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Cereals: playing the grain game.

The ideal breakfast couldn't be simpler: a bowl of whole grain cereal aith skim or 1% fat milk and a piece or two of fruit. The milk and fruit are easy. Choosing the cereal can be a real pain in the grains.

Should you pick wheat, oats, corn, rice, or some grain you can't pronounce? Do you want added bran? Are you talking pellets, flakes, biscuits, puffs, or O's? Do you want them unsweetened or sweetened? What about vitamin-fortified?

Here's a guide to help you decide.

1. Choose whole grains. Populations that eat diets rich in whole grains have lower rates of colon cancer. (It's not clear whether it's the fiber, lack of fat, or something else in their diet that does it, though.) Whole grains also have more vitamins and minerals than refined cereals.

Look at the ingredients listed on the box. Prominent among them should be either a grain (rolled oats or whole wheat, for example) or a whole grain flour. Watch out for the words "flour," "milled flour," or "meal." They usually mean "refined."

Bran plus a refined flour doesn't quite make a whole grain, but it's sure better than refined.

2. Get at least three or four grams of fiber per serving. While fiber isn't the only reason to eat whole grain cereal, some types (the insoluble fiber in wheat bran, for example) help prevent constipation and diverticulosis, and may help protect against cancer.

And a high fiber cereal makes it easier to get the 20 to 30 grams of fiber the National Cancer Institute (NCI) says we should eat every day from a variety of grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans. (Most Americans eat only about 11 grams of fiber a day, says the NCI.)

You'll get the most fiber from Kellogg's All-Bran with Extra Fiber (14 grams) or from General Mills Fiber One (13 grams). And that's if you eat just a one-ounce (1/2-cup) serving. Most people eat at least two ounces of dense cereals like these.

Unfortunately, both contain the artificial sweetener aspartame. (Aspartame takes up less space than sugar, which leaves more room for the bran.)

If you'd rather not eat aspartame, try Kellogg's All-Bran. It's the same pellet-like thingies, but with sugar instead of artificial sweetener. An ounce contains nine grams of fiber. Most other whole grains flakes will give you between three and five grams of fiber. That's nothing to sneeze at.

You'll find soluble fiber in cereals made using oats, oat bran, or psyllium. The evidence that soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol levels is still uncertain, but psyllium--the principal ingredient in laxatives like Metamucil--does help prevent constipation.

To find out how much fiber is in most cereals, just look on the box. For the leading brands, dietary fiber is usually listed under "Carbohydrate Information." If a cereal box doesn't list fiber, it's probably made with refined flour.

3. Keep the sugar low. Many cereal makers also provide sugar numbers under "Carbohydrate Information." Unfortunately, most "health-food-store" brands--and that includes Health Valley--don't.

Since fruit contains natural sugars, fruit-added cereals generally have more sugar. Even so, we wouldn't recommend a cereal that had more than five grams of sugar in a one-ounce serving.

4. Do you really need those vitamins? Many manufacturers fortify their cereals by adding a sprinkling of vitamins and minerals.

That's fine. Just don't let fortification determine which cereal you choose. If you want a vitamin pill, take one.

5. Hold the salt. Some cereals--like Shredded Wheat and Health Valley Healthy Crunch--have only about 10 mg (less than two-hundredths of a teaspoon) of sodium, while others (Kellogg's All-Bran and General Mills Cheerios) have more than 250 mg.

If you eat lighweight cereals (flakes, for example), then even the saltiest ones--with 250 mg to 300 mg per ounce--won't break the sodium bank. But a bowlful of a dense cereal like Grape-Nuts can weight three ounces or more. And that could mean more than 500 mg of sodium. That's a lot for breakfast.

6. Avoid preservatives. Some cereals (or their packages) contain the preservatives BHA or BHT, which are added to retard rancidity. They also may increase your risk of cancer (BHA is worse than BHT). Fortunately, many whole grain cereals are made without them.

7. Watch your granolas and mueslis. If you've been avoiding granola because a serving contains five or six grams of fat, take heart. A few companies (Health Valley, Alpen, Breadshop, and even Kellogg) now make low-fat versions.

Contrary to their reputation, most granolas have only a modest two or three grams of fiber. An ounce of Nature Valley's 100% Natural line contains all of one gram--about as much as Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.

Muesli is the European version of granola, which usually means that its rolled oats, nuts, and dried fruits haven't been toasted. It has less fat--which is often added before toasting--and the same amount of fiber as granola.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related chart on nutrition
Author:Schmidt, Stephen
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Mar 1, 1992
Previous Article:The name game: let them eat buzzwords.
Next Article:Food irradiation: zapping our troubles away?

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