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If this is the wrong place to ask this, please direct me to the correct place.


I am a big fan of cereal, and I like to eat a fair amount, but don't like to have too much sugar. I recently started eating Shreddies, which claims to have only 13g of sugar per 100g.

However, (and this is where my question arises), on the box of cereal, as well as in the nutrition information, it states that 96% of Shreddies is whole grain wheat, and also on the box it says that 96.2g of whole grain goes into every 100g.

How can it be, that they say that 96% of the product is wheat, but also somehow that there is 13g of sugar in every 100g? Surely it shouldn't be possible for there to be more than maybe 6g of sugar?

Where does the other grams come from? I know whole grain wheat doesn't have that much natural sugar in it so I don't understand how they can say there is 96g of whole grain wheat for every 100g in Shreddies, but also somehow say that there's 13g of sugar in every 100g, which seems to be a contradiction.

Please could someone educate me on this, tyvm.

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    Perhaps the sugar is excluded from the percentage calculation? – Alex Johnson Sep 28 at 23:41
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    It might also have something to do with serving suggestions or assumptions? Like, one of them is per 100g dry weight and one is 100g in a bowlful of milk? I think I've seen something like that, a food giving nutrition facts as it is expected to be served rather than from-package, and cereal plus milk is a reasonableish assumption. though if so that should be written somewhere, at least in the fine print. ...though 13g sugar seems kinda high for milk... – Megha Sep 29 at 6:59
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    Food labels are an interesting thing... Tic Tacs are allowed to say they are "sugar free", when over 90% of a Tic Tac is sugar. – Nelson Sep 30 at 2:05
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    "only" 13% sugar... – Aequitas Sep 30 at 2:56
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    Are you sure it's not sugars? Whole grain wheat contains sugars of its own and then you may have 6g of added sugar ontop of that – Bee Sep 30 at 10:58
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Looking up Shreddies, I found this site. It lists, in the ingredients

Whole Grain Wheat (96%), Sugar, Invert Sugar Syrup, Barley Malt Extract, Salt, Molasses, Vitamins and Minerals (Niacin, Iron, Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin)

There is no percentage for the sugar in the ingredients list.

And the nutritional information says

Carbohydrate 70g of which sugars 13g

If that's where your confusion comes from, then it is simply that you didn't realize the different meanings of the word "sugar".

Chemically, sugars are a class of molecules with a roughly similar structure, most of which taste similar. For a cook or food technologist, "sugar" is any ingredient that constist of one or many of these molecules and can be used to sweeten food. And finally, in everyday language, "sugar" without any further qualifications is exactly one of these products, namely white crystal sugar, that consists of the molecule sucrose only.

In the ingredients list, the second ingredient uses this third meaning of the word sugar - they have put less white table sugar than whole grain into the cereal (making the white sugar amount at most 4%). The nutrition label uses the first meaning - it sums together all chemical sugars in the cereal. And it is normal for even unprocessed whole grain to contain some of those - this being a cereal, and a malted one at that, it has more of them. So, part of your "whole grain" ingredient is made up of (chemically) sugars, as well as the "sugar" ingredient, the "invert sugar syrup" ingredient, possibly the "barley malt extract" (pure malt is quite a bit of sugar), and the "molasses" ingredient. Together, the weight of chemical sugars is 13% of the cereal.

