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New cereals are still plenty sweet

General Mills replaces sugar with Splenda

Universal Press Syndicate

General Mills Reduced Sugar Cereals. Cocoa Puffs, Trix and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. $3.29 to $3.89 per 11.75-ounce to 13.75-ounce box.

Bonnie: Shame on you, General Mills!

I'm sure you were hoping dietitians like me would be praising you for introducing new versions of old cereals with 75 percent less sugar than the originals. But I'm appalled. Appalled because instead of just reducing the sugar, as your competitor Kellogg's did with its 1/3 Less Sugar Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops, you also coated your kids' cereals with the artificial sweetener Splenda. Why, oh why, are you giving kids artificial sweeteners in your already-too-sweet breakfast cereals? Why not instead help teach them to eat right and exercise so that we may begin to raise children of healthy weights?

These cereals are a disgrace, and you should be ashamed to sell them to children!

Carolyn: The low-carb diet craze and kids' obesity has caused both of America's major cereal makers to reduce the sugar in some of their most sinful kids' cereals in two different ways: Kellogg's has actually cut back on the sweetness to create Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops with slightly different tastes; General Mills is simply replacing some of the sugar with an artificial sweetener so that these versions with 75 percent less sugar taste almost exactly like the originals.

I like both sets of new cereals and recommend them to anyone who is worried about calories or carbs. But I wonder if there might be an even better way for manufacturers to go about this: Namely, simply reducing the sugar in some of their most sugary cereals very gradually and without fanfare over the course of a number of years until even people like me get used to less.

Campbell's Chunky Chili With Beans. Sizzlin' Steak, Tantalizin' Turkey, Firehouse! and Roadhouse. $2.29 per 19-ounce can.

Bonnie: Being a made-from-scratch kind of gal, I didn't look forward to testing Campbell's Chunky Chili. But for canned food, the Roadhouse and Firehouse! varieties are not bad at all. I was also impressed with the 7 grams of fiber contained in a half-can serving. (Half a can, by the way, contains 15 percent more chili than the cup serving indicated on the Nutrition Facts, which is why you unfortunately always need to look at both the serving size and the number of servings on a label to get accurate nutrition information.)

I was less impressed with the Sizzlin' Steak and Tantalizin' Turkey, specifically the meat, which had the texture of organ meat such as heart or gizzard. So stick to the Roadhouse and Firehouse! varieties, and be sure to serve them with a salad and some fruit.

Carolyn: Chili is one of a few foods that tastes almost as good out of the can as when it's made fresh. So why has Hormel pretty much had the national canned chili market to itself for almost 70 years? I have no idea. I can tell you that it now has some formidable competition from Campbell's new Chunky line.

As befits the Chunky brand's name and heritage, the meat in these comes in good-size pieces or chunks rather than ground, as in Hormel's. And for the most part this meat is neither chewy nor overly processed (the sole exception being the mildly spicy, somewhat fake-textured beef in Firehouse!). The corn in the Sizzlin' Steak variety was an interesting addition. Can a variety with chicken, corn and white beans be far behind? I hope not. But in the meantime, I'll be buying the Campbell's Chunky Chili turkey and steak varieties.

Gerber Finger Foods Fruit and Veggie Puffs. Banana, Strawberry-Apple and Sweet Potato. $1.99 to $2.09 per 1.48-ounce canister.

Bonnie: When my kids were young, I fed them Cheerios. And Topspin, my intelligent King Charles spaniel, always sat nearby knowing that he could make a mini-meal out of all the Cheerios the boys dropped.

The introduction of these Fruit and Veggie Puffs represents Gerber's attempt to give parents options beyond Cheerios. I'll present the facts and let you decide whether these are good options. Cheerios contain some sodium, while Gerber's Fruit and Veggie Puffs are sodium-free. Cheerios have 15 added vitamins and minerals; Fruit and Veggie Puffs, just three (calcium, vitamin E and zinc). Cheerios contain 1 gram of sugar and 3 grams of fiber per cup; Veggie Puffs contain twice the sugar and no fiber. Gerber Puffs also cost about five times as much as Cheerios.

In other words, even Topspin, if he were still around, would be smart enough to choose Cheerios over these.

Carolyn: These new "flavors" of Cheerios-like puff cereals were obviously prompted by the misguided notion that babies get as bored eating the same thing day after day as adults do. They don't. Case in point: Babies happily slurp down mother's milk day after day, and older kids often have "phases" where they will eat nothing but peanut butter and jelly or Kraft Mac & Cheese. Both Gerber and those pet food makers who churn out thousands of flavor varieties are just marketing to people's (over?) identification with their beloveds.

Single adults who like mildly flavored rice puff cereal might want to buy these because of their small serving sizes that come in stale-resistant resealable cups. (It's a scandal that most regular 21st-century cereals don't come in resealable bags.) Parents should buy these no more than once — and mainly for the containers they could then refill with Cheerios.

Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat" (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. © Universal Press Syndicate