With so many breakfast cereals up for grabs, which one should you buy? Caitlin Reid takes the confusion out of choosing.
Stand in front of the shelves of cereal packets and all kinds of jargon jumps out at you. In fact, with catchy nutrition claims, such as 'all natural' and '97% fat free', deciphering the nutrition claims and labels is the hardest part of your decision-making. This is closely followed by the challenge of finding a cereal that is high in fibre but low in fat, added sugar and sodium. The following guidelines will help make the breakfast cereal challenge that little bit easier.
What are the choices?
Cereals can be broken into three main categories: oats and porridge, muesli, and commercial cereal products.
Oats and porridge
These are one of the best foods to start your day. They're a good source of B vitamins as well as soluble fibre, which helps reduce cholesterol reabsorption. Whether you buy rolled oats, 'instant' oats, or 'quick' oats with honey or fruit (note: these are higher in sugar), all are a great choice.
Do choose the rolled oats over the 'instant' or 'quick' oats, as they have a lower GI.
Don't eat too much. A standard serve is one cup cooked porridge.
The range of muesli is huge – natural, toasted, untoasted, oven-baked, Swiss, dry-roasted, Granola, crunchola and bircher! Muesli contains dried fruit, nuts or both. Some are roasted in oil, others oven-baked in honey, while some are natural (based on rolled oats). This means muesli can vary greatly in the amount of kilojoules, fats, sugar and sodium it contains. Therefore, read the nutrition information on the pack to find out if a particular muesli is good for you. Muesli is more kilojoule-dense than other breakfast cereals, so enjoy a smaller portion of 1/2 cup.
Do look for a muesli with the lowest amount of added sugar and saturated fats. Check the ingredient list to see where the sugar and fat is coming from.
Don't be fooled by the word 'natural'. It implies that the muesli has not been toasted, but it can still have added oil and/or sugar.
These are probably the most confusing out of all the breakfast cereals. They have brightly coloured packaging and scream fantastic promises left, right and centre. But don't be fooled by their claims, as they can resemble more of a confectionery item than a health food. Many can be high in sugar and salt, and low in fibre. However, some are great sources of carbohydrates and fibre, contain minimal amounts of added sugar and salt, and taste great. A standard serving for packaged cereals is 1 1/3 cups or 40g, so keep this in mind when you are serving upyour breakfast.
Do look for a cereal with the words whole grain or 'whole' listed first in the ingredient list. These cereals are not as processed.
Don't fall for the nutrition claims. Turn the pack over and read the ingredient list and nutrition information panel.
Kids' breakfast cereals
The hardest thing about finding a good breakfast cereal for your kids is deciphering all the nutrition claims. Front-of-pack claims such as '7 essential vitamins and minerals', 'high in calcium' or 'packed with energy' place many breakfast cereals on a pedestal. But look at the fine print and you'll see they're highly processed, low in fibre and high in sugar.
Breakfast cereals, and the reduced-fat milk that goes with them, are important for your child's growth and development, as well as their performance at school. And the truth is, any breakfast cereal is better than nothing. However, feeding your child with a whole grain breakfast cereal that is high in fibre and has minimal added salt and sugar, will give them the best start to their day.
Do look for whole grain varieties with minimal amounts of added sugar and sodium. Save the confectionery-style breakfast cereals for a special occasion, such as your child's birthday or when they have a friend to stay.
Don't succumb to advertising or promotional speak. Read the nutrition information panel and the ingredient list to get the whole picture about how much fat, sugar and salt is actually in the product.
What to look for on the nutrition panel
As with any food product, look for cereals with the shortest ingredient list. The more ingredients a breakfast cereal contains, the more refined and processed it is likely to be. Choose products that emphasise whole foods, such as whole grains, at the beginning of the list.
Opt for breakfast cereals with less than 10% fat (10g of fat per 100g). If the fat content is higher than this, check the source of the fat to see if the product contains heart-healthy unsaturated fats or the 'bad' saturated fats. Remember, look for a breakfast cereal with the lowest saturated fat content.
Minimal added sugar
Choose breakfast cereals that contain less than 10g of sugar per serve (equivalent to 2 teaspoons of sugar). If your favourite cereal contains more sugar, check the source of sugar. Is it coming from natural sources, such as dried fruit and honey, or does the product contain high levels of added sugar in the form of sucrose or molasses? Choose the breakfast cereal with the least amount of added sugars.
A high-fibre breakfast cereal contains at least 3g of fibre per serve. Most Australians don't get enough fibre, so choosing a breakfast cereal with 5g of fibre or more will give you a great start toward reaching your daily fibre intake.
A low-sodium product contains less than 120mg of sodium per 100g. You will notice that most breakfast cereals contain well above this amount. So choose breakfast cereals with 300mg or less of sodium per 100g.