  • 37
    The sugar was inside the wheat all along – DaveBensonPhillips Sep 29 at 22:36
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    less than 96% of white table sugar I think you mean "less than 4%"; 100-96=4. – Peter Cordes Oct 2 at 4:57
  • @PeterCordes You're correct, but I think rumtscho's referring to the fact that ingredients are listed in descending order of quantity and therefore the second ingredient listed must contain less than the first - which just happens to be listed as comprising 96%. – mcalex Oct 2 at 8:40
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    @PeterCordes mcalex described indeed my train of thought when writing, I have now revised the sentence to be clearer. – rumtscho Oct 2 at 8:48
  • @Richard In this case, there is obviously quite some sugar coming from the wheat itself, else the total sugar cannot be above 4%. The 0.7% figure likely comes from a nutrition database - there they test "standard" versions of each food. This doesn't mean that Nestle uses the standard version of "shredded wheat", they must have some processing steps which create sufficient sugars in the wheat. The prime suspect here is the malting, although it does not have to be the only contributor. – rumtscho Oct 2 at 12:43
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I suspect that 96g of whole grain goes into the recipe for 100g, along with 13g of sugar and some salt, vitamins, and flavouring ingredients. At that point there's at least 109g. Then it's formed and cooked, driving off at least 9g of water, getting down to 100g.

I don't know in what form the whole wheat is added, but whole wheat flour has more than 20% moisture as sold, so it's easy to drive some of this off. This isn't water as an ingredient, this is moisture in the grain.

The wording gives it away. They don't say there's 96g of whole wheat in 100g of finished product. They say they started with 96g. That 96g has reduced to no more than 87g by the time it goes into the box. This is more obvious on ketchup - the bottle in my fridge says "prepared with 157g of tomatoes per 100g of product"

  • natural sugars in the wheat can shave off a few grams too. – Borgh Oct 1 at 11:52
  • @Borgh very little if the wheat is similar in composition to flour. – Chris H Oct 1 at 11:56
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    This seems to be the most likely explanation, considering Nestle Shredded Wheat (no added sugar) is only 0.7% sugar. That suggests that they don't use malted wheat and nearly all of the sugar is added. – Richard Oct 2 at 12:47
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    No, 96% of the ingredients means there cannot be more than 4% added sugar. The percentage is of the ingredients, not of the product "The percentage should normally be calculated by using the same method as that used for determining the order in the list of ingredients[...]. This means that the weight of an ingredient to be quantified* would need to be divided by the total weight of all of the ingoing ingredients " QUID merton.gov.uk/assets/Documents/quid_labelling.pdf – Pete Kirkham Oct 2 at 16:14
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    @PeteKirkham - Please continue to read further in the document you linked. Section 43 (the next page after what you quoted) addresses situations where the final weight of the product differs significantly because of "loss of moisture" during processing. There is a detailed calculation given there in butter cookies, where the total amount of butter that would be listed as an ingredient appears to be greater because the weight of butter before cooking is divided by the weight of the final product. I don't know for certain that this happened in OP's case, but the regulations indicate it could. – Athanasius Oct 8 at 4:32
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A couple things for clarification. First, some have speculated that the percentages do not refer to true percentages. Assuming this is UK labeling, as in the link rumtscho noted, the 96% per UK regulations must refer to the amount per 100 grams of the product by weight (from 96.2 grams of whole wheat). It turns out I was wrong about this in some cases. See NOTE added at the end of this answer. Canadian versions note that Shreddies are 94.9% "whole grain wheat."

That seemingly leaves only about 4-5% of other ingredients for sugar. As rumtscho points out, "sugar" here can include all sorts of different chemicals that count as "sugars." The ingredients list includes sugar, invert sugar syrup, barley malt extract, and molassses, all of which will contain sugars that likely contribute to the total.

And yet that still doesn't seem to be enough. I was confused at first too, as whole wheat flour only contains roughly a gram of sugars. I consulted a half dozen different products and different nutritional databases, and whole wheat flour and whole wheat berries contain around a gram of sugar per 100 grams. (It varies a bit by wheat variety, but seems to usually be in the range of 0.5-1.5 grams of sugar per 100 grams.)

So what's going on? That only seemingly accounts for maybe 5-6 grams of sugar, as OP notes. I agree that at first it was a mystery to me too. Then I went to the Shreddies website and noticed the description -- "delicious malty, milk-loving squares."

