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Natural breakfast cereals: Is yours 'good' or 'excellent?'

Natural breakfast cereals: Is yours 'good' or 'excellent?'

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It’s when you break the fast, as it were, and fuel the body for the start of the day. Studies show that people who eat breakfast are the least overweight contingent of consumer. Marketing studies also show that consumers have the greatest expectation of nutrition and lowest expectation of taste for breakfast than any other meal.

This spells opportunity for breakfast purveyors to get functional and nutritious.

In my cupboard, we stock only cereals that are quality sources of fiber and protein. These are the two main things I look at in cereals. With two young children, you might think the first thing I look at is sugar content, but since we have literally never purchased or offered any variation of Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs (apologies, Calvin), our kids don’t even know such a world even exists.

Cereal purveyors like to tout fiber content, and it makes sense—fiber lives in grains, right? The rules for saying whether your product is a “good source” of a nutrient is if it contains between 10 and 19 percent of the daily value of a vitamin, mineral, protein, fiber and potassium. To be an “excellent” source (or “high” or “rich in”) of a nutrient, the product must contain 20 percent or more. Because the recommended daily intake of fiber is 25g per day, a mere 3g of fiber would enable a manufacturer to tout that it has a “good” source of fiber. To me, this means “good” is not hardly good enough. Five grams would be considered “excellent.” 

On our cupboard shelves this morning is Cascadian Farm Organic Hearty Morning Fiber. This contains 9g fiber and 5g protein, 44g total carbs, of which 9g are sugar. Not much in the way of added vitamins and minerals; clearly Cascadian Farm is not fortifying its cereal.

Kashi is the giant of the natural cereal world. Owned by Kellogg’s since 2000, its Autumn Wheat also dispenses with the idea of fortifying with vitamins and minerals. It has 6g fiber and 6g protein, 43g carbs, 7g sugars. It ballyhoos on front of box 50g whole grains and 6g fiber. How do you get 50g whole grains in a product with 43g carbs? Anybody have an answer for that one?

Because Cascadian Farm cares about children, it has an organic kids cereal, Clifford Crunch, featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog. Lovely pup, him. It’s got “a taste kids will love!” Sort of a cross between Cheerios and Alpha-Bits, only in the shape of a dog bone. It’s got only 25g carbs and 8g sugars and a sad 3g fiber and 2g protein. They put a modicum of vitamins and minerals in it, enough to get between 10 and 25 percent the DRI.

When I’m pouring the cereal in the morning, I don’t show them Clifford. Three grams of fiber? Really? “Good” is not good enough, imho. 

Got omegas in your cereal?

The other sexy nutrient du jour often advertised on cereal boxes and other breakfast foods such as waffles is omega-3 content.

Another cereal box in our pantry is Nature’s Path Optimum Power Organic Blueberry Cinnamon Flax cereal: 9g fiber, 3g fat (does anyone ever really expect fat in cereal?), 15g whole grains and an “excellent source of ALA omega-3.” Also contains a prodigious 9g protein. And 38g carbs, 9g sugar. Zip in the way of added vitamins and minerals.

There’s an asterisk with the claim, which in fine print says, “contains 0.5g of ALA omega-3 per serving, which is 31% of the recommended daily value of 1.6g.”

Nature’s Path does the same thing with its organic hemp plus frozen waffles—also with front-of-pack label copy that it’s an “excellent source of ALA omega-3.” It’s got an asterisk that says “contains 1g of ALA omega-3 per serving, which is 63% of the recommended daily value of 1.6g.”

Everybody likes omega-3s, right? Most nutritious nutrient, and good for your bottom line, right? (For everything you need to know about the omega-3 business, check out the most definitive report on the subject, courtesy Nutrition Business Journal and Engredea.)

All true, but I still say using alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) instead of EPA and DHA make you party to the great breakfast maker omega-3 scam.

Back in 2004, the FDA issued a qualified health claim for EPA and DHA, recommending a maximum intake of 3g per day, with no more than 2g per day from a dietary supplement. 

The Institutes of Medicine also set an adequate intake level for ALA at 1.6 grams/day for men and 1.1 grams/day for women. The Committee stated that, in the United States, an ALA deficiency is basically unknown in free-living populations. 

I keep getting push-back from chia champions and flax flacks every time I say this, so I will say that ALA is a lovely nutrient and getter than a glutardinous nothing. I also appreciate the latter-day differentiation among omega-philes to specify whether the omega is DHA or ALA. I’m just hoping consumers get the difference and do not confuse the manifest health benefits of DHA with ALA. 

Do you think natural cereals are "good" or "excellent" when it comes to nutrition?

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