Though I don’t (yet) know from experience, I imagine any parent wants to make sure they’re feeding their kids healthy foods. With breakfast being the Most Important Meal of the Day and all, it’s easy to understand why health-related claims calling out in big colorful letters from the cereal aisle can influence parents’ purchasing choices.

A recent study by Yale researchers from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, showed that they often misinterpret these claims when selecting a breakfast cereal.Parents of kids 2 to 11 were shown pictures of popular kids’ cereals and to say whether the “buzzwords” on the boxes would persuade them to buy it.

Not surprisingly, when packaging included words and phrases such as “whole grain,” “organic” or “supports your child’s immunity,” parents were more likely to say they’d purchase that cereal, even if it were sugary and, in fact, less nutritious than alternatives without claims on the box.

It happens to the best of us. This is coming from a girl who, at one time, used to buy the pink diet Sprite because it was fortified with calcium. I wish I was kidding. Fortunately, I saw the light on that one pretty quickly. We’ve all been there, though—do you buy the cereal with the boring box that has great nutrition stats or the one that’s pretty good with maybe a little added sugar but a big bright “organic” label on it? Is it more important to be a good source of fiber or to boost immunity? That fiber could be considered immune-boosting because of its role in keeping the gut healthy is one of those fine points food companies don’t want you to think so hard about.

My usual rule when shopping is that if the food company needs to brag about how healthy something is, it’s worth checking out if they’re trying to distract from something else.

The study appears this month in the journal Public Health Nutrition.

When buying cereal, what do you look for in a product? What’s your favorite cereal? 

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