Lacking another explanation, the issue must be in the "malting." At first, one might assume the malt extract is what creates the malty flavor, but whole grains can easily be malted (that is, allowing them to sprout a bit, which also develops natural enzymes in the grain to convert carbohydrates and starches into sugars). The added barley malt, assuming it contains active enzymes, can also assist in this conversion to sugar.

As noted on this Canadian site:

Many varieties of Shreddies either use a malted cereal process or use additions of malt extract. We could not find if Canadian manufactured Shreddies uses Malting. If malting is used the grains would develop enzymes through the germination process that turn the starches into starches and sugars such as maltose through the forced germination process of malting. The resulting rootlets would then be removed and recycled into valuable animal feed.

The malting process provides colour and flavour to the product. There is also a possibility that malting extract may also be used in the flavouring of products. The malt extract is the filtered and evaporated sweet liquid that is extracted and evaporated during the germination process which contains mostly maltose (malt sugar) from the malting process of barley or wheat.

Malting preserves the natural characteristics of whole grain and extracts are nutritious and functional to processing. (Vitamin B, and used as a substitute for refined sugar, and amino acids.)

To my mind, that's the only reasonable explanation, unless Shreddies is made from some bizarre engineered wheat variety that has oodles more sugar than usual. As that site quoted above notes: "Processing information is very difficult to discover on Shreddies." While some products will definitely advertise malting of ingredients as part of their process, I don't know what the labeling requirements in the UK are for this.

However, it's easily possible that malting of the whole-grain wheat could double the sugar content of the final cereal, as is likely the case here. Note that in this case the sugar is not "added," but instead effectively converted from the natural carbohydrates and starches in the whole wheat to sugars. (Also, it's important to note that this process will happen in your digestive system anyway when you eat whole grains, as the human body breaks down many carbohydrates into simpler sugars. I'm not saying there is no nutritional difference, only that the total number of carbohydrates you are ingesting from the whole wheat is likely about the same.)


EDIT -- IMPORTANT NOTE: After further research, I realized I'm wrong about the implications of EU labeling. The relevant information can be found at this link, but there are also UK resources that confirm this interpretation.

As discussed there, Chris H's interpretation may in fact be what's going on here too. That is, they may begin with 96 grams of whole wheat, add 13 grams of sugars (in various forms), then bake the cereal, causing water to evaporate from the wheat, and then still claim that whole wheat is 96% of the total ingredients, even with 13 grams added sugar. It sounds preposterous, but the example near the bottom of the EU regulations linked above says this is actually the way to label this process. The only time when they need to explain this absurdity is if the ingredients required to be labeled with percentages (otherwise known as a quantitative ingredient declaration, or QUID) seem to add up to more than 100%, in which case there needs to be clarification. However, since the packaging doesn't make any statements about the added sugars in the advertising, they aren't required to state the percentage of added sugars. So, if I'm reading these regulations correctly, even though added sugars might constitute 13% of the final product, they can still claim the product has 96% whole wheat. (See the example at point 27 in the EU link above,[SEE ADDITIONAL EDIT BELOW] which shows that the calculation for a QUID is generally the weight of the original ingredient divided by the final weight of the product, regardless of whether weight loss in the ingredient may have significantly changed the percentage in the final product.)

In sum, the sugar content here could be due to malting, or it could be due to a lot of added sugar that is effectively hidden in the ingredients declaration, due to loss of moisture and the bizarre EU method of percentage calculation. Or it could be partly both. I don't know that there's any way to know for certain without chemical analysis of the cereal or further processing details from the manufacturer.

