Breakfast cereals: nutritional bankruptcy?


“From a nutritional perspective, you’re better off eating the actual box”.

Ouch.

If this is the case, then why is it that Britain is one of the world's largest consumers of puffed, flaked, baked, sugared and salted breakfast cereals?

First port of call, the British Nutrition Foundation, who seem to be quite a sensible bunch. They are advocates of cereal, but do state that it is the wholegrain variety they favour.

In their opinion, this type of cereal ingurgitation is positively prrrrudent:

“There is evidence to suggest that regular consumption of cereals, specifically wholegrains, may have a role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. The exact mechanisms by which cereals convey beneficial effects on health are not clear. It is likely that a number of factors may be involved, e.g. their micronutrient content, their fibre content and/or their glycaemic index. As there may be a number of positive health effects associated with eating wholegrain cereals, encouraging their consumption seems a prudent public health approach.”

So yes, I’m happy to accept that certain fibre-rich wholegrain cereals do boast important health benefits. But it is so important not to confuse these cereals with a highly processed, sugar drenched bowl of, say Frosties. Frankly all these sugar-coated flakes have got going for them is that they’re endorsed by a tiger. Call me a princess, but I want more from my breakfast cereal than that.

Is my insult justified? I took a closer look at the nutritional labels on the boxes of 3 of the reputedly worst offenders:

Per 100g

FROSTIES; CRUNCHY NUT; COCO POPS

Energy: 375kcal; 402kcal; 389kcal

Fat: 0.6g; 5g; 2.5g

Of which saturates: 0.1g; 0.9g; 1g

Carbohydrate: 87g; 82g; 85g

Of which sugars: 37g; 35g; 35g

Fibre: 2g; 2.5g; 2g

Protein: 4.5g; 6g; 5.5g

Salt: 0.88g; 0.88g; 0.75g

NB:

High in sugar: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g

High in fat: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g

High in salt: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g

The elephant in the room is clearly the sugar content. If grams mean nothing to you, then try swallowing this:

4g of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of granulated sugar

16g of sugar equals 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar

32g of sugar is equal to about 8 teaspoons of sugar

YUCK.

I’m as bemused as Nick Barnard of the natural foods company Rude Health. He doesn’t understand why we spend so much money on this highly refined sugary category of cereal: “I think in 20 years' time, we might look back at the past 100-odd years and say: 'We took good, natural, healthy, original grains, and turned them into sweet, scientific, industrial concoctions. Why?"

Why indeed.

To some (my children included), the concoctions taste good. But the pleasure is short lived, as is the hunger quench. Such highly processed cereals contain high levels of simple carbohydrates, which are converted rapidly into glucose. This produces a short energy boost followed by an energy slump and sugar craving. So eating this type of breakfast will probably leave you feeling hungry again very quickly.

However, complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, release their energy more slowly into the bloodstream. So something like porridge will definitely leave you 'feeling fuller for longer'.

A closer look at some of the healthier alternatives …

Per 100g

PORRIDGE; SHREDDED WHEAT; WEETABIX

Energy: 374kcal; 367kcal; 362kcal

Fat: 8g; 2.2g; 2g

Of which saturates: 1.5g; 0.5g; 0.6g

Carbohydrate: 60g; 69g; 69g

Of which sugars: 1.1g; 0.7g; 4.4g

Fibre: 9g; 13g; 10g

Protein: 11g; 12g; 12g

Salt: Trace; 0.05g; 0.28g

NB:

Low in sugars: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Low in fat: 3g of saturated fat or less per 100g

Low in salt: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g

The sugar content specifically of the 2 categories of cerelas are incomparable. But I have to say I find it somewhat ironic that Shredded Wheat is actually good for you, as eating it makes me wish for an early death. “It's like trying to wolf down a welcome mat”.

But as far as cereals go, it is good, and it’s a hell of a lot better than some of the junk that’s currently cluttering up my cereal cupboard. So as I throw out the old, to make space for the new, I have to thank the Guardian’s Word of Mouth blog for their supremely sensible suggestion:

Calling all cereal converts. If you have no further requirement for the pack of mini selection cereals that you bought on a childish whim, then don’t despair. You can always chuck the cereal and use the box as a slightly oversized case for your iPhone.

Genius.

Disclaimer:

I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.


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