By Mike Pomranz
Updated November 16, 2015
Credit: © Lena Mirisola / Getty Images

How much extra protein should a product have to be labeled as containing additional protein? From a legal standpoint, the answer to that question is still undecided, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest doesn’t believe General Mills met the requirement when they released Cheerios Protein last year. CSPI has sued the brand for “misleading labeling” and “false advertising.”

At the core of CSPI’s argument is its assertion that Cheerios Protein doesn’t really have that much more protein than regular Cheerios. If you read the labels, they claim that Cheerios Protein contains seven grams of protein compared to the original version’s three grams. However, the two products use different serving sizes – with the latter being just over twice the size of the former. As a result, CSPI claims in a statement, “Two ounces of each cereal have just about the same amount of protein.”

For their part, General Mills doesn’t see the difference between the two products as negligible. “To state the facts, an equal amount of Cheerios Protein contains 18 percent more protein by weight than original Cheerios,” the company told the Washington Post. “Cheerios Protein contains 7 grams of protein per serving – and it does qualify as a good source of high-quality protein under the [Food and Drug Administration] standard.”

However, there’s another issue. Cheerios Protein has lots of added sugar: 17 grams per serving compared to original Cheerios’ one gram. CSPI believe this isn’t a good look for a brand that people may perceive as a healthier option, and one that sells at a higher cost. “Consumers who buy Cheerios Protein probably think they’re doing themselves a favor, and that this more expensive product is essentially a protein-fortified version of original Cheerios,” CSPI litigation director Maia Kats said. “In fact, the main thing that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from original Cheerios is the huge amount of sugar and extra calories.”

So is 18 percent more protein worth the added price and all that extra sugar? I guess we’ll see what a United States District Court has to say about it. In the meantime, you can still buy giant tubs of protein powder at GNC and dump that all over any cereal you like.