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How to choose breakfast cereals

What could be better after an overnight fast than to feed our brains and muscles? But breakfast is a meal that is often skipped — we suspect partly due to that morning rush. If yours is a busy morning, cereals are the perfect choice for an easy, fuss-free kick-start to your day.

Only two-thirds of adult New Zealanders eat breakfast every day, yet decades of research tells us how important breakfast is. If you’re not convinced, here are three good reasons to make breakfast a must:

Research has consistently shown that people who regularly eat breakfast have better diets than those who don’t.

Research has shown a good breakfast helps memory and concentration: just as important at work as at school.

Skipping breakfast does not help lose weight; in fact, the 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. Another bonus for those wanting to lose weight: eating in the morning further stimulates our metabolic rate, ie. we burn more energy as a result of eating breakfast than if we consumed exactly the same food later in the day.

Grains are a source of B vitamins as well as fibre, but refined grains have much less than whole grains. B vitamins help our bodies produce energy from our food and are generally not stored in the body, so we need a regular supply. Fibre is needed for gut health and bowel function. Having enough fibre is also associated with lower risk for a number of chronic diseases including heart disease, some cancers and type-2 diabetes. The more whole grains in our cereals the better.

Dried fruit provides a natural source of sugar as well as fibre and potassium. Nuts and seeds also add fibre as well as healthy fats. Recent research on almonds suggests normal analytical methods could be overstating their actual energy content by as much as 32 per cent. This is great news, as we know almonds and other nuts have health benefits.

Many breakfast cereals contain added sugars because we all like some sweetness, but we think some cereals have too much sugar so we’ve suggested an upper limit. Our bodies treat sugar from fruit, table sugar, honey, maple or golden syrups in the same way, but because whole fruit adds other nutrients we have a higher sugar limit when cereals contain fruit. Cereals generally only contain salt (sodium chloride) if it is needed in processing. Cornflakes, for example, need salt to keep them crunchy. But some cereals have more than other similar cereals so it pays to find cereals lower in sodium per 100g. Along with sodium, we also aim to limit saturated fat, as too much of either adversely affects heart health. Coconut in cereals adds saturated fat and depending on both the amount and type of oil used, toasted muesli may be higher in saturated fat than untoasted.

Serving your breakfast cereal with any of trim milk, low-fat yoghurt and fruit will only enhance the nutrition you get from it.

Use these criteria to help you choose:

  • Sugars: 15g per or less per 100g. For cereals with dried fruit: up to 25g per 100g
  • Saturated fat: 3g or less per 100g
  • Fibre: 5g or more per 100g (5-15g if children are consuming it, too)
  • Sodium: 400mg or less per 100g

Add fibre

  • LSA (ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds) adds 1.5g fibre per tablespoon.
  • Fresh fruit salad adds 2.6g fibre per 3/4 cup.



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