Is This New Cereal a Blatant Case of Deceptive Advertising?

Don't fall for the marketing. Always check the nutrition facts, serving size and ingredients list for the real story.

Everyone loves protein. It helps you build muscle. It keeps you full. It supports your immune system. What's not to like? Many products marketed as "high-protein" have hit shelves in recent years. Most are legitimate quality sources of protein, but some are  not. One example? Cheerios Protein.

Cheerios Protein is a cereal offered by General Mills. The box looks like this:

Cheerios Protein

Looks pretty good, right? It's the Cheerios you've been eating for years, but with an added protein punch.

That's certainly the vibe the packaging gives off, but it's simply not the case. Cheerios Protein looks like a blatant case of deceptive advertising—so much so that General Mills is being sued by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, for alleged false advertising and misleading labeling.

Why are people so up in arms? Let's start with the protein content. If you flip over a box of Cheerios Protein, you'll see that one serving contains 7 grams of protein. If you flip over a box of original Cheerios, you'll see that one serving contains 3 grams of protein. Those numbers might be interpreted to confirm the product's promises, but the serving sizes tell a different story.

The serving size of original Cheerios is 28 grams. The serving size of Cheerios Protein is significantly larger at 55 grams. When you bump up the serving size of original Cheerios to match that of Cheerios Protein, you discover that Cheerios Protein contains only  1.1 more grams of protein than original Cheerios, a difference equivalent to roughly four almonds. That hardly seems sufficient to justify including "protein" in the product's name. There's also the issue of the large "11g Protein" label on the front of the box, which includes the words "with milk" in smaller type.

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Although its protein content is the major issue, the sugar content of Cheerios Protein is also troubling. It contains a massive 17 grams of sugar per serving—14.9 more grams than an equivalent-sized serving of original Cheerios, a difference approximately  equal to four Mint Milano cookies. Why the massive increase in sugar? Well, the box advertises "honey" with the oats. But more likely, it's to cover up the taste of ingredients like soy protein and lentils.

The lesson here: always be skeptical of product marketing. The primary goal of most companies is to sell you their product—they could care less if you're tricked by words and images on the box. The word "protein" is a marketing goldmine right now, as consumers are lusting for foods high in the macronutrient.

When shoppers see the word "protein" prominently displayed on a package, they naturally assume that the product is a smart choice. In a 2013 article for The Wall Street Journal, Sarah Nassauer wrote, "A label that says protein has what researchers call a 'health halo effect' that goes beyond just the promise of protein. When people see the word, they also believe the product will make them feel more full or give them energy."

Don't fall for the marketing. Always check the nutrition facts, serving size and ingredients list to get the real story.

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