Review: Quaker Lower Sugar Instant Oatmeal


I prefer long cooked oatmeal when I’m at home, but we’ve always packed instant oatmeal with us when camping. I think the habit goes back to when Erik and I took epic backpacking trips, and food weight was a prime consideration. Now, camping is a more gentle endeavor–but the instant oatmeal has become a tradition, an easy no-brainer for sleepy grey mornings in the woods, even though its nutritional qualities are highly suspect.

While doing a quick shop for a recent camping trip, I was reaching for the usual box of oatmeal when I saw one next to it marked “lower sugar.”  In my extreme naivete, I said to myself, “That’s fantastic! They finally cut down the sugar! They could easily reduce the sugar by half and lose none of the flavor.”

Well, Quaker did reduce the sugar significantly (from 12 g. per serving to 4 g.), but they did so by adding sucralose, the artificial sweetener known as Splenda (and kicking up the sodium significantly).

The front of the box says nothing about artificial sweeteners. Diet foods will have a jaunty “With Splenda!” label, but this cereal apparently isn’t being marketed that way. The only indication that you’re dealing with a fake sugar product is in the list of ingredients, which I hadn’t checked. And that was a mistake, I know. When treading the dangerous waters of industrial foodstuffs, you really do have to bring your magnifying glass–and a chemical reference–and read the ingredients.

So I proceeded merrily to the woods, and to  breakfast the first morning, where my camping buddy and I discovered that our oatmeal tasted dreadfully synthetic and sweet, like Diet Coke, or toothpaste. There are few flavors in the world I dislike more than the taste of artificial sweeteners. The worst of it was that the sweetness persisted in the back of my mouth for hours. Fortunately, it was only a two day trip, and we were able to scrounge together random snack foods to eat for breakfast the second morning.

Soon after, I attended a nature class where we camped and the food was provided for us. The instructors had picked up a box of this stuff unwittingly, not even noticing the “lower sugar” label. They were horrified when I told them it had sucralose in it, and took it off the table.

This is why I’m blogging about this. I have a sneaking suspicion (call me crazy!) that most Root Simple readers don’t buy many processed foods, but if I can save any of you from being stuck in the woods with nothing to eat for breakfast but a box full of yuck, my job is done.

Incidentally, I checked the Amazon reviews of this product, and they are quite good. There was only one outraged fellow, who said basically what I’ve said here. Everyone else thought the product was just fantastic. I suspect that folks who consume fake sugars on a regular basis would find nothing objectionable in the flavor.

Leave a comment


  1. Table sugar has 50 cals per Tblsp. I normally sweeten my oatmeal with maple syrup but for camping I’d just bring a baggy with enough Ts for my trip. Beats fake sweetening which really is gross.

  2. I am disgusted every time that I pick up “lower sugar” products, knowing there is a catch, same with “lower fat.” I do look at all labels.

    I don’t camp, but if I did, I would pack little sandwich bags of old-fashioned oats since I like them undercooked anyway. It’s the slime of instant oats that grosses me out even more than the sickening taste.

  3. How sneaky of them not to note the addition of sucralose anywhere but the ingrediant list. Like you, the taste of artificial sweeteners is sickening to me. I don’t understand how anyone can consume them.

  4. All the artificial sweeteners I’ve tried give me the runs, so I’m especially upset when they’re unlabeled like this. Just say DIET!

  5. If you don’t consume fake sugar, you definitely lose the taste for it! I’ve also been fooled by some “no added sugar” products, they can be very sneaky!

  6. I agree with you that artificial sweeteners taste terrible and leave an awful after taste. I don’t see how people manage to drink diet anything. When offered “Just a sip to see if you like it” I can tell them right away that it has artificial sweeteners. Aspartame is especially nasty. HFCS leaves a slick after taste that make anything else you eat taste awful. I tell everyone just to use maple syrup, honey, or molasses or if they must, cane sugar. Just do it all in moderation.
    I wish they would ban all artificial food. It is terrible for you anyway. And GMO food too. But don’t get me started on THAT!

  7. By the way, I shop the markets less, and when I do I make it a point to spend more time in there reading the labels. I think the stores know me for being the lady putting on her glasses ever time she picks something up so she can read the label. I get really disgusted when one of my favorite foods take it upon themselves to change their ingredients by putting more chemicals in it to ‘improve flavor’. And I hate when companies put red labels with black or silver print. I have a friend who is color blind and unable to read those labels. I have noticed that more companies are doing this so it is harder to read the labels. GRRRR… OK, I have ranted enough. I will get off the soap box. Thanks for letting me vent!

    • Yeah, usually I am that lady too. I resent my aging eyes, because I have to root around for my glasses whenever I’m in a store.

      This is why I ended up with this horrible stuff, actually. I’d run into a market to grab a couple of things the morning we were heading out on the trip. I was in a hurry. I didn’t don the glasses and study the ingredients.

      But yeah, I do my best to “shop the perimeter” and buy very few processed foods, so I don’t have to dig out my glasses all that much.

