(photo credit: )
Many dry cereals manufactured by Telma/Unilever and marketed for children and teenagers have considerably more sugar, fat and sodium and fewer nutritional fibers than printed on the boxes, the Association for Public Health Services claims.
The Health Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday it will investigate the allegations.
The association also declared that many products made by the three leading cereal companies have too much sugar and too little nutritional fiber to deserve a "healthful" image.
The association, a for-profit company that three years ago was given responsibility by the Health and Finance ministries for providing school health services, said it sent samples of 40 different breakfast cereals manufactured or imported by Telma/Unilever, Nestle/Osem, and Kelloggs to a lab to test their contents.
In about two-fifths of the samples, the amount of simple sugars constituted more than a third of the cereals' weight or equal to six to eight teaspoons of sugar per 100 grams (a standard serving).
The sugars come under various names and forms - sucrose (white sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), glucose, glucose sugar or fructose/glucose syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, malt extract, dextrose, fruit juice, lactose (milk sugar) and maltose and maltose sugar, dextrin and maltodextrin.
The government does not require manufacturers to list the sugar levels, but only that of "simple carbohydrates," which is not always the same.
The association found in a survey it conducted among parents of 150 first graders that nearly one third of them eat dry cereal with milk for breakfast before they leave for school. More than half of them eat sugary cereal.
The association said that children who regularly eat breakfast cereals with a lot of sugar and lacking whole grains will end up preferring them and rejecting products with little or no sugar that contain beneficial whole-grain fibers.
It also called on the breakfast cereal industry to minimize the amount of saturated fat and trans fats, which are harmful.
"Nutritional fibers have been recognized in recent years as important components of human nutrition," the association said. "[But] cereal companies have turned them into a commercial gimmick in which on the label they claim in large letters that they are made with 'whole grains' or 'nutritional fibers,' but in fact, some of them include a small percentage of these beneficial ingredients," the association said.
This situation contributes to overweight and obesity among youngsters and even to the development of Type II diabetes, which decades ago was almost unknown among youths.
Although there are standards in other countries for the components of dry cereals, Israel does not have any. The association examined not only what the cereals consisted of, but also whether the contents differed from what was claimed on the boxes.
The association found that of the three companies, Telma/Unilever had more sugar in the cereal than what it had listed on the labels; the other companies gave accurate reports.
But all of the companies made cereals that had "too much" sugar to be considered healthful for youngsters, the association maintained.
It found that Telma/Unilever's Ugi Choco had 40.9 grams of simple sugars per 100 grams of cereal, even though the box claims to have only 20.7, while its Kokoman Brown-White to have 40.1 grams rather than the 32 it claimed.
These brands also had considerably more fats, including undesirable saturated fats, than claimed.
Telma/Unilever's Alufim brand of cereal had nine times as much saturated fat as that listed on the package, the association claimed. Telma/Unileverâ€šs Kokoman had 2.5 times the amount of sodium (a component of salt that can over the years lead to hypertension) as claimed on its package.
As for Nestle/Osem, most of its cereals had accurate reports of sugar, fats, sodium and beneficial nutritious fibers. There were no reported discrepancies among the Kellogg's products.
Telma/Unilever said it "did not know" from where the association obtained its data, and that the company constantly works to develop new products with higher nutritional value with less sugar, fat and sodium.
Nestle/Osem said it was the "only Israeli producer of breakfast cereals that makes them all from full grains."
There is also a non-sugar product approved by the Israel Diabetes Association, but all attempts to produce no-sugar cereal for children have failed, as children like it sweet."
It further maintained that sugared Nestle/Osem cereals have less than others sold in Israel, just "one or two teaspoons" per serving.
Kellogg's importers said that as the representative of an global company, its products met international standards.
But the Israeli importer added that it could not influence the global giant regarding what products it made.
Over the years, Kellogg's has introduced healthier cereals but they are not popular among children, the Israeli importer's spokeswoman said.