Does Your Breakfast Cereal Lie to You?
In the hurly-burly of morning activities, breakfast means having a bowl of cereal for many families. The claimed nutritional value of cereal breakfast such as corn flakes, oats, porridge and muesli has helped these products gain a huge share in sales. Ind
Does the nutritional value of cereal breakfast match the claims?
Breakfast cereal is a food item made from processed grains and consumed as the first meal of the day. It is easy to prepare and can be eaten either hot or cold. Milk and sugar are usually added to make it more appetizing and palatable. Some people prefer to add yogurt and fruits in order to enhance the taste and nutrition value.
Breakfast cereals involve processing of the grains into fine flour before cooking. The flour may be mixed with water, sugar or chocolate. This is followed by a process known as extrusion, which shapes the cereal at high temperatures using a special machine. The cereals are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may be flaked, shredded or puffed during processing. They can be coated with chocolate or frosted with sugar before drying and packaging.
Corn Flakes – The first breakfast cereal to be developed
Kellogg’s corn flakes is a household name across the globe, but only a few know about its origins and how it was developed. The product was initially developed as an anti-aphrodisiac by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in 1898. But it did not serve its purpose. The original product was rather bland and unpalatable. His brother, Will Keith Kellogg, is credited for developing the cereal into a wholesome breakfast product in 1906, for which Kellogg’s corn flakes is now famous all over the world. He developed and perfected the “flaking technology” by which corn could be flaked. He also improved the taste and palatability of the product, which has become a breakfast staple for over a century now. With the passage of time, other delicious recipes emerged – Kellogg’s All-bran in 1915, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran during the period of World War II (1942-1945) and Kellogg’s Special K, which was launched much later in 2006 to mark the centenary year of the company. A variant of this is Kellogg’s Special K Red Berries. To this day, Kellogg’s has maintained its standards and values that were instilled by its founder Will Kellogg since its inception way back in 1906.
Breakfast cereal options
Nowadays, there is a vast choice of breakfast cereals for consumers. Some of the major healthier varieties include wheat flakes, oats, porridge, muesli, rice crispies (poha) and others. There are a number of brands that offer wholesome breakfast cereals, which are also good value-for-money. Some of these are Crunchy Nut Cereal (Kellogg’s), Crunchy Fruit Whole Grain Oat Flakes (Sante), Crunchy Muesli (Bagrry’s), Wheat Flakes (Vitalia), Ragi Flakes (24 Mantra Organic), French Toast Crunch (General Mills), and Cheerios (General Mills).
Nutrients in breakfast cereals
It is said that our breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is true as consuming a wholesome breakfast packed with nutrients in the morning boosts our energy and keeps us peppedup till lunchtime. As per the data published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100 gm serving of a typical breakfast cereal provides nearly a fifth of the daily calorie intake (based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories). The nutrient content of breakfast cereals can be broken down into: Fats: Total fat contained is 7 gm, which is 10 per cent of the daily intake. The levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fats are double that of saturated fats, making it a healthy option, coupled with the fact that there is no cholesterol. Carbohydrates: Breakfast cereals are high in carbs, accounting for 22 per cent of the daily intake. Sugar content can be high in some cereals due to chocolate coating or sugar frosting.
Dietary Fiber: They are rich in dietary fibers and take care of 40 per cent of our daily needs for it.
Protein: Approximately 26 per cent of the daily protein needs are met by a typical breakfast cereal.
Vitamins and Minerals: Breakfast cereals are rich in iron and magnesium, moderate in calcium and vitamin B6, and low in sodium and potassium. They do not contain vitamins A,C, D and B12.
As per the data published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100 gm serving of a typical breakfast cereal provides nearly a fifth of the daily calorie intake (based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories).
How healthy is your breakfast cereal?
It should be noted that many cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs. Added sugar is a bad component of our modern diet. Importantly, most of the sugar coming in our diet reaches through processed foods, of which breakfast cereals contain relatively higher amounts of sugar. This can lead to
Type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer. Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for the convenience of consumers. That is why these are also dubbed as “convenience foods”. Breakfast cereals are an ideal example of this type of food. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating leads to overconsumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance. The fact that many young children are becoming over-weight or even obese, indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the economically upwardly mobile classes in India. Manufacturers are also producing breakfast cereals as per the consumer’s preference, but at the cost of their health.
There are also instances of misleading labelling of the cereal boxes, intended to coax the consumer to buy the product. The cereal package often highlights the presence of “whole grains”, but on further scrutiny, these are usually in low amounts compared to other unhealthy components. The consumer should keep in mind that actual healthy foods do not require any health claims. This warrants further studies to ascertain whether the health claims are correct or misleading. Moreover, manufacturers often adopt shrewd business tactics by displaying cartoon characters, superheroes, etc., on the cereal box thereby attracting the attention of children, in a bid to increase sales. Sadly, such tactics seem to be actually working.
Choosing healthy breakfast cereals
It is important to be aware that your average breakfast cereal doesn’t just contain the nutrients discussed above. There are many other artificial chemicals that are used during processing of the cereal. These can include binders, carriers, emulsifiers, stabilizers, raising agents, texturizers, fillers, colours, flavors, and other chemical agents. While these components can enhance your breakfast experience, they can also be harmful if they are present beyond the maximum recommended levels. For this reason, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, has suggested food additives like Erythritol (max. limit as per GMP) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (max. limit of 50 ppm) for breakfast cereals.
Arming yourself with the right information about breakfast cereals will help you choose wisely. Keeping yourself and your family healthy should be your first priority. Therefore, be on the lookout for wild health claims displayed on the cereal packages. Always read the display panel carefully. Pay attention to the following details:
• Nature and amounts of ingredients
• Avoid cereals high in sugar and carbs
• Closely read the nutritional information on the label
• Ensure that all the nutritional information is displayed on the label
• Look for “best before” date or “expiry” date
• Never buy expired food items
• Check for vegetarian / non-vegetarian logo
• Breakfast cereals should ideally be vegetarian in origin
• Check for FSSAI logo and license number
• Quality of the packaging
• Do not buy damaged or torn packages
• Ensure that the inner lining (primary packaging) is intact and the food is properly sealed
Checking out on all the above mentioned points will ensure that the product you pick up is wholesome and nutritious. By and large, whole grain breakfast cereals are a healthy option. However, you should keep your eyes peeled and be alert when buying these products. Go for natural, wholesome cereals than the artificially processed ones. This will be a healthy option, with lots of dietary fibers, minus the unwanted components like sugars, thereby ensuring a nutritious breakfast for you and your entire family.
There are many other artificial chemicals that are used during processing of the cereal. These can include binders, carriers, emulsifiers, stabilizers, raising agents, texturizers, fillers, colors, flavors, and other chemical agents.