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Microwave breakfasts: rise and dine.

Microwave Breakfasts: Rise and Dine

If you're health-conscious, too busy to cook breakfast, and tired of cold cereal or toast, Swanson's and Weight Watchers are out to get you.

Both brands are rolling out supposedly healthy versions of the big, old-fashioned breakfast--eggs, pancakes, or french toast with side orders of sausage, bacon, biscuits, or hash browns. Each company is scrambling to capture a greater chunk of the $90-million (and growing) market for frozen breakfast entrees.

But buyer, beware. The new lines may be better than the usual fat-filled, sodium-laden breakfasts in the freezer case. Healthy, they're not.

Until these companies or their competitors cut the fat and salt further and beef up the whole grains, stay away from microwaveable breakfast entrees and sandwiches entirely.

If you want a prepared food you can heat up in a matter of minutes, stick to single items like waffles, pancakes, french toast, or muffins without the side orders.

At least they come closer to being "Best Bites" than the entrees or sandwiches.


Any breakfast is better than no breakfast, they say.

They're wrong. The food industry would like us to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and that having something--anything--in the morning is better than having nothing.

The truth is: what you eat for breakfast is more important than if you eat breakfast. There is no solid evidence linking breakfast to better health or performance, at least not in adults.

And most microwaveable breakfasts are better off skipped. Whether it's Aunt Jemima, Jimmy Dean, Downyflake, Great Starts, Hormel's New Traditions, or Oscar Mayer's new Zappetites, the 53 entrees and sandwiches we looked at averaged 50 percent of calories from fat. And that's just an average.

Great Starts' and Downyflake's Scrambled Eggs, Sausage and Hash Browns get 73 percent of their calories from fat. Each measly six-ounce serving supplies more than half the fat that the average person should eat in an entire day!

As for sodium: microwaveable brekfasts average about 700 milligrams per serving. But some have more than twice the average. Great Starts' Egg, Bacon & Cheese Biscuit, for example, has 1,850 mg. That's more than the 1,800 mg you should ideally eat in an entire day.

With numbers like these--and saturated fat and cholesterol levels the companies prefer to keep secret--it wasn't hard for Swanson's and Weight Watchers to come up with healthier breakfasts. But healthy? Not quite.


The labels make them look so nutritious.

The name--Harvest Grain--sounds like they're packed with whole grains. The claim--reduced cholesterol--must mean they're good for your heart. The ingredients--lite sausage, egg whites, bran muffins--have got to ge low in fat and loaded with fiber, right?

Sorry. Swanson's new line of Harvest Grain breakfasts gets, on average, 40 percent of its calories from fat. That's less than the rest of Swanson's Great Starts line, which weighs in with a 57-percent average. But 40 percent fat is still fatty.

The company deserves credit for keeping the saturated fat at or below 10 percent of calories and the sodium at or below 600 mg. And the cholesterol goes no higher than 70 milligrams, even in the Scrambled Eggs breakfast. Swanson adds egg whites to whole eggs to keep the total down.

But who needs the extra unsaturaed fat that can pad waistlines and may increase the risk of cancer? And who wants to be misled by the "Harvest Grain Breakfast" trademark on each meal? It's bound to make unsuspecting shoppers think these breakfasts are chock-full of high-fiber whole grains.

In fact, the Scrambled Eggs breakfast has three mini-they're not kidding--oat bran muffins. Each contains more water, refined white flour, oil, and sugar than oat bran. The entire 250-calorie breakfast supplies only three grams of fiber--not a big boost for people trying to reach the 20 to 30 grams recommended for a whole day.

You get the same modest three grams in the Oatmeal French Toast with Lite Links breakfast. That's because it's really white bread with some oatmeal and oat bran thrown in.

Only the (partially) Whole Wheat Pancakes with Lite Links breakfast manages to supply five grams of fiber. The Lite Links are lower in fat than real sausage because they contain cooked rice. Like the entire Harvest Grain line, they're leaner than the usual stuff, but not lean enough.

In contrast, Aunt Jemima got its Lite Pancakes & Lite Links down to 29 percent of calories from fat. But the 310-calorie meal has 970 mg of sodium, so it only earns an "Honorable Mention," and not a "Best Bite."


Weight Watchers' Pancakes or French Toast with Links are nutritionally comparable to Swanson's. Both get about 40 percent of their calories from fat.

The only difference is, Weight Watchers doesn't even pretend to supply whole grains. Not surprisingly, the company refused to disclose fiber levels.

Weight Watchers' line also includes two fast-food-style breakfast sandwiches. And one, the English Muffin Sandwich, gets only 31 percent of its calories from fat.

But the sandwich's 610 mg of sodium and 170 mg of cholesterol--whole eggs will do that--means it only rates an "Honorable Mention." Oh well. There's just so much you can do with eggs, Bacon, and cheese.
COPYRIGHT 1990 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 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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