This Healthy-Sounding Cereal Cannot Be Trusted

Cheerios Protein: underwhelming protein content.

Your wholesome childhood cereal brand is trying to pull a fast one on you. Last week, consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed a class-action lawsuit against General Mills alleging that the company falsely markets Cheerios Protein as a higher-protein alternative to the regular O's. The box crows "11g protein with milk" but only seven of those grams come from the cereal — not much more than what's in Original Cheerios, thanks to a bit of serving-size trickery.

A one-cup, 28-gram serving of Original Cheerios has three grams of protein and one gram of sugar. The listed serving size for Cheerios Protein, however, is one and a quarter cups, and weighs in at 55 grams, probably thanks to the protein clusters made with soy and lentils. One serving of the Oats & Honey Cheerios Protein flavor contains seven grams of protein and 17 grams of sugar (the Cinnamon Almond variety has one fewer gram of sugar). But when you adjust for the difference by considering the nutrients in a 28-gram serving of Cheerios Protein, it only has about half of a gram additional protein by weight — and about eight and a half more grams of sugar.

As CSPI president Michael Jacobson told the Washington Post, "I think people wouldn't buy the cereal if they knew how little the difference in protein is. But that fact isn't obvious."

CSPI says General Mills charges more for this version at stores like Walmart, Giant Foods, and Safeway and is working with private law firms to seek damages for customers as well as an injunction to end what it deems misleading marketing practices. General Mills called the lawsuit "publicity-seeking," but let's be honest: They likely know that their customers are increasingly concerned about eating more protein. Read the labels and don't fall for this stuff.