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Cereal: making the healthy choice.

Supermarket cereal sections are bulging these days, and no wonder. New breakfast cereal brands have doubled in the last six years. Last year alone, 110 new brands were added, and more are on the way. With so many to choose from, deciding which cereal is right for you has become a daunting task.

The challenge is finding a cereal you like that is high in fiber and vitamins and low in sugar, sodium, and fat. Don't be swayed by appealing advertising and confusing health claims. Look for the label. The information you need to make an informed choice is right on the side of the box.

Getting a Healthy Helping

First, look at the serving size and the calories per serving. These make a big difference in the amount of calories you consume. A one-ounce serving of a popular nutlike cereal, for example, contains 110 calories and fills just one-fourth cup. A cupful of puffed cereal, on the other hand, may weigh just a half ounce and have 57 calories. If you're used to having a heaping helping of breakfast cereal, your calorie intake could be several times what's listed on the box.

How Sweet Is It?

Consider sugar content, too. Those empty sugar calories occupy space that should be filled by the complex carbohydrates your body needs for sustaining energy. Sugar is added to most cereals to improve flavor. Although it may be labeled as sucrose, corn syrup, honey, dextrose, or fructose, it's all basically the same thing. Four grams of sugar equal one teaspoon. If a cereal contains more than six grams of sugar per serving, you probably should choose another brand. However, if your favorite cereal is high in sugar, you can still enjoy it by combining it with a no-sugar cereal, thereby reducing the total sugar per serving.

Of course, the healthful choice is a no-sugar cereal that you sweeten with fruit, sugar, or honey. The teaspoon of sugar you add may be much less than the amount you get in a single serving of some presweetened breakfast cereals.

Avoiding Fat and Cholesterol

Because the majority of breakfast cereals have little or no fat, advertising claims of "fat-free" or "cholesterol-free" have little meaning for cereal consumers. Wise consumers should, however, check the fat content on some mueslixtype and granola cereals, which may be substantially higher in fat than other cereals.

Focusing on Fiber

Fiber is the key component of a healthful breakfast cereal. Unfortunately, some cereals have less fiber than their advertising implies. Some "multigrain" and "bran"-type cereals contain as little as 1 gram fiber per serving. Others offer much more. To find the exact amount of fiber in a cereal, look for the label listing the soluble, insoluble, and total dietary fiber in grams. Pick a cereal with four or more grams fiber per serving. The more fiber the better. Some cereals have up to 13 grams total dietary fiber per serving, providing a healthy jumpstart to your daily fiber requirement.

But total fiber doesn't tell the whole story. Pay attention to the kind of fiber as well. The insoluble fiber in wheat bran helps relieve constipation and prevent hemorrhoids. Soluble fiber in oat bran, barley, and rice bran adds bulk to the stool and helps lower blood cholesterol levels. Studies by Dr. James Anderson of the University of Kentucky Medical Center have demonstrated that by consuming about 17 grams of soluble fiber a day, one can lower blood cholesterol levels by 13-19 percent in a matter of weeks. Breakfast is a good place to start satisfying your daily fiber requirement.

A high-fiber breakfast also helps you stay trim by making you feel fuller and curbing your appetite. Studies show on average the more fiber consumed at breakfast the fewer calories will be consumed later in the day. Skipping breakfast will have no effect on weight control. You'll simply make up for those lost calories by eating more at subsequent meals. Besides, another study has shown people who skip breakfast are 28 to 40 percent more likely to die an early death.
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Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:678
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