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HFG guide to cereal

Nutritionist Rose Carr puts breakfast cereals in the spotlight and finds star performers.

What could be more important after a 12-hour fast than something to kick-start our metabolism? In fact, breakfast is so important, much research has been done to investigate its effects.

If you eat breakfast every day, you will perform better, your diet is more likely to provide all the nutrients you need, and breakfast is good for weight control.

Researchers have shown that for adults and children, a good breakfast helps memory and concentration, which translates to better performance at work and school. People who regularly eat breakfast have been consistently shown to have better overall diets than those who don’t. In general, they eat less fat, more fibre, and have higher intakes of vitamins and minerals – in particular iron, calcium and magnesium. And while many believe skipping breakfast will help lose weight, evidence shows the opposite. People who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to overeat later, often choosing foods higher in fat and with fewer essential nutrients.

American researchers found that men who regularly consumed a whole grain cereal breakfast had a 17% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and other causes, whereas eating refined-grain cereals did not reduce the risk. They believe this is explained by the lower amounts of many potentially beneficial micronutrients, antioxidants, minerals, phytochemicals,and fibre in refined cereals.

Our criteria for the perfect breakfast cereal is one with whole grains, high in fibre, and low in sugar (see checklist). Cereals are a great base for a wholesome breakfast with added milk or yoghurt as well as fruit: providing carbohydrate, protein, fibre, a little fat, and a range of vitamins and minerals – calcium from the dairy, plus phytonutrients from the fruit.

It’s best to choose a cereal which fills you up and maximises energy levels throughout the morning. A high-sugar start may give an immediate boost, but blood glucose levels will also drop quickly leaving you (and the kids) hungry. Look for cereal with whole grains, more fibre, and less added sugar.

A lot of cereals are made with highly refined grains. These cereals retain few nutrients and have little fibre, and they are loaded with sugar. But there are also lots of tasty cereals which do meet our criteria.

First published: Sep 2009



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