A staple of breakfast, cereals are for many the go-to option to start the day. They provide energy to get you through the morning and can be a healthy source of nutrients, being the favourite early meal of adults and children alike. But not all breakfastcereals are the same, and they also have something of a bad reputation because of their often high sugar contents. This doesn’t have to be the case.
Before continuing, please note that the following information is based on guidance by the UK National Health Service (NHS), but does not constitute any form of nutrition advice, and should not be taken as a substitute for any proper guidance from your doctor or registered dietitian. Always consult with your doctor or dietitian before introducing any major changes to your diet, and do it in a way that is safe for your body and mental health.
Focusing on cereals for children, the UK National Health Service lists a few tips on how to choose wisely which box of cereals to take home. Some kinds of cereals, they clarify, can be a healthy source of carbohydrate and fibre, but other can be loaded with sugar or salt.
How to choose cereals to make the most of their nutrient content, according to experts
Experts note these days more and more people tend to skip breakfast altogether, often citing time constraints and resorting to less healthy options that are ready to eat on-the-go. If this is your case, know that there are some alternatives, like preparing things in advance or taking fruit with you.
The best type of breakfast cereal you can find on the supermarket aisles meets a few minimum requirements. For instance, wholegrain is preferred because other kinds have lost many important nutrients. Wholegrain biscuits or shredded pillows, instead, keep all of them. They are also richer in fibre and some B vitamins, for instance. This is important, as fibre is known to be beneficial for a number of reasons, like ensuring a regular bowel movements and even reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The next thing you should focus on, per the NHS indications, is the amount of sugar, salt and fat, which should be low. To do this, look at the nutrition labels included in every package, and compare brands, experts from the NHS advise. Nutritional contents are listed as they are present in 100g servings. Some options, like mueslis, can be deceiving, as they appear to be rich in fruit and therefore look healthier. In some cases, though, they are equally loaded in less healthy elements, like too much sugar, fat or salt.
It’s advised to go for options low in sugar (5g per 100g), fat (3g per 100g) and salt (0,3 per 100g). Foods with more than 22,5g of total sugars, 17,5g of fat and 1,5g of salt are considered to be high in each of those nutrients, following the NHS thresholds.
Are your cereals too sugary?
Of course, if you are going to have cereals for breakfast, you might as well look for healthy options to soak them, as most people have them soggy. As the NHS puts it, this can be an opportunity to add some calcium, in case you opt for milk or yogurt. They recommend choosing semi-skimmed milk, 1% or skimmed milk, to reduce the fat content. Likewise, low-fat options are preferred for yogurt. You can complete your breakfast eating fruit (the NHS recommends getting at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day), whether eating it whole or including it in your cereal bowl. You can include dried fruit, like apricots or raisins, or add some fruits like strawberries or bananas. Fruit juice is another option, but be aware that this increases the sugar content.
Finally, you or your kids may have a hard time going without sugar, if you are already used to it. The NHS suggests adding this sweetness using other sources, or mixing your sugary cereals with less sugary ones as you transition, which is especially helpful if your kid has grown used to sugar.