Eat Beat

Cereal: the Beneficial ‘Breakfast-in-a-Box’

by Althea Zanecosky

Mornings are crazy in most houses with kids, and the idea of providing a “balanced, healthy” breakfast can get lost in the commotion. Fortunately, there’s a quick, low-fat, low-calorie “breakfast in a box” that’s been around long before the advent of the frozen breakfast entrée — good old-fashioned cereal. Compared to many options, a bowl of even the most nutritionally appalling cereal is a breakfast health bonanza.

Cereal’s benefits include reduc-ing the risk of cardiovascular disease, promoting weight loss and reduction in type 2 diabetes.

But it can be confusing when you head to the supermarket cereal aisle and confront a long row of colored boxes on shelves packed top to bottom. If you choose cereal wisely, no other breakfast option can offer as much fiber, calcium, and other nutrients for so few calories and so little fat.

What To Look For
Sugar savvy. Most breakfast cereal-makers add sugar, so choose those with the least amount. Check the nutrition label. The following ingredients should be at least lower than fourth on the ingredient list: sugar, brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, organic cane juice, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup.

The health site WebMD recently created a report card of cereals to guide you through the cereal aisle. Here are some lower-sugar cereals recommended by WebMD:

General Mills Cheerios
General Mills Fiber One
General Mills Total Corn Flakes
General Mills Total Whole Grain
General Mills Wheaties
Kellog’s All-Bran
Kellogg’s Product 19
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies
Kellogg’s Special K
Nabisco Shredded Wheat
Ralston Corn Chex
Ralston Rice Chex

Whole grains only. It’s important to distinguish whole grains for their role in preventing chronic diseases. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that the risk of cardiovascular disease is much lower in people who ate whole-grain breakfast cereal. Whole grains fill you up faster because they’re high in fiber. Choose a cereal with at least three grams of fiber per serving. Fiber content is listed in the carbohydrate section of the cereal box’s nutrition facts label.

Lurking fat: Some cereals contain fat (e.g., nuts, coconut and granola). Choose low-fat versions. Also, stay away from items that include “partially hydrogenated oil.” That’s code for trans fat, and it’s found in many cereals. Cereals with more than 3 grams of fat include:

x General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch
x General Mills Raisin Nut Bran
x Kellogg’s Blueberry Morning
x Kelloggs’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran
x Kellogg’s Great Grains Raisin Date, Pecan
x Post Banana Nut Crunch
x Quaker 100% Natural Oats, Honey & Raisins

Health Claims
Cereals that claim to reduce heart disease risks: These claims are approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration because the cereals contain certain heart-friendly ingre-dients such as whole grains, psyllium and oats. They are usually low in fat and high in fiber.

Examples are cereals containing 100 percent wheat or bran, oat bran and barley. Unlike the refined corn or rice cereals, these whole-grain cereals are not as rapidly digested and absorbed. These cereals also help you or your child feel full longer.

Cereals with a weight loss claim: The National Weight Control Registry, the largest data-base of individuals who have successfully maintained weight losses, found that more than 59.7 percent of those champion dieters consumed cereal for breakfast on a regular basis.

Additionally, researchers at Purdue University found that dieters who used cereal as a meal replacement were able to lose more weight than those who didn’t. Diets high in fiber and whole grains have helped individuals feel full and satisfied during weight loss. Post’s new “Why Diet Hungry” slogan is on the front of its new line of Healthy Classics cereals. These 10 cereals each contain 5 grams of fiber per serving and are high in whole grains.

Cereal may fight diabetes: Whole-grain, fiber-rich cereals may help regulate blood sugar, reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that people who ate the most fiber from whole-grain cereals had a 27 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate the least. Fiber from other sources, such as fruits and vegetables, didn’t show a similar protective effect.

Other Considerations
Serving size matters: Typically, we eat anywhere from one to three cups of cereal at one sitting, not always the serving size listed on the food label. Monitor how much you’re eating by measuring the listed size on the package and observing how much space it takes up in your favorite bowl.

Cereals with fruits and novelty ingredients: In several cereals, freeze-dried berries, apples and bananas have been added. However, fruits are usually added in low-fiber, refined-grain cereals. Therefore it is a better option if you add your own fresh fruit to high-fiber cereals. However, this type of cereal is not a bad choice if you are trying to lure your kids away from eating the sugar-loaded frosted cereals.

Skim it: Choose nonfat milk and save about 64 calories and eight grams of fat per cup. The calcium content in nonfat milk is the same as lowfat and whole milk.

Althea Zanecosky is a Philadelphia registered dietitian and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.