FURTHER EDIT -- To address some concerns that have come up in comments on this answer and Chris H's answer, please note the link to a UK document on QUID that was provided by the commenter. (I found that link before too, but quoted the EU link as more recent. The comment claims the EU link is broken in my answer, but it still works fine for me. Nevertheless, I'm adding this for the sake of completeness and to show a UK source.) In any case, please consult page 14 in the UK link under section 43 to see the same calculation on butter cookies I mentioned above in my last edit. For the sake of completeness, I quote that regulation in detail here:

  1. QUID declarations on products (such as cakes, biscuits, pies and cured meats) the composition of which has been changed by cooking or other treatments involving loss of moisture should be based on the amount of the ingoing ingredient expressed as a percentage of the weight of the final product. For example, the butter content of a “butter cookie” would be calculated as follows: Ingredients: List item Weight Flour 100g Sugar 35g Butter 50g Eggs 10g Total mixing bowl 195g Total after baking 169g Formula: 50/169 x 100 = 29.6% Where this calculation would lead to declarations exceeding 100%, the declarations should be replaced with statements giving the amount of the ingredients used to make 100g/ml of the final product (eg “made with Xg/ml of Y per 100g/ml”).

In that case, the butter percentage in the butter cookies is likely overrepresented as a constituent of the final product, since the highest percentage free moisture component in the cookies was the eggs (typically ~75% water compared to ~15% water in butter and even less in flour). Nevertheless, this is the way the EU requires calculations to be done. I don't know whether this calculation method and way of adding sugar was used in OP's case or not, but the regulations appear to allow it.

  • So would these sugars be counted as added sugar or natural sugars in my diet? – NotAPro Sep 29 at 20:23
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    @NotAPro - I don't really know how your particular dietary classification works. All I can say is that the sugars produced from malting come from conversion from starches in the wheat, while the sugar, molasses, etc. are added ingredients to the wheat. From what I understand labeling added sugars is not allowed under EU law, while it's complicated in the U.S. – Athanasius Sep 29 at 23:52
  • @NotAPro - I just edited my answer to take into account another possibility according to EU labeling regulations. Honestly, I have no idea how much sugar is added to this mixture now. – Athanasius Sep 30 at 0:35
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    @Gnudiff - carbohydrates include many types of chemicals in that category, including sugars, starches, fiber, etc. Starches, for example, are NOT sugars, though your digestive system will break most starches down into more simple sugars during digestion. Also, "of which sugar" is NOT necessarily added sugar. Many foods (like fruit) naturally contain a lot of sugars, which must be included in the chemical analysis on a food label. Whole wheat naturally contains some sugars, and as I mentioned, it is very possible to convert more of the starches in whole wheat to sugars through malting. – Athanasius Sep 30 at 21:56
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    @Athanasius I am, of course, speaking from dietary perspective. As a long time diabetic I can reliably use carbohydrate information on nutritional labels to determine the amount of of insulin needed. Whether those are sugars at consuming or are broken down to sugars makes little practical difference. Fibers are also frequently displayed separately on nutrition labels. – Gnudiff Oct 1 at 8:10
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I often come across bread labeled "100 percent whole wheat." I've always taken this to mean that the grain is 100 percent whole wheat, rather than that whole wheat constitutes 100 percent of the ingredients. Obviously there are other ingredients in bread, like salt, yeast, and water.

I suspect that a similar thing is going on with this cereal. As you point out, the math doesn't work out for the cereal to be 96 percent whole grain wheat (which has relatively little sugar) and 13 percent sugar.

This all tells me that when they write "96 percent whole grain wheat" what they're really saying is that 96 percent of the grain is whole grain.

My lingering question is what the remaining 4 percent is made up of.

  • But on many ingredient lists I have seen, they list percentages next to some ingredients, which I suppose reasonably to mean the % of said ingredient in the overall product, e.g. Chocolate (7%), Milk (12%), etc. If these percentages are not meant to mean this, then what exactly is the point of having these misleading numbers in the ingredients list? Because, logically, the statement on the box saying "To produce 100g of this product we have used 96.2g of whole grain", should literally mean exactly that. If it doesn't, isn't that lying? – NotAPro Sep 29 at 1:25
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    @NotAPro the point of those misleading numbers is to mislead – Aequitas Sep 30 at 2:58

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