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

Progressive Grocer (India) - - Contents - By Dr Sau­rabh Arora

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.

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