Skip to content

Is Your "Healthy" Cereal Worse Than Froot Loops?

This sneaky marketing ploy is making it harder to shop healthy at the supermarket.

Aliens invading earth in the next 60 days is pretty unlikely. As is taking a leisurely trip to the grocery store with a three year old. Tiny tikes have little to no patience, and parents tend to fly like bats out of hell down grocery store aisles, throwing food into their carts with shots that would make any NBA player proud—just to keep tantrums at bay. We get that a quick trip to the store with your mini-me makes for a less tearful afternoon, but it could also negatively impact the health of you and your family.

Research recently published in the journal Appetite found that children are attracted to brightly-colored food packages that are decorated with playful mascots (no shocker there). More surprising was that parents assumed all these products were high in sugar and artificial ingredients—without even glancing at the nutritional panel.

But here's the kicker: Researchers discovered that parents are just as swayed by cereal packaging as kids—and not necessarily into buying healthier picks. The study revealed that neutral-colored food packages splashed with health claims and images of plants, fruits and vegetables often make their way into parents' shopping carts without any examination of the nutrition label. If researchers know this, you can bet the food marketers do, too. Big food companies know this type of packaging appeals to health-minded shoppers and commonly use it to pass off their not-so-healthy products as nutritious. In fact, some foods marketed as healthy are actually worse than foods with cartoons on the box.

Case in point: Kellogg's Cracklin Oat Bran Cereal and Kellogg's Froot Loops. Don't let the bright-red box and smiling tucan scare you away, mom and dad. Yes, it uses artificial coloring but, believe it or not, the classic variety of this cereal is actually a lot lower in calories, fat and sugar than the oats inside Kellogg's wholesome-looking blue box. (Just stay away from Froot Loops with Marshmallows.) That's not to say that some foods marketed as healthy aren't actually good for you. Post's Shredded Wheat, Wheat n' Bran cereal not only looks the part, it also follows through on its claims, delivering a healthy morning bowl with a mere 160 calories, 1 gram of fat and 0 grams of sugar per cup!

The bottom line: Always read food labels at the store—no matter what the packaging looks like. If you're typically short on time, pick up a copy of the Eat This, Not That! to see which other cereals and foods fall into the "Eat This!" category so you can make a shopping list and quickly grab them at the store. Making healthier choices has never been simpler.

Buy This

Kellogg's Froot Loops, 1 cup

Calories 110
Fat 1 g
Saturated Fat 0.5 g
Sodium 135 mg
Fiber 3 g
Sugar 12 g

Not That!

Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran, 1 cup

Calories 267
Fat 9 g
Saturated Fat 4 g
Sodium 180 mg
Fiber 8 g
Sugar 19 g


Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh
Filed Under