What’s So Bad About Breakfast Cereal?

What’s So Bad About Breakfast Cereal?

What, you don’t eat cereal for lunch?

I’m not sure there is another aisle in the supermarket that is as full of fatuous claims as the cereal aisle. And by cereal aisle, I’m referring to the the 1001 different kinds of cereals to choose from.  And each one – and I mean each and every one – has shoutlines of boastful health claims on the front of the box. One wonders why a cereal like Reese’s Puffs goes to the effort of boldly writing CALCIUM and  VITAMIN D on the box. Surely they’re referring to  the milk that one adds to the cereal and not the cereal itself. And are the people buying Reese’s Puffs actually looking for a healthy breakfast?  They’re making a decision an orphaned seven year old would make.

But I’m not writing this to tell you that cereals inspired by candy bars are a bad choice. That’s a tad obvious. What isn’t obvious are the cereals that are presumed to be healthy. You know the ones:  they don’t have giant tucans and coloured Os on the front, but are the picture of restraint, a plain yellow box with a single golden wheat stalk alongside a check mark from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Don’t even bother reading the nutritional label of these goody-two-shoes.  The front of the box tells you everything you need to know.

Or not.

As usual, I am dismayed at the amount of sugar, salt and other strange things found in what are considered healthy foods. Why,  for instance, is there Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) in my Cheerios? (TSP is a chemical ingredient found in things like floor cleanser and wallpaper strippers.) While it is approved for food use by the FDA, (apparently it acts as a bonding agent) isn’t there some other ingredient they could use?  And in Cheerios of all places – wholesome, reliable, heart-healthy Cheerios. And kids eat Cheerios by the bucket load.  Guess what?  While the sugar is low, (1 gram per serving), the salt is high (250mg per serving) and the fibre is nothing to write home about at 2 grams per serving. You may recall, that the daily allowance for 7 – 12 month old children is 370 mg a day.  Cheerios are but one of the many offenders. Speaking of good, your good good whole wheat Shreddies has a whopping 300 mg of salt per serving.

With the cereal aisles literally bursting with options (and bogus health claims),  I think what we need here is a little guidance. For this type of thing I look to Nutrition Action Health Letter. If you haven’t heard of it, I truly recommend having a look at www.cspinet.org/nah/canada/htm. One of its greatest assets is their Best Bites Guide, which looks at our grocery store shelves and evaluates and compares brands to give you what your healthiest options are. As for the cereal aisle, Nutrition Action suggests that you select cereals with at least 3 grams of fiber and no more than 8 grams of sugar and to avoid artificial sweeteners altogether. As some of you may know, I’m on a bit of a sodium mission so I continued to look for guidance on cereals and found http://www.fooducate.com, another fabulously informative food/nutrition blog. Fooducate has an iphone ap that allows you to scan the barcode of a product, that then tells you what’s really inside and it will suggest a healthier alternative. They too suggest at least 3 grams of fiber but no more than 6 grams of sugar per serving and no more than 150 mg of salt and to avoid things like food colouring and BHT which has been linked to all sorts of trouble including cancer.

What are your children’s favorite cereals? Do they pass the test?

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