It is time to think about having a breakfast that really gets us going for the day in the most beneficial way! When we get up in the morning, we are breaking a fast. Our bodies are so empty, that whatever we put into our stomach will be absorbed like a sponge. We are like a car with no gas in it. Because we need more nutrients in the morning to get started, breakfast is our most important meal.
How often are we in a hurry or don’t feel like preparing this meal or cleaning up afterward? Instead, many of us reach for cereal, protein or fiber breakfast bars, or other easy-to-prepare, easy-to-eat foods.
I grew up eating cereal and milk for breakfast, so I understand how simple and yummy it can be. I’ve since discovered these aren’t the best choices. Why? Because many cereals on the market today can have high amounts of sugar, which is a main contributor to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In particular, I’m addressing added sugars, not those found naturally in fruits or whole unprocessed foods. (When whole dried fruits are added to foods, they do raise the number of sugar grams, so be aware of that.)
Our bodies simply don’t handle sugar well. In fact, sugar affects us like an addictive drug. It can even make us sick!
I suggest purchasing only the highest quality cereal with the fewest number of additives. Sometimes my choice centers on budget or time constraints, but I certainly make the best choice I can in the moment.
Let’s examine the array of breakfast cereals available and determine the healthiest choices based on their ingredients. Although sugar is the main ingredient to be mindful of, watch for other ingredients as well.
When you’re grocery shopping, follow these steps:
- Before leaving for the grocery store, take your reading or magnifying glasses, and be prepared to read the list of ingredients on the packages.
- When reading ingredient lists, look at how big a serving the packaging shows, related to the amounts being analyzed. For example, some cereals show “½ cup” as the serving amount and others say “1 cup.” If you are eating 1 cup and the amount measured is only ½ cup, you need to calculate double the amount of sugar stated in the serving. To compare products, you may have to do a little math, but it’s worth the effort.
- As you read the ingredients, notice if the grains are listed as “whole” grain” or “sprouted whole grain.” Sprouted grains or seeds are easier to digest than whole grains.
- Also read the front of packages, which can be quite deceiving. The descriptions can say the cereal contains whole grains, but it may hardly contain any “whole” grains at all. If whole grains are in the product, then the manufacturer can legitimately say so in large print on the front of the package. You have to check and make certain the ingredient list reflects what’s being claimed on the packaging.
- Take notice of the first 4 to 6 ingredients. They are listed by “most to least” of how much the product contains. If sugar is listed among these first ingredients, you know the cereal is high in added sugar. Also notice what type of sugar has been added. Is it a high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar, agave nectar, date sugar, rice syrup, molasses, fruit juice concentrate, xylitol, honey, or stevia? In my opinion the xylitol, stevia and honey are less harmful as a sweetener than the others, so choose those options.
- Notice if the product has hydrogenated oils. Any fat that’s been hydrogenated or molecularly changed is called a trans-fat, which makes it a “bad” fat in even the smallest amount. Never purchase a cereal with this type of fat listed in its ingredients.
- Look to see if the list includes any natural flavorings, added food color, or preservatives such as BHT or BHA. (The University of California Berkeley’s Wellness Report[iv] says to avoid these completely.) Preservatives, color additives, monosodium glutamate or MSG (frequently listed as natural flavorings, spices, and hydrolyzed proteins) are also to be avoided.
- Select the brand that has the least amount of sugar and the most whole grains and/or sprouted grains that are (preferably) non-GMO (GMO means the ingredients have been modified genetically.)
Practice checking the specifics in the ingredients so that you can make more educated and healthier choices for your family.
Cut out as much added sugar from all of your meals when you can, and your family’s health can really benefit from that choice.