Sugar In School Breakfasts

Last week the federal government released the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines to the public. Updated every five years, the guidelines give nutritional recommendations to help Americans choose a healthier diet. While many of the recommendations tend to reappear throughout the years – eat lean meats, reduce fats, and consume whole grains – the 8th edition guidelines did take a stronger stance against one food item in particular: sugar.

Out With The Sugar

In the past the federal government has been hesitant to take a strong stance on sugar consumption. Previous editions of the dietary guidelines have simply advised Americans to “reduce the intake” of sugar and nutritional labels don’t list sugar with a suggested percentage of diet. Not anymore. Under the new guidelines Americans are recommended to limit added sugar to only 10% of daily calories, or 12 teaspoons a day for a typical 2,000 calorie diet.

School Breakfast Could Be In Trouble

So what does this mean for school meals? Not much – yet. While the USDA does use the guidelines when issuing rules for school nutrition, schools are given time to make the necessary changes to comply. More importantly, school lunches are already rather devoid of added sugars to begin with. School cafeterias are much more worried about reduced sodium requirements after the implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). For now, at least, schools can breathe a sigh of relief.

The real problem is breakfast. While school lunches might not rely too heavily on sugar, the same cannot be said for school breakfasts. Cereals and yogurts hold more than their fair share of sugar and are staples in school breakfasts across the country. Food manufacturers have made alternatives to popular snacks to fit HHFKA regulations, but such alternatives don’t currently exist for the new guidelines and food companies will be resistant to change. As school breakfast becomes more popular, so too does the possible issue of sugar consumption.

Moving Forward

Students shouldn’t start preparing for sugar-free meals just yet. The sugar lobby has been highly effective at dissuading any strong movement against sugar reductions and is one of the main reasons there have been no major updates on sugar guidelines until now. What’s more, there seems to be little appetite in congress for additional school nutrition regulations. With the recent passing of the Omnibus bill and reauthorization of HHFKA, congress stalled future sodium reductions and gave schools more leeway on whole grains. The chances for controversial sugar cutbacks seems unlikely – at least in the near term. But with childhood obesity fears and increasing school nutrition oversight, sugar could find itself on the chopping block.