Friday, June 27, 2014

How to include cereal in your diet

Earlier this week I caught a segment on CNBC in which the hosts were discussing falling prices for cereal stocks.  The analysts mentioned General Mills and Kellogg by name and noted that the companies were seeking to expand their market share by introducing new products to their portfolios.  One of the analysts, originally from the UK, recalled his surprise at the American’s reliance on cold cereal as a breakfast staple.  He then opined about the changing preferences of Americans - turning away from “all that sugar and those carbs.”  He added a dig about the use of the term ‘all natural’ to indicate that people were less likely to be fooled into thinking that anything in a box was natural.  I found little to disagree with, but there was this one thing… it is not carbs that are the problem but the type of carbs found in cold cereal.  Try as cereal producers may with the ‘whole grain’ caveat, breakfast cereals are packed full of refined carbs, mostly sugar, and thus are calorie dense, nutrient poor, and not very satiating.  Tasty?  Oh YES, filling, no.

So do I eat cereal?  You betcha!   I LOVE cereal.  It reminds me of a happy sugar, laden childhood.  But I am a nutrition savvy grown up now and I have found that when there is something I like so much I want it often, then it has to be a low calorie food or a calorically safe dose (for my own calorie vs nutrient needs) of a high calorie food.  Every night I have maybe a  ¼ cup of almond milk and cereal combined; it’s a tiny serving, maybe three teaspoons full.  Sounds crazy right?  Maybe not.  What if I told you that it was chocolate that I loved and craved every day?  I have a friend who does and she buys a package of Hershey miniatures and has one piece as a treat, every day.  That Hershey miniature has around 45 calories, and my itty-bitty cereal bowl has about the same.  

My educated understanding of energy balance and dietary guidance is that each person has energy needs (calorie amounts) unique to himself/herself and the unique amount is very complicated to calculate.  If your weight has been stable for some time and you can accurately track your calorie intake, you might figure out what your daily energy requirement is - to maintain your weight.  That is not my area of expertise and not the point I wish to make.  Meaning, I am digressing.

Within a person’s unique amount of necessary calories, there are nutritional requirements for optimum health leaving little room for discretionary calories (like chocolates and refined carbs).  I never preach ‘everything in moderation’ because 1) I don’t believe it and 2) I don’t think I can do it.  But, I do tell people when they ask about me, that I consider my overall needs, which change based on my activity level, when deciding what to eat.  Within those needs I make space for my wants and cravings.  One of those wants is a little bit of cereal - only at night and only as a snack. (Ok, not true, sometimes I sprinkle a little All Bran or Kashi on my ice cream or yogurt (oh, you know that they are light versions!)).   

It would take multiple normal size bowls of cold cereal for me to feel like I had breakfast, but that would give me about 200 more calories than usual and they would be nutrient poor calories at that.  (Note, I am referring to cold cereals.  I do have loose oat bran (cooked in water) with almond milk for breakfast at least once a week.) 

All that being said, breakfast cereals are neither the main source nor even a top source of sugar in the diet.  Click here to see information from the RUDD Center on sources of added sugar in the diet.

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