Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that kids and teens who eat breakfast have more energy, do better in school, and eat healthier throughout the day. Without a decent breakfast, people can get irritable, restless, and tired. So make time for breakfast — for you and your kids!

Breakfast foods such as oats, eggs, milk and dairy products are good source of energy, protein and fibre, as well as important nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins. Our bodies need these essential nutrients and research shows that if these are missed at breakfast, they are less likely to be compensated for later in the day.

Many people struggle to find the time to have breakfast and so opting for quick breakfasts-on-the go are becoming increasingly popular. But are they really a suitable option?

Investigating breakfast biscuits

Let’s take breakfast biscuits for example. Similar to many children’s breakfast cereals, breakfast biscuits are also high in sugars. In a recent survey by Action on Sugar, 46% of breakfast biscuits were found to contain the same amount or more sugars than a 30g bowl of Kellogg’s Coco Pops, which contains 11g of sugar (the equivalent of nearly three teaspoons). While 92% of products were found to contain more sugars per serving than a bowl of Nestlé Toffee Crisp Cereal, which contains 7g of sugar (the equivalent of nearly two teaspoons).

You might think that a pouch of ‘breakfast’ biscuits is a healthier option than Nestlé Toffee Crisp Cereal, but perhaps we should focus more on the word ‘biscuits’ than ‘breakfast’ when we think of these products, to grasp a truer understanding of their content.

Lurking sugar levels

The survey, which analysed 39 breakfast biscuits sold in leading UK supermarkets, revealed for the first time the four products with the highest sugar content per serving. These are: Lidl Sondey Envitas Breakfast Biscuits Chocolate & Hazelnut Flavour and Lidl Sondey Envitas Breakfast Biscuit Chocolate, followed by BelVita Breakfast Yogurt Crunch Creamy Live Yogurt Cocoa Biscuits (two biscuits in a pouch) and BelVita Breakfast Cocoa with Choc Chip (four biscuits in a pouch) – equivalent to approximately four teaspoons of sugar!

Worryingly, 38% of products would have a red warning colour for front of pack labelling for high sugars content, 41% of products would have an amber colour for front of pack labelling, and, not one single product featured green front of pack labelling for low sugars! Every single one of the products contained one or more teaspoons of sugar per serving.

Serving size confusion

When it comes to serving size, misleading labelling continues to baffle many consumers. For example, BelVita labels the nutrition information of one biscuit on the front of pack, even though each pouch contains two to four biscuits, which may be considered as one serving. Why label the nutrition information of one biscuit when most people will open the pouch and eat all two or four biscuits?

What can we do?

Just because a product contains added vitamins and is promoted as a healthy option, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best option for breakfast on-the-go. Choose your family’s breakfast wisely and don’t be misled into buying products that are convenient but not entirely healthy. Make sure you are reading your food labels and ingredients lists so you know exactly is what is in your food.

If you do find breakfast biscuits as the most convenient choice for you, then have a look at the data and make your regular purchase the product with the least amount of sugar. Alternatively, opt for wholegrain breakfast cereals low in salt and sugar and add fresh fruit to increase their nutritional value and flavour.

Food companies have important role to play when it comes to improving the health of the nation. They must produce and promote healthier breakfast options, lower in sugar and salt and high in fibre, with clear and accurate front of pack nutrition labelling. It is important that breakfast substitutes offer the healthiest alternative, rather than a worse option.

About Kawther Hashem BSc MSc RNutr

Kawther is a Registered Nutritionist for Action on Sugar and for CASH (Consensus Action on Salt and Health), a charity organisation concerned with the health effects of a high salt and sugar diet and Researcher at Queen Mary University of London. Kawther studied for a BSc in Nutrition at King’s College London. Since graduating, Kawther has worked for Unilever, before going on to work for Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, on the successful Children’s Food Campaign. Kawther left Sustain, due to lack of funding, to work for Consumers International on their nutrition and food safety programme before joining CASH and World Action on Salt and Health in August 2012. Kawther also joined the Action on Sugar project since its launch in January 2014 and completed a Masters in Food Policy at City University London in December 2014. Alongside her role with Action on Sugar and CASH Kawther is also a Researcher at Queen Mary University of London since she started her PhD studies in 2015.