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Choosing a healthy breakfast cereal

In an ideal world you’d have ample time in the morning to create the perfect breakfast containing complex carbohydrates, lean protein and some healthy fats without a processed food source in sight. Perhaps, poached eggs on rye toast with some avocado! I appreciate that for many people, finding time in the morning is difficult and making the behavioural changes required to move away from your comforting bowl of cereal in the morning, a challenge. Cereal is a processed food source that has dominated breakfast time for well over a decade. No cereal provides the health benefits gained from cooking your own breakfast using fresh whole foods but if you decide to eat cereal, make sure it’s as healthier choice.

What constitutes a healthy cereal?

Don’t be fooled by expensive marketing campaigns by the big players in the cereal industry. If there is nothing else to eat, then Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes are better than nothing. However, if you have the option, make an education decision to eat healthily and choose the best possible way to start your day.

To avoid the pitfalls of fancy packaging and persuasive adverts, you need to start understanding food labels. The key criteria for a healthy cereal are:

Sugar makes cereal taste great! If it doesn’t already include it, we tend to add it ourselves in the form of honey, fruit or sugar.

Trans fat is bad news (The FAT lowdown). Nuts and seeds will increase the overall fat content of the cereal but this source of fat is good (unsaturated fat). It’s rarely a problem in breakfast cereals but one to keep an eye on nevertheless.

Protein helps control blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. Nuts and whole grains often provide the protein content in cereals.

Fibre helps you feel satiated for longer and also assists with digestion to process foods.

Your cereal should have no added salt.

Which cereals should you choose?

From the leading brands in the cereal market (Kellogg’s, Nestles, Dorset Cereals, Weetabix and Jordans), here are the healthiest choices you can make:

Brand

Kcal (per 100g)

Protein (g)

Carbs (g)

Sugars (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Fibre (g)

 

Sodium

Jordans Wheat Bran

204

14.0

24.5

3.6

5.5

42.8

Trace

Nestle Shredded Wheat Bitesize

344

11.7

70.0

0.7

0.5

11.8

Trace

Nestle Shredded Wheat

340

11.6

68.5

0.7

0.5

11.6

Trace

If you’re fuelling exercise or recovery from exercise, choosing a breakfast cereal slightly higher in calories may be a better choice. Ensure these added calories come from dried fruit, whole grains and nuts, rather than honey, sugar or corn syrup. Choose a quality cereal such as Dorset, Alara or Rude Health brands.

How do the most popular cereals in the UK compare?

Even if it’s not listed in the ingredients, sugar is the main culprit when it comes to creating an unhealthy breakfast cereal. Dried fruit, honey and molasses all contain sugar, which is bad news for your blood sugar levels. Below is a list of some of the most popular cereal choices in the UK. As you can see, the more processed the cereal, the more sugar it contains.

Brand

Kcal (per 100g)

Protein (g)

Carbs (g)

Sugars (g)

Saturated fat (g)

Fibre (g)

 

Sodium

Weetabix

358

11.5

68.6

4.4

0.6

10.0

Trace

Organic Porridge Oats

360

11.0

60.4

1.5

1.6

8.5

Trace

Corn Flakes

380

7.3

84.0

8.9

0.4

3.0

0.3

Nestle Cheerios

381

8.6

74.5

21.5

0.9

7.1

0.5

Jordans Crunchy Crisp Chunky Nuts

486

8.5

58.5

21.5

5.6

6.0

Trace

Kellogg’s Bran Flakes Sultana Bran

318

8.0

67.0

33.4

0.5

13.2

1.3

Special K Sustain

338

14.4

66.7

21.5

0.4

12.3

1.2

Dorset Cereals Berries & Cherries

321

6.5

68.8

41.2

0.9

6.3

Trace

Is this ground breaking news?

The processed breakfast cereal market is far from dead but there has been a recent fall in sales since 2010, which has continued through to 2012. On the flip side, sugar-free mueslis and minimally processed porridges from companies like Rude Health and Alara are making a strong comeback.

It appears people are starting to understand the importance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast and that this nutritional goal cannot be achieved by eating the vast majority of processed breakfast cereals. Take a little time to study the options available to you on the supermarket shelves and choose a breakfast cereal won’t leave you craving sugar and caffeine by 10m.