Good morning bloggies!
Today’s post is a little wordy, so let’s start out with some breakfast shall we?
In today’s mix…
- A base of Nature’s Path Kamut Puffs with cinnamon
- Vanilla Greek yogurt
- 1/2 Pink Lady apple
- Bear Naked Cranberry Soy Protein granola
And a very green Green Monster, whose ingredients shall be revealed in tomorrow’s Try Something New Tuesday 41 recap because there is one new surprise!
Not too long ago, one of my lovely spin class participants asked me what I thought of a particular brand of cereal. She mentioned that she’d been drawn to it because of its advertised high protein and vitamin content, and wondered if I thought it was a healthy choice. My answer? Well, I didn’t give her a flat out “no”, but explained why it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. Among other things I pointed out, she was surprised to learn that while the box claimed it was high in protein, it actually didn’t contain much more than any other box on the shelf. While the name of said villainous cereal will remain undisclosed (since brand bashing isn’t a very nice thing to do), today I want to share with you the things I look for in a good cereal. After all, some cost up to about $6/box, and when you eat as much of it as I do, you want to make sure you’re making a good choice. Right? Right.
As I’m sure you’re aware, simply looking at the front of the box isn’t an ideal approach. You’ve gotta do a little more reading than that! Have a look at the nutrition and ingredients labels on the side. Look for these things:
Dietary fiber is the part of a plant that your body is unable to digest. There are 2 types, soluble and insoluble. The soluble kind helps to slow the passage of food in your small intestine so that your body can suck as many nutrients out of it as possible, and the insoluble kind traps water within it and helps to move food through your digestive system. (I don’t think I need to go into details about what that means – I’m sure you know!)
Anyways, fiber is essential for a healthy diet and high-fiber foods are great for keeping us feeling full. When it comes to cereal, I usually look for one that has at least 4g of fiber per serving. If you look at a few cereals on the shelf at the grocery store next time you’re there, you’ll notice that the high-sugar cereals you probably ate as a kid (I was definitely a big Lucky Charms and Fruit Loops girl!) only have 1-2 grams of fiber. That means you’d probably be hungry again well before lunch time! One easy way to spot a high fiber cereal is by looking for whole grains. Whole grains contain – you guessed it – the whole grain. That includes the bran, the endosperm, and the germ.
Refined grains however, only contain the endosperm. What does this mean then? Well, the bran is naturally high in fiber, so choosing a bran cereal can help to ensure that you’re getting enough. Oh, and one last word on whole grains: Make sure this is the first ingredient on the label, because some boxes might claim to be “made with whole grains”.. but they also contain refined ones and we don’t want those, do we?
By now I’m sure you’re aware that simple, refined sugar really doesn’t do your body any good. Some cereals, especially the refined kind, have at least 12g of sugar per serving – that is a lot of sugar to be eating first thing in the morning! Even though it might wake you up initially, what’s really happening is that your blood sugar spikes and the pancreas has to secrete a ton of insulin to get it back down to a normal level. The result? You’re exhausted an hour later. Again, not a nice feeling when you’ve got a whole day ahead of you!
To solve this problem, the U.S. Government’s Dietary Reference Intakes suggest that we look for cereals that contain 25% or less of total calories from sugar. Sometimes this is already on the label, but if you’re interested in figuring out the calculation, check out this article from WebMD.
It’s also useful at this point to check out the ingredients label. All types of sugar are fairly similar in nutritional value, but simple sugars (as in, refined white sugar, and the big offender, high fructose corn syrup) have been linked to fairly nasty diseases. I like to steer clear of boxes that list these near the beginning of the ingredients label, and favour cereals that contain natural sweeteners such as sugar from fruit, rice, and agave, as well as honey and pure maple syrup. All sugar in the box is measured in grams, so make sure you’re considering what sources it comes from. Regardless of type though, remember: Moderation is key!
Keep in mind that the box that touts low-fat claims isn’t always the best one. Some cereals that contain nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pecans are actually providing you with healthy fats (that’s the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated kind, as opposed to the saturated type), omega-3 fatty acids to protect the heart, fiber, and vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant. Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds offer similar benefits. Again, check out the ingredients label and the types of fat in the cereal before you discard a box for seemingly high fat content.
This isn’t really an essential component to be looking at, but if you’re actively fueling for workouts or looking to build and repair muscle tissue, protein may be of interest. Protein molecules are more complex structures than carbohydrates, and because of this, their digestion takes longer. The result? Like fiber, protein can help you to feel satisfied for longer.
5. Vitamins & Minerals
Generally speaking, if you eat a balanced diet with food from all of the food groups, you probably don’t need to worry about buying fortified cereals. However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or follow some other type of special diet, it might be worth looking for a box that offers a bit of extra oomph. If this is a concern of yours, I’d recommend checking with your doctor to determine which vitamins and minerals you need to get more of.
6. Annnnd one last look at the ingredients list…
I like to keep it simple when it comes to cereal, and this usually means choosing one that has a short list of ingredients of things I can recognize. Whole grains? Yes, I know what a whole grain looks like. Oats, flax, honey and dried fruit? Yep, I know about all those too. But Yellow #6 and Red #40? Can someone please tell me what those looks like? Actually don’t, I don’t want to know.
So…. which ones do I like?
If you’re a regular reader of Eat, Spin, Run, Repeat you’ve probably already got a sense of my favourites, but what’s so great about them? Well, because I’m a big nerd, I made a table. Oh yes, I went there.
A few things to notice:
- Nature’s Path Ancient Grains is a granola, and these are typically super-high in sugar. This one however, contains only 9g per serving which is low when you compare it to other brands with the same serving size. For my full review on this box, check out this post.
- Kashi Go Lean Original has different nutritional stats depending on the country you buy it in. Odd, right? Anyways, I stock up on the US version every time I go and a while ago I did a taste test with one of my gym buddies to see if there was a difference. The verdict? Yes! The Canadian version seemed much sweeter and some of the bits in the box looked different too. Either way, it’s a good choice if protein is a concern for you. The sugar content is up at 9g, but if you look at the ingredients label, you’ll see that this comes from natural sources.
- Bob’s Red Mill cereals are pretty simple – just look at the short ingredients list. The company has a ton of hot cereals that contain wholesome grains (hello, fiber!) so if you’re looking to experiment with new ones, this is a great place to start. Can’t find it? No worries. Plain oats, although a little less-sexy looking than cereals with pretty boxes, are still super healthy and versatile. For example….
…and oh so many more possibilities!
Alright, that’s enough breakfast talk for now. Before you go…
- Something to do: Can you spot the healthy cereals in this quiz from Women’s Health?
- Did I miss a great cereal, or is there a gem I don’t know about? Please share!