I was on the phone with a friend the other day catching up – sharing personal stories of working from home while balancing our dad skills in full force. The discussion transitioned to his asking me how my daily eating was going as he found himself in a bit of an eating rut now that he’s home in the AM, which was not his norm.
Steve was out of his routine of meeting a friend for a morning run, hitting up their favorite coffee shop for a large coffee, yogurt, and fruit before heading home to clean up, play with the kids, and go to the office.
Now, he found himself eating with the kids, more often than not, meaning breakfast cereal was his go-to, like them. Concerned he was loading up on sugar and refined carbs and not fueling his body like he should, he asked for my opinion. He’s fought hard against the “Dad Bod” and didn’t want to emerge from this any different.
I told him, first, stop “shoulding” all over yourself – breakfast cereal has gotten a bad wrap, but can actually be pretty impressive.”
I could almost hear the record scratch and come to a stop.
“Really?” he asked. “I thought it’s loaded in sugar.”
And therein lies the confusion. In fact, breakfast cereal can be a pretty solid option. Let’s look at just how and why.
First, data shows people who eat cereal have higher intakes of various vitamins and minerals.
When compared to those who don’t eat cereal, research shows ready to eat cereal eaters get:
30% more zinc
19% more vitamin C
21% more fiber
67% more iron
41% more B6
89% more folic acid
86% more vitamin D
And while this conversation was with an adult male, knowing Steve is also a dad, there’s some cool data that relates to kids just the same and it’s similar to that suggested above.
In this particular study, published in the journal Nutrients, children who ate ready to eat cereals vs. non cereal eaters had higher intakes of all the above nutrients listed in addition to higher intakes of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin & vitamin B12. Admittedly I know most people don’t worry about vitamins and minerals and instead claim ready to eat cereals are just too high in sugar. This same study found intakes of added sugar (and sodium) were not any different when compared to non-cereal eaters.
Summing all that up into one sentence – cereal eaters had higher nutrient intakes without higher added sugar or sodium intakes.
Let’s dig into that sugar piece a bit more, as the added sugar question comes up more than any, like it did in my conversation with Steve.
First, the top sources of added sugar in the diet include beverages like soft drinks, juices, sports drinks, etc, which account for almost half of all added sugars consumed by the U.S. population. This is followed by snacks and sweets, dairy desserts and candies. Cereals – even the ones you might consider to be those horrible, demonized, pre-sweetened marshmallow laden ones, contribute significantly less sugar in the overall diet. Significantly less – like barely a blip on the map.
Adding to that, forward-thinking companies like General Mills have “steadily reduced sugar in cereals while continuing to maintain the taste consumers enjoy” according to Amy Cohn, RD, Nutrition & External Affairs Senior Manager at General Mills Cereal Operating Unit. She emphasized, “good nutrition isn’t nutritious unless you eat it” meaning consumers also need to want to eat it.
Remember all those added nutrients discussed earlier that come from cereal itself? Yeah – those are the good nutrition we’re talking about here.
This isn’t to say breakfast cereal is the end all be all and there are of course other great options too – eggs, smoked salmon, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit - but it surely shouldn’t get a bad rap like it so often does. And, heck, aside from tasting great and offering a little childhood nostalgia, it’s also super inexpensive so don’t balk at a bowl of goodness in the AM.
Research shows an average bowl of cereal with milk (which adds even more nutrition) costs about 50 cents and is the #1 source of many vitamins and minerals, whole grains and fiber in the American Diet.
Now, I would say if you’re picking and choosing, aim for ones that list whole grain as their first ingredient, boast several grams of fiber per serving, are generally lower in added sugar (and thanks for the new nutrition label, that is spelled out for us) and of course, taste great. Then pair that breakfast cereal with a higher protein milk – our favorite is Fairlife, which has almost double the protein of regular milk - add a handful nutrient rich berries and voila. That simple meal described can easily provide 1/3 of the daily fiber needed for the day, the total amount of protein that has been shown to be beneficial in a single meal and a bevvy of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. All for less than a buck.
Quick, easy, sustainable breakfast that is inexpensive and offers some solid nutrition.