that my cupboards wouldn’t reveal too many forbidden items.

Was I ever wrong.

All of my favourite “healthy” products (you know, those ‘low in fat’, ‘high fibre’, ‘good source of protein’ ones?) contained added sugars.

Kashi Go Lean Crunch; evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup and honey; 15 g of sugar per serving
Kashi Seven Whole Grains and Almonds Chewy bars; evaporated cane juice syrup, honey and cane juice molasses; 5 g of sugar per serving
President’s Choice Blue Menu Omega-3 almond vanilla granola; brown sugar, sugar and honey; 10 g of sugar per serving
Aunt Jemima Buttermilk Pancake and Waffle mix; sugar, dextrose, glucose solids; 3 g of sugar per serving
Nature’s Path Organic Instant Oatmeal; granulated organic cane juice; 11 g of sugar per serving

Now I realize that these sugar counts are relatively low (as compared with say, 3 Oreo cookie or a small bag of red Twizzlers; 14 and 28 g, respectively), and in all likelihood, when this no-sugar challenge is over, I will go back to including them in my diet (perhaps less frequently…). But for me, this exercise is more about increasing my awareness of the presence of added, and unnecessary sugar, in my diet. Given the link between sugar consumption and weight gain, this is surely a good thing!

I’ve slipped up a couple of times; hubby made chocolate chip cookies (the un-clean kind) and even though he tucked them away, out of sight, I could still smell them and had to have a taste (but I stopped at just one!); the remainder of my daughter’s after school granola bar; a beer during the hockey game (Go Canucks Go!). But I’ve given up my morning mocha for a non-fat latte and don’t miss the chocolate in my coffee at all.

You can follow my daily progress and updates on Facebook (go ahead, ‘friend’ me, Tamara Grand, I won’t bite!) and what the rest of the challenge participants are up to on the Fit Fabulous Forever forum.

What have you got to lose (other than your sweet tooth?)!

February already?

Wow! January sure flew by this year! Lots of new personal training clients. Classes full and over-full. Lots and lots and lots of new faces at the gym.

It’s great to see so many people committing to exercise and a healthier lifestyle!

Me? I’ve been steadily working away at Phase 1 of the New Rules of Lifting for Abs. Today I finished my eighth of 12 workouts. I’ve noticed a considerable improvement in my core strength. Although the core exercises in this phase are all stationary (i.e., there is no movement), my entire midsection is shaking and tired by the end of each workout.

I’ve progressed my planks up to 90 s and my side planks to 60 s (both with at least one limb off the ground for about half of the total time).

My dead lifts, both standard and single leg have gotten better and I’m not noticing any strain in my lower back (I injured it a couple of years back and have tended to “baby” it ever since). I’m now doing full pushups with my toes on a stability ball and looking for ways to make this exercise harder. All in all, I’m quite pleased with where I’m at.

I’ve even snuck a peek at Phase 2 and am excited to get going on it!

Now if only I could get my nutrition nailed down we might finally see a six pack. While I’ve been great with my protein and veggies, and have worked hard to switch from “white” to whole grain, I’ve been having a really tough time with sugar.

I. Crave. It.

Mid afternoon, I find myself reaching for a cookie or some chocolate or a sugary granola bar (if I lived alone those things wouldn’t even be in the house, but my family is still a bit resistant to the whole “clean eating” thing). Not sure if it’s the time of year (low light levels and cold temperatures leave our bodies craving seratonin boosters) or the intensity of the workouts (I’m really hungry on workout days), but sugar is my siren song.

Starting tomorrow, I plan on using the Tap and Track ap on my iPhone to document my daily food intake. Usually seeing those numbers (I ate how many grams of sugar and saturated fat today?!?) is enough to set me back on the straight and narrow.

We all know that journaling helps to reduce caloric intake by making us more accountable to ourselves.

Why don’t you join me?