The lineup of Cheerios flavors continues to grow. The newest addition is called simply Cheerios Protein, which comes in two versions — Cinnamon Almond, and Oats & Honey.
With General Mills showing disappointing sales, the company is clearly trying to figure out ways to attract more customers. Chief executive officer Ken Powell told Reuters: “Consumers today are seeking more protein at breakfast and we are responding.”
But do Americans really need more protein?
While protein deficiency is a serious problem in other parts of the world, in this country it’s generally not a major concern. In fact, a recent study concluded that too much protein could be a long-term health risk. One of the researchers, USC professor Valter Longo, told The Washington Post: “The great majority of Americans could reduce their protein intake. The best change would be to lower the daily intake of all proteins, but especially animal-derived proteins.”]
Figuring out exactly how much protein we need apparently is a tricky business. Even the brainiacs at the Harvard School of Public Health are wishy-washy on the topic. They recommend that adults each day consume eight grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight, or 10 to 35 percent of daily calories, but “beyond that, there’s relatively little solid information on the ideal amount of protein in the diet.”
The Harvard report also pointed out that some high-protein foods are more healthful than others because of “what comes along with the protein.”
Which brings us back to the new Cheerios. What comes along with the seven grams of protein per serving of dry cereal? How about added sugar, salt and calories. While a serving of regular Cheerios has only one gram of sugar, a serving of oats and honey Protein has 17 grams of sweetener and cinnamon almond has 16 grams. To put those numbers in perspective, that’s more sugar than you find in a Krispy Kreme glazed doughnut. The new flavors also have double the sodium of classic Cheerios and about 100 more calories per serving.
The Protein boxes have a list of 25-plus ingredients. Included are a couple of surprises: In the oats and honey flavor, there are lentils. And in cinnamon almond, oil of rosemary is added “to preserve freshness.”
One other oddity is the serving size – with regular Cheerios, it’s one cup. With the Protein varieties, a serving is considered 1¼ cup. This bigger measurement allows the front of the box to brag that a serving with milk contains 11 grams of protein. (In comparison, the smaller serving of regular Cheerios with milk provides about seven grams of protein.)
Regular Cheerios now carries the assurance that the cereal is “not made with genetically modified ingredients.” No such disclaimer appears on the boxes of the Protein cereals.
We’ll end on a positive note. If you like sweetened cereals, you’ll probably enjoy the pleasant taste and crunch of both Cheerios Protein flavors. You also might enjoy a doughnut and a glass of milk.