Popular breakfast cereals marketed as healthy options contain enough sugar to carry a warning under guidelines that could be introduced here.

The UK Food Standards Agency requires companies to give products a red, orange or green sticker based on fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt content.

Implementing a similar traffic light scheme is among 61 recommendations by the transtasman Food Regulation Ministerial Council aimed at giving consumers more information.

The Herald on Sunday selected five products containing flakes - and all contained more than the 12.5 per cent of sugar that would require a red warning.

Three would get green lights for fat content and the other two amber. All five would get green lights for saturated fat content.

Other breakfast products that appear to be marketed as healthier options would suffer the same fate.

Two new Hubbards Clever Clusters products would both get red lights for sugar content.

One - Innocent Indulgence - also contains four times the amount of fat as Coco Pops, despite the marketing material claiming: "Now you can indulge yourself without the guilt."

Some muesli products would also fail to get the green light.

For example, Sanitarium toasted muesli with cranberry and almonds contains 13.2 per cent fat (orange sticker), 1.8 per cent saturated fat (orange sticker) and 20.8 per cent sugar (red sticker).

Mission Nutrition's Rene Schliebs warned some muesli can be more like crushed cereal bars with add-ins such as sugar, honey, coconut and chocolate piling on the calories.

"They taste good, but can be almost like biscuits," she said.

But Nutrition Foundation chief executive Sue Pollard said the traffic light system was not foolproof and consumers should take time to interpret nutrition panels.

She said wholegrain cereals, such as the Sanitarium toasted muesli, could be red stickered for containing high amounts of sugar from dried fruit.

"It's not simple," said Pollard. "People need to get familiar with what's on the nutrition labels and what it means.

"No food on its own is unhealthy. It's your diet that's unhealthy."

The 61 recommendations are in a report called Labelling Logic. It said the traffic light system had been found to be the most effective.

Hubbard Foods marketing and new product development manager Rachel Burr said the company supports any system that would help consumers make educated choices.


Mother of five Susan Leonard has long boycotted shop-bought breakfast cereals - she makes her own by baking oats, linseed, almonds and sesame seeds in the oven with a splash of maple syrup.

"I don't buy any cereals," says the 37-year-old. "They're full of sugar and they have wheat and corn which makes me a bit bloated - then there's the additives."

Her homemade recipe is top quality, but still works out more economical than buying packaged products.

The ingredients for a big batch cost about $15 at Foodtown - $5 for 1.5kg of rolled oats, $1.85 for 70g of slivered almonds, $5.25 for 400g of ground linseed and $8.75 for a bottle of high-grade maple syrup.

That's compared with $7 for Vogel's muesli (475g), $5.80 for Sanitarium toasted muesli and $4.08 for Hubbards Simply Muesli Berry Cluster (425g).

"Shop-bought stuff disappears so quickly," said Leonard.

"A batch of my muesli will last a week and a bit."