  8. When you have some spare time, just make some of your own instant oatmeal packets – store in the freezer and pull out for the next camping trip! As a bonus, come up with some more creative flavor combinations.

    My family’s camping tradition involves couscous instead, served with yogurt (or milk), honey, almonds, and homemade banana chips. On a recent bike touring trip, I survived mostly on non-instant oats (fortified with powdered milk) and couscous. I think you can get edible, pretty tasty results if you bring water to a boil, add old-fashioned oats, and let things sit for a few minutes. Raisins make it all even better.

    My dislike for excess packaging tends to override any interest in convenience.

    • Thanks for the recipe!

      I’ve also thought about taking regular oatmeal camping, but soaking it overnight. After a soak I’d think it would cook up reasonably fast.

      Couscous is a great idea, too.

  9. I buy organic steel cut oats in bulk from the local supermarket’s whole foods section (cheaper than Quaker oats). I make oatmeal in a rice cooker timed for the early morning. To sweeten and flavor, I use honey and cinnamon and sometimes fruit. So easy and healthy.

  10. I nearly bought this stuff a few weeks ago, but fortunately read the label in time. I agree that they could just cut down on the sugar without adding anything else (except a perhaps a few more oats per packet). I only buy it for travel anyway, but my DH does love it (it has waaaay more sugar than he gets in a homemade breakfast, so he sees it as a real treat).

  11. Well the food companies need to keep us addicted in some way otherwise how are they going to get us to eat their product continuously making it a weekly purchase?
    Seriously this is their motivation for product development. So its either sugar, salt or fat the 3 most addictive ingredient rivaling tobacco and alcohol.
    Checkout the yogurts next time you have a few hours to kill in a supermarket. If you have to buy processed do not choose the fat-free or sugar-free varieties you are better having a little fat for a lot less salt and sugar.

    The formula appears to you have to overload on at least one of those ingredients and if you can get away with 3 so the better!

    We wonder why we have increase in cancers and other health conditions and commonsense is “we are what we eat” so as our food has become more processed you can run its timeline against the rise in health issues in our society they pretty much morror each other.

    Again money is the driving factor……humans are so destructive even to themselves its incredible to watch. Its almost like we are hardwired to implode.

  12. I really hate that I have to second guess everything I buy at the store…the buggers are always sneaking in “new” ingredients. I do occasionally drink diet pop…though it’s becoming very occasionally.
    As true Scot I take my oatmeal plain…no sweeteners and recently no milk either.

  13. Protip: Nothing anywhere in any supermarket that’s marketed as lower sugar, fat, etc., actually had that stuff removed. I’ve made this very same mistake with “No Sugar Added!” fruit preserves, and my wife a few weeks ago accidentally brought home some “Lower sugar!” apple butter. Both tasted quintessentially diet, i.e., revolting.

  14. I’m a wanderer, but when I eat oatmeal I just buy the plain quaker instant oatmeal packets and add blueberries or a banana sliced up and some sliced almonds. The fruit and nuts are sweet enough that I dont need any additional sweetener – and I like sweets so that’s saying something.

  15. Here’s my favorite camping breakfast. It’s easy to pack at home before I leave, and even easier to fix at the campsite. I let it “cook” while I enjoy my coffee.

    If you don’t want to use styrofoam I suppose there are non-styrofoam containers (cardboard?) available that would work, but I don’t camp often enough to worry about the chemicals that might leach. I also use the containers over and over – so I’m still using the pkg of 25 I bought a long time ago.

    Here’s the recipe:
    the dry milk is optional, but I have found that I need some protein in my breakfast, so I use it

    Spiced Hot Cereal 1 serv

    1 oz dried fruit, such as apples (my favorite) or raisins
    3/4 t Spice Blend (recipe below)
    1/4 c rolled multi-grain cereal
    1/3 c dried milk
    1/4 c oatmeal
    2 T brown sugar
    1/8 c chopped nuts, heaping
    1 c boiling water

    For each serving:
    Toss dried fruit (cut up any large pieces) with Spice Blend and place in bottom of 2 c styrofoam or other insulated container with a lid.
    Toss cereals with dried milk and put on top of spiced fruit. Top with sugar and nuts.
    When ready to eat, add boiling water, slowly down the side to allow air to escape. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir well and enjoy!

    Spice Mixture: Enough for 7-9 servings.
    Combine the following and store airtight.

    2 T cinnamon
    1 T ginger
    3/4 t ground cloves

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  17. I agree the regular oatmeal is far superior to the packaged individual chemically sweetned. It is longer to cook, but worth it. I hate artificial sweetners in anything. In fact if you put fresh fruit in the cereal you don’t need the sugar at all. I am a big lover of breakfast….how about your hen’s egg fixed different ways?? By the way Erik never ate “Grapenut Cereal” in his growing up days at home, because I never liked them, so I didn’t buy them.

  18. i am throwing all of ours away after eating just 1 packet. i would not feed this stuff to my animals. thanks for the blog post. i thought that is was aspartame.

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