Let’s talk breakfast cereal.
Breakfast cereal is a great topic, because breakfast is an important meal. And sometimes, it can be a hard meal to get in. So, a healthy, convenient breakfast option sounds like a dream come true for a large part of the population who struggle with finding the time or initiative to prepare and eat a good breakfast each day.
Studies have shown that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight, more likely to over-consume unhealthy snacks, and less likely to eat enough fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Conversely, it is evidence-based that children who eat a good breakfast perform better in the classroom. Research has proven that eating a healthy breakfast aids in weight management and increases reported energy levels throughout the day. However, more than 30 million Americans reportedly do not eat breakfast on a daily basis! And therein lies the breakfast cereal conundrum.
To most people, cereal seems like a great breakfast option. It’s convenient, tasty, and healthy.
Wait, did you say healthy? Breakfast cereal is not healthy. Even “healthy cereal” may not be healthy.
However, eating breakfast is healthy, and necessary, and cereal has polled as the most popular breakfast in America. So instead of writing an article bashing breakfast cereals and leaving you with no better breakfast option, I am going to do what nutritionists are supposed to do. I will attempt to discuss with you how to transform breakfast cereal into a healthier breakfast, while still keeping it convenient to prepare and eat.
I will explain what I mean by laying out a couple of general fundamentals of what constitutes a good breakfast choice. We want our breakfasts to provide satiety and to contain essential nutrients to jumpstart our day. Breakfast rules are: choose a whole grain, pair it with a fat or protein, and grab a fruit or vegetable along with it. Simple rules. Let’s elaborate.
A whole grain is full of nutrients such as fiber, the B vitamins, and minerals, like iron. Because of this, it takes your body time to break down and absorb a whole grain food, which is one aspect of satiety. So, take a look at the nutrition panel on your cereal box: a cereal should only be placed in your shopping cart if it contains less than five grams of sugar and more than three to five grams of fiber per serving. High fiber in a cereal signifies that it truly is whole grain and has the benefits of a whole grain food.
Though a cereal may claim to be whole grain, if you can identify with the problem of soggy cereal, it means your cereal is highly processed and will get absorbed into your body faster than you would like. The same way that the cereal instantaneously got soggy in your bowl, it will get soggy in your body once you ingest it just as fast. This means that once you eat the cereal, it breaks down in your body super-fast (aka gets soggy), gets absorbed in your bloodstream right away, and causes a sudden increase of sugar in your blood. A blood sugar rush leads to an insulin rush leads to a blood sugar drop. A large blood sugar drop leads to feelings of hunger. This is a number one issue why eating plain breakfast cereal is not a great choice – you will often feel hungry very shortly after eating it for breakfast because of this aforementioned cycle.
This is where the concept of pairing foods comes into the picture. The fat or protein eaten together with the cereal will slow the body’s absorption of the cereal and prevent that dreaded blood sugar spike. Suggestions are to use the cereal as a topping for plain yogurt, or to actually drink the milk that the cereal is swimming in. Not only will you absorb the cereal slower and stay full for longer, you will be getting some great protein and calcium as well. You can also mix in nuts or seeds together with the cereal for a similar benefit.
Eat your cereal and milk (or cereal and yogurt, or cereal and nuts) together with a banana, an orange, a few raisins, a sliced cucumber, some cherry tomatoes… the opportunities are endless! And you have got a breakfast for champions!
So, in short, the way to make breakfast cereal a good choice is to choose a low sugar, high fiber cereal and eat it as a topping (small portion size) for another, healthier, food. Or you can just reach for a hard-boiled egg.