28 Aug Why breakfast cereals are better for you than you think
This dietitian admits they’re polarising, but he says you can’t deny the research – cereal eaters are slimmer.
Breakfast cereals have copped a lot of flak in recent years. Breakfast cereals, like bread, are polarising – you either love them or loathe them.
But what if I told you that there was a lot to love about breakfast cereals. Don’t believe me? Well, the latest research suggests that your humble bowl of cereal is actually doing you a world of good.
Yes, it is true that all breakfast cereals are not created equal. Some rule supreme in the nutrition stakes, especially those made with whole grains and higher fibre. However, a new analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics research shows that irrespective of the type eaten, Australians who chose cereal at breakfast had healthier diets and were more likely to meet their nutritional needs compared to those who didn’t eat breakfast cereals, or skipped breakfast altogether.
The nutritional low-down
Brekkie cereals often contain a raft of nutrients such as thiamine, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, folate and fibre. And when you team them up with milk and/or Greek yoghurt you’re adding vitamin B12, bone-building calcium and phosphorous as well as protein. Not to mention flavonoids, antioxidants and added fibre from fruit, if you’re inclined to add that to your cereal too. Studies have shown that Australians who eat breakfast cereal have significantly higher intakes of fibre, iron, calcium, magnesium and folate than those who don’t. Plus, cereal eaters have lower intakes of salt, too.
Fibre is your friend
What’s more, breakfast cereals also provide an essential type of fibre. It appears that the fibre in cereals acts differently to that found in fruits and vegetables. There’s a whole lot of research that shows that people with a higher intake of cereal fibres have reduced risk of premature death from a range of chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and even diabetes. This may be related to the presence of resistant starch. Resistant starch acts similarly to dietary fibre as it bypasses the normal digestive processes. It has a prebiotic effect in the gut that causes it to act as fodder for the beneficial bacteria that reside in our large intestines.
Sweet news, indeed
So, let’s address the elephant in the room – sugar. Many people avoid breakfast cereals because of a perceived high sugar content. But is the sugar in cereal something to fret about? Well, not really. Aiming for a breakfast cereal low in sugar is still the gold standard. Yet it is interesting to note that added sugars from breakfast cereal accounted for less than one per cent of the daily energy intakes in the diet of children and adults who ate cereal. Surprising, ha?
Further, data revealed in the ABS Australian Health Survey found that adults who ate breakfast cereal had lower intakes of added sugars over the day than people who ate other breakfast foods. And paradoxically, breakfast cereal eaters consumed 26 per cent less daily added sugar than those who skipped breakfast altogether.
It is pleasantly surprising that despite the presence of some added sugar in cereals, those who eat breakfast cereal still consume less added sugar than those who avoid it. This only serves to remind us that we must not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
How to select a breakfast cereal:
- Aim for wholegrain – it is the more nutritious option
- The more the fibre, the better – choose a cereal with at least 7.5g per 100g
- Aim for less than 15g of sugar per 100g. However, go for under 25g per 100g sugar if the cereal contains dried fruit
- Pass on the salt – aim for less than 400mg of sodium per 100g – (in fact, 96 per cent of breakfast cereals in Australia contain less than 400mg per 100g)
The news that breakfast cereal, on the whole, is greater than the sum of its parts should be welcomed. I, for one, will cheerio to that.