Tricked by Health Food – Cereal

Cereal can be a fast, nutritious breakfast. Unfortunately,  the options we have are surprisingly limited, if you are watching calories, fat, and sugar. I have some options that appear healthful on this post, but once you analyze the labels, you find you might as well eat sugary kid cereal.

First up!

Photo of Nature's Path Organic Maple Pecan Crunch
Looks amazing, right? Organic, flax, whole grains! Did I mention it’s vegan?
Photo of Nature's Path Organic Maple Pecan Crunch
Notice the asterisk indicates which ingredients are organic.

Keep in mind a serving is only 55 grams, 3/4 cup. Who eats that amount of granola? Here is a visual to give you an idea what 55 grams looks like in a cereal bowl. Empty bowl first for perspective.  Be sure to compare against the photo on the box too!

Photo of white, empty bowl with stainless steel spoon inside
Small cereal bowl, with standard spoon

Photo of white bowl with spelt and oat cereal on scale showing 55 grams of weight
55 grams of oat and spelt cereal

You can see that it doesn’t look like much at all, so when you pour your morning cereal, does your serving look like that?

Back to the nutrition information, 7 grams of fat are mostly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, the good fats.  You get fiber, potassium,  iron, and protein. Whole wheat meal and oats are whole grains and are great for you. It also has wheat bran, pecans, and flax, all good for you. But then, sugar, barley malt extract, maple syrup, and oat syrup solids are all used to give this cereal 10 grams of sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons, or 40% of your allowed added sugar!  

Which brings us back to how much are you really going to eat? If you are dieting, you may be striving for 400 to 500 calories for breakfast. Maintaining weight? 500 to 800. So, cereal with 260 calories after adding milk is not enough to start your day.  It is doubtful your breakfast adheres to those old cereal commercials that said, “Part of a balanced breakfast,” then showed milk, juice, toast, and eggs. No, most likely you’ll double or triple the serving, and next thing you know, you’ve eaten 7 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. To put that another way, that’s like drinking a can of Coke with your morning oatmeal.

Here’s another one. Looks good for you. Vegan, organic, gluten free, sprouted brown rice, and cacao (Superfood! Okay, it’s just chocolate.)

Photo of front label on One Degree Organic Veganic Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps Cereal
Really expensive Cocoa Pebbles?

But then you look at the label. The good news is they use coconut palm sugar, which has a low glycemic index. Bad news, 8 grams of sugar for only 90 calories of cereal, meaning 32 calories or 36% of those calories are sugar. Eat 4 servings to get to reasonable breakfast calories, and you have 32 grams of sugar (almost 3 tablespoons) but only 4 grams of fat and 8 grams of protein.  You’d get less sugar eating a Snickers bar for breakfast.

Photo of One Degree Organic Veganic Sprouted Brown Rice Cacao Crisps Cereal Nutritional Label
I’m sure it tastes great.

I’m sure by this point, you’re thinking I have it out for sugar, and you are mostly right.  Coconut sugar does have a very low glycemic index, so it is a great choice for sugar. Also, brown rice is a whole grain, which helps delay sugar absorption and releases its sugars over a long period. The Maple Pecan Crunch also had whole grains, so you do get some benefit. However, this still comes down to the fact these cereals give a lot of sugar to you for your first meal of the day, especially when you consider the doubling or tripling of servings.

If you have sugar in your cereal for breakfast, then sugar in your morning coffee, followed by sugar in your yogurt snack, sugar in the barbecue sauce with your lunch, and on and on throughout the day, even if you think you are doing well you will finish your day easily eating 1/2 a cup to a cup of sugar (8 to 16 tablespoons or 96 to 192 grams).  And you didn’t even eat dessert.  

So, you need to purposely remove the sugar from your diet, so you can keep to that 2 tablespoon a day limit.  When you want something sweet on occasion, then you have a little dessert, which is where sugar should reside. Later, I will be posting dessert recipes that keep sugar and calories low to help you balance out your day.
Okay, back to the cereal. Finally, Special K, cereal for dieters.

Photo of Special K Red Berries cereal box
Should be good for you, right?
Photo of Special K Red Berries cereal nutritional label
Serving size is 31 grams!

Once again, we have too much sugar, and the calorie count per serving is too low to cover breakfast.  If you eat 3 servings and a cup of milk, your calories are 430 and sugar is 27 grams from the cereal only.

FYI, here is what that 31 grams looks like in a bowl.  Barely covers the bottom of the bowl!

Photo of 31 grams of cereal in white bowl on digital kitchen scale
31 grams looks like 4 spoonfuls, not a lot to eat

One more label for comparison.  What do you think this one is?

Photo of Cookie Crisp Cereal Nutritional Label
Whole grain corn, cocoa, lots of vitamins!

About the same amount of sugar as our other cereal.  Low fat, low calorie.  Must be a set up. 

Photo of Cookie Crisp Cereal
No corn syrup, not artificial!

When you compare the box fronts, of course you’d pick one of the first cereals. They sound good for you. Cookie Crisp looks like a bowl full of cookies. But when you compare the labels, you see you are getting the same sugar bomb.  The Special K  commercial makes it look like I’m making a smart choice eating their cereal. I’ll lose weight, have energy, be active. A serving of Special K and a serving of Cookie Crisp have the same amount of sugar, and Cookie Crisp has 10 fewer calories. 

When I started analyzing my cereal labels, my list of healthful cereal became quite small. Essentially,  I now of some manner of shredded wheat (no frosting!) and oats.

These oats, not the kind in the packet with 12 grams of sugar per serving. 

Photo of HEB Oats
Simple but good for you!
Photo of HEB Oats Nutritional label
Less than 1 gram of naturally occurring sugar

If I eat 3 servings of oats, I get 15 grams of protein, 450 calories, 7.5 grams of good fat, 12 grams of fiber, and 81 grams of carbs. I use 30 calories per cup almond milk on my cereal, but even with 100 calories of skim milk, you’re in a good place.

Truth be told, I eat my oats raw. I started doing that years ago because it was faster than making oatmeal. But, you can make oatmeal or you could always toast your oats at 350 for 10 minutes to make them a little more like granola. I may add currants and almonds, depending on how many calories I need. I sometimes add Greek yogurt for more protein.  

My shredded wheat is simple. Just wheat.

Photo of box of Post Shredded Wheat and Bran Cereal
Also comes in biscuit size.
Photo of Post Shredded Wheat n Bran Cereal Nutritional Label
Ingredients: whole grain wheat and wheat bran, nothing shady here

I’m getting lots of fiber, protein, minerals. Fat is low. No sugar. The carbs from whole grains provide energy over the morning, so I don’t have a sugar crash.  This cereal gives me what I need.

Am I saying this tastes as good as the Pecan cereal? No. Not even close. But that is because the Pecan cereal tastes like dessert. And the shift I’m talking about making is for your long term health, fitness, and wellbeing,  which means no more dessert for breakfast!

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