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Is your breakfast cereal lying to you?

Do you start your day with a heaped bowl of cereal? You have to read this.

Written by Naz Haider |Updated : December 13, 2016 4:55 PM IST

Breakfast cereal is a food item made from processed grains and consumed as the first meal of the day. It is easy to prepare and can be eaten either hot or cold. Milk and sugar are usually added to make it more appetizing and palatable. Some people prefer to add yoghurt and fruits in order to enhance the taste and nutrition value. Breakfast cereals involve processing of the grains into fine flour before cooking. The flour may be mixed with water, sugar or chocolate. This is followed by a process known as extrusion, which shapes the cereal at high temperatures using a special machine.The cereals are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may be flaked, shredded or puffed during processing. They can be coated with chocolate or frosted with sugar before drying and packaging. Corn Flakes The First Breakfast Cereal to be Developed Kellogg sCorn Flakes are a household name across the globe, but few know about its origins and how it was developed. Kellogg sCorn Flakes were initially developed as an anti-aphrodisiac by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in 1898, but did not serve its purpose. The original product was rather bland and unpalatable. His brother, Will Keith Kellogg is credited for developing the cereal into a wholesome breakfast product in 1906, for which Kellogg s Corn Flakes in now famous all over the world. He developed and perfected the flaking technology by which corn could be flaked. He also improved the taste and palatability of the product, which has become a breakfast staple for over a century now. With the passage of time, other delicious recipes emerged Kellogg sAll-BranTMin 1915, Kellogg sRaisin Branduring the period of the World War II (1942-1945) and Kellogg sSpecial K, which was launched much later in 2006 to mark the centenary year of the company. A variant of this is Kellogg sSpecial K Red Berries. To this day, Kellogg shas maintained its standards and values that were instilled by its founder Will Kellogg since its inception way back in 1906. What are the Other Breakfast Cereal Options? Nowadays, there is a vast choice of breakfast cereals for consumers. Some of the major healthier varieties include the following:

  • Wheat Flakes
  • Oats
  • Porridge
  • Muesli
  • Rice Crispies (Poha)

There are a number of brands that offer wholesome breakfast cereals, which are also good value-for-money. Some of these are given below:

  • Crunchy Nut Cereal (Kellogg s)
  • Crunchy Fruit Whole Grain Oat Flakes (Sante)
  • Crunchy Muesli (Bagrry s)
  • Wheat Flakes (Vitalia)
  • Ragi Flakes (24 Mantra Organic)
  • French Toast Crunch (General Mills)
  • Cheerios (General Mills)

What Nutrients Does Your Breakfast Cereal Contain? It is said that our breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is indeed true, as consuming a wholesome breakfast packed with nutrients in the morning boosts our energy and keeps us pepped-up till lunchtime. As per the data published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100 g serving of a typical breakfast cereal provides nearly a fifth of the daily calorie intake (based on a daily diet of 2000 calories). The nutrient content of breakfast cereals is briefly discussed below:

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  • Fats:Total fat contained is 7 g which is 10% of the daily intake. The levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fats are double that of saturated fats, making it a healthy option, coupled with the fact that there is no cholesterol.
  • Carbohydrates:It is high in carbs, accounting for 22% of the daily intake. Sugar content can be high in some cereals due to chocolate coating or sugar frosting.
  • Dietary Fibre:It is rich in dietary fibres that takes care of 40% of the daily needs.
  • Protein:Approximately 26% of the daily protein needs are met by a typical breakfast cereal.
  • Vitamins and Minerals:Regarding vitamins and minerals, it is rich in iron and magnesium, moderate in calcium and vitamin B6, and low in sodium and potassium. It does not contain vitamins A, C, D and B12.

Is Your Breakfast Cereal as Healthy as Claimed Or Does It Lie? It should be noted that many cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs. Added sugar is a bad component of our modern diet. Importantly, most of the sugar coming in our diet reaches through processed foods, of which breakfast cereals contain relatively higher amounts of sugar. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer. Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for convenience to the consumer. That is why these are also dubbed as convenience foods . Breakfast cereals are an ideal example of this type of food. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating, leads to over-consumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance. The fact that many young children are becoming over-weight or even obese, indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the economically upwardly mobile classes in India. Moreover, the manufacturers are also producing breakfast cereals as per the consumer s preference, but at the cost of their health. There are also instances of misleading labelling of the cereal boxes, intended to coax the consumer to buy the product. The cereal package often highlights the presence of whole grains , but on further scrutiny, these are usually in low amounts compared to other unhealthy components. The consumer should keep in mind that actual healthy foods do not require any health claims. This warrants further studies to ascertain whether the health claims are correct or misleading. Moreover, the manufacturers often adopt shrewd business tactics by displaying cartoon characters, superheroes etc. on the cereal box, thereby attracting the attention of unassuming children, in a bid to increase sales. Sadly, their tactics seem to be actually working! Therefore, breakfast cereals can actually lie to you if you are not careful. What Can You Do to Overcome These Health Hurdles? It is important to be aware that your average breakfast cereal doesn t just contain the nutrients discussed above. There are many other artificial chemicals that are used during processing of the cereal. These broadly include the following:

  • Binders
  • Carriers
  • Emulsifiers
  • Stabilizers
  • Raising agents
  • Texturizers
  • Fillers
  • Colours
  • Flavors

While these components can enhance your breakfast experience, they can also be harmful if not added within the maximum recommended levels. For this reason, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 has suggested food additives like Erythritol (max. limit as per GMP) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (max. limit of 50 ppm) for