Do you tuck into a hefty bowl of cereal every morning, secure in the knowledge that it’s a much healthier option than a bacon sandwich or a full English? If so, it might be time to think again, because most commercial cereals are absolutely full of sugar. There is increasing evidence to suggest that excess sugar consumption is at the root of a range of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as possibly contributing to increased levels of cholesterol. And if you struggle with a stubborn spare tyre that you just can’t shift, again, it’s almost certainly a direct result of your sugar intake.
Do you actually know how much sugar is in your favourite cereal? If you don’t, then it’s time to get up close and personal with the label. A quick glance at the ingredients list will probably reveal more than one of the following: sugar, molasses, honey, dried fruits, fructose, brown sugar, raisins, sultanas, glucose, maltose, raw cane sugar, caramel. It doesn’t matter how it’s expressed – it’s all sugar and the body treats it in exactly the same way, which is to store it first as glycogen in the liver and then as fat around the body.
The next thing to look at is the nutrition data. Food companies helpfully extract out the sugar content from the carbohydrates, so that you can easily see that in your favourite brand there is, for example, 6g of sugar per 30g portion. It may not sound much, but that’s actually one and a half teaspoons of sugar, so it soon starts to add up. It’s also worth noting that the cited 30g portion is a pretty stingy bowlful, so the chances are that you’re having a much larger portion unless you’re carefully weighing it out.
Things get more complicated when you take a look at the carbohydrate figure. All carbohydrate breaks down into one of three forms of sugar in the body: monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, galactose), disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, lactose) or polysaccharides (digestible starch or indigestible fibre). Fibre comes in both soluble and insoluble form and plays a key part in healthy digestion by ensuring optimal formation and passage of stools.
If we take Special K as an example, a 30g serving contains 30g of carbohydrate, 11g of sugar and 0.6g of fibre. So, we already know that there is roughly 3 teaspoons of sugar in the portion. Once you’ve extracted the fibre from the carbohydrate, you’re left with 29.4g of carbohydrate that will be broken down into sugar by the body. When you add it on to the 11g of sugar, that represents over 40g of sugar in your bowl of cereal – the equivalent of 10 teaspoons, which is far more than a can of regular Coke, for example.
What to look for in a cereal
The food companies are absolute experts at marketing their products in such a way that they appear far more healthy and nutritious than they actually are. You may feel that by steering clear of the more obviously commercial cereals such as Cornflakes, Coco Pops or Weetabix that you’re in the clear. But even the ‘healthy’ brown and grey branding of Dorset Cereals hides roughly 3 teaspoons of added sugar per portion, before you even start to calculate the carbohydrate content. Granolas are also a potential minefield, as many of them can be high in sugar too.
If you want a satisfying breakfast that will keep you going all morning and limit the damage to your waistline, then you need to look for an option that is rich in protein and fibre and limited in added sugar. This is the combination which maintains a blood sugar balance, ensuring sustained energy throughout the morning and helping to combat mid-morning munchies.
The most balanced option in the table below of popular cereals is Lizi’s Original Granola, with roughly equal proportions of protein and fibre and limited sugars, and it is the one I commonly recommend to my clients. It wins out over Weetabix, because the protein source is derived from added nuts and seeds, which is a far more nutritious option than wheat, although it should be noted that Weetabix is fortified with B vitamins and iron which could be important for families operating on a budget and/or struggling to encourage children to eat a balanced diet. However, the reality is that all of these options could do with a bit of help.
If cereal is a quick and easy option for you in the morning, then it’s understandable that you’d want to continue with that, although you may choose to revise your choice of product, based on the data below. Once you’ve selected the one that suits you best, then it’s a simple matter to boost the protein and fibre content by adding a generous tablespoon of pumpkin, sunflower and ground flax seed to the serving and then you’re good to go: a low sugar, protein and fibre-rich breakfast that will keep you going all morning and be kind to your waistline!
|Weetabix per 2 biscuit serving
|Shredded Wheat per 2 biscuit serving
|Cheerios per 30g serving
|Cornflakes per 30g serving
|Crunchy Nut Cornflakes per 30g serving
|All Bran per 30g serving
|Coco Pops per 30g serving
|Special K per 30g serving
|Fruit and Fibre per 30g serving
|Jordan’s Country Crisp per 30g serving
|Jordan’s Granola per 30g serving
|Lizi’s Original Granola per 30g serving
|Dorset Gloriously Nutty Cereal per 30g serving
|Dorset Simply Delicious Cereal
NB: 4g of sugar is roughly equal to one teaspoon.