Choose the Right Cereal to Maximize its Benefits
People who eat cereal have a significantly lower fat and cholesterol intake than those who consume other foods at breakfast, according to scientific studies. Better yet, they have lower serum cholesterol levels than non-cereal eaters and those who skip breakfast entirely.
What’s more, a serving of cereal is inexpensive, quick to fix and clean up, low in calories, rich in important nutrients, and versatile with dozens of varieties to choose from.
Some brands, of course, are little more than thinly disguised candy. But there are plenty more that provide top-notch nutrition. While any cereal is better than the typical bacon-and-eggs or pastry-and-coffee breakfast, the problem is determining which brands are best for your active lifestyle, especially since dozens of newcomers enter the market every year. The following guidelines should help you separate the best from the rest.
Remember that most data is based on a one-ounce serving, which depending on the cereal’s density, may be more or less than you actually consume. If you live an active lifestyle and have a big appetite, you probably eat more, so you may be getting double or even triple the calories and nutrients listed on the box.
Carbohydrates and Fiber
One of the most important things you get from cereal is complex carbohydrate in the form of starch and fiber. Carbo is your body’s most efficient fuel and should account for the bulk of your diet.
Dietary fiber is vital for good health, yet most of us get only a fraction of the recommended 20 – 30 grams a day. Try to choose a brand that lists a whole grain as its first ingredient. These contain both the fiber-rich bran portion of the grain and the vitamin-and mineral-rich germ.
Select cereals with 15-20 grams of complex carbohydrate per serving and at least 5 grams of fiber. If the rest of your diet is short on fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, consider a high fiber cereal.
We all know the health benefits of avoiding fat. Fortunately with cereals, it’s easy to do. Most manufacturers have made an effort to get rid of oils and other fat sources. Some cereals are completely fat free.
Most contain 1-2 grams of fat, while a few (usually granolas and nut-rich varieties) go as high as 4 or 5 grams. Choose cereals with less than 2 grams of fat per serving, and keep the fat content low by using non-fat milk.
Cereals contain little protein; usually no more than 5 grams per serving. This doesn’t go a long way toward meeting the U.S. RDA of 44-56 grams a day, but most of us get more than enough at oth
er meals. Besides, pouring on a cup of non-fat milk provides an additional 8 grams of protein to a bowl of cereal.
To get the biggest protein boost from cereal, choose whole-grain varieties. The protein value of any cereal can be increased by adding milk, nuts, wheat germ, etc.
Sugar isn’t the poison some people say it is. In fact, it’s a good muscle fuel. Still, an overabundance in your cereal adds calories without nutrition.
While some “kiddie” cereals are as much as one-half sugar, most adult varieties are more sensible. Some cereal brands have less than a gram of sugar. Cereals with dried fruit will have higher sugar content, but that’s okay because fruit is nutritious.
Don’t spoil a low-sugar cereal by applying too much. For a nutritional boost, sweeten cereal with fresh fruit or raisins.
Salt can be problematic for people with hypertension, but compared with most processed food, cereal doesn’t have much. Some are sodium free, while most of the rest provide 150-250 milligrams per serving.
Choose cereals with less than 200 mg of sodium per serving if you eat large amounts.
Vitamins and Minerals
Virtually all cereals are enriched with vitamins and minerals, so don’t be swayed by nutritional hype. Select a cereal that provides at least 25% of the RDA for iron, but think twice about brands that supply 100% of the RDA for all vitamins. You don’t need a whole day’s vitamins at breakfast, and these cereals are usually expensive. Any normal diet will provide sufficient nutrients.
Select cereals that provide about 25% of the RDA for vitamins and minerals.
© 9/3/2010 Athena Goodlight