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What's in your breakfast cereal?

The Australia the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) runs a regular systematic audit of products on the shelf. Here, GLNC examined the nutritional profile of 468 breakfast cereals.

Breakfast Cereals and a Balanced Diet

Breakfast cereal is a popular way for Australians to start the day. [1,2]  It’s no wonder people choose breakfast cereals as they are an affordable, quick and nutritious part of a balanced diet.[3-5]

Eating breakfast cereal is linked to better wellbeing. Research shows people who regularly eat breakfast cereal are more likely to have a healthier diet, to weigh less, and are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. [5]

Breakfast cereals are also an important part of a nutrient rich diet. They provide 18% iron, 19% thiamin, 13% folate, 13% riboflavin and 11% of the dietary fibre intakes across the Australian population. In addition, they contribute very little towards kilojoules (energy 5%), total sugars (3%), sodium (2%) and fat (2%) intakes. [1]

Breakfast Cereals on Shelf

To understand the nutrient profile of grain and legume foods available in Australia the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) runs a regular systematic audit of products on shelf. The data demonstrates there is a large variety of nutritious breakfast cereals available to choose from.

In August 2016 , GLNC examined the nutritional profile of 468 breakfast cereals found in four different retail supermarkets in the North Sydney area. [6]  The review used on pack information including nutrition information, claims and ingredients to determine the amount of fibre, protein, saturated fat, sodium, sugars and whole grains per serve a nd per 100g.

The comprehensive analysis included:

  • 171 ready-to-eat cereals e.g. flaked cereals, bran cereals and wheat biscuits
  • 206 muesli products (including granola and oat based cluster products)
  • 91 hot cereals such as oats

The results were classified according to Food Standards Australia New Zealand Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, Health and Related Claims criteria [7]  (unless otherwise stated).

Audit Findings - Breakfast Cereals

Health Star Ratings

  • 55% of breakfast cereals carried the Health Star Rating (HSR) on pack.
  • The majority (84%) were rated 4-5 stars and almost all (95%) were rated at least 3 stars.
  • Only 5.5% of products rated 2-2.5 stars and no products carried less than 2 stars.

Health Star Ratings of breakfast cereals

Whole Grains

  • 64% of all breakfast cereals could be classified as either containing whole grains, high in whole grains  or  very  high  in  whole  grains  according  to  the  GLNC  Code  of  Practice  for  Whole  Grain Ingredient Content Claims.
  • 56%  of  breakfast  cereals  provided  at  least  a  third of  your  daily  whole  grain  (48g)  in  just  one serve.

Whole grains in breakfast cereals

Dietary Fibre

Most  mueslis  (92%) and  hot  cereals  (91%), as  well  as almost  three  quarters (73%) of ready-to-eat cereals RTEC were classified as a source, good source or excellent source of fibre.

Fibre in breakfast cereals


One  in  two  (54%)  muesli  products provided  a  source  of  protein,  as  well  as  35%  of  hot  cereals and 22% of ready-to-eat cereals.

Protein in breakfast cereals


  • The majority (96%) of breakfast cereals contained ≤400mg/100g sodium – the benchmark used by  the  Australian  Government  in  setting  reformulation targets  as part of  the Food and Health Dialogue. [8]
  • Almost two thirds (65%) of breakfast cereals were low in sodium.
  • Most RTEC (89.5%) contained ≤400mg/100g sodium and 25% were low in sodium.
  • On average, a 40g serve of ready to - eat cereals contained 98mg sodium (246mg/100g serve).

Sodium in breakfast cereals

Total Sugars

If you are concerned about sugars in your diet there are a variety of breakfast cereals available.

  • Half of all breakfast cereals (55%) and most muesli products (83%) contained fruit pieces, which is a significant contributor to total sugars.
  • The majority of breakfast cereals (68%), including 59% of ready-to-eat cereals, contained 20g or less of total sugars per 100g, which equates to less than 2 teaspoons per 40g serve.
  • On average a 40g serve of ready-to-eat cereals contained 7g of total sugars (18g/100g) which is similar to the amount of total sugars found in half a medium sized apple [9]

Total Sugars in breakfast cereals

Tips for choosing breakfast cereals

Breakfast cereal is a nutritious, affordable way to start the day and there’s a wide variety of breakfast cereals available to suit different tastes and occasions.

For a healthy everyday choice enjoy a breakfast cereal that:
1. Is higher in fibre or high in whole grain (look for the whole grain claim on pack)
2. Has a higher Health Star Rating
3. You can eat with milk or yoghurt to add a serve of dairy to your day


1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First
Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Canberra: ABS; 2014
2. ABS 2014. Customised report. http://www.abs.gov.au/censusatschool
3. Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum calculation based in part on data reported by Nielsen through its ScanTrack and Homescan service for the Breakfast Cereals and Fresh Milk categories for the 104 -
week period ending August 6, 2014 for the Nielson Homescan Data and 104 weeks period ending August 31, 2014 for the Nielson ScanTrack Data for the Australian Total Grocery Market. (Copyright © 2014, The Nielson Company.)
4. Galaxy Research Study for the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum. Unpublished: 2013
5. Williams PG. The Benefits of Breakfast Cereal Consumption: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base. Adv Nutr 2014; 5:636S-673S.
6. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. GLNC 2016 Breakfast Cereal Audit. Unpublished: 2016.
7. Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, Health and Related Claims. Accessed 10 April 2015: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2014C01191
8. Department of Health. Summary of Food Categories Engaged under The Food and Health Dialogue. Accessed 10 April 2015: http://www.foodhealthdialogue.gov.au/internet/foodandhealth/publishing.nsf/Content/summary_food_categories
9. FSANZ. AUSNUT 2011–13 2014. Available from: http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/science/monitoringnutrients/ausnut/ausnutdatafiles/Pages/default.aspx
10. Nutrition Research Australia, Breakfast and Breakfast Cereal Consumption Among Australians – A secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, Sydney, February 2016 http://www.cereal4brekkie.org.au/new

This post, Tips for Chossing Breakfast Cereals, first appeared on the Grains & Legumes Nutirition Council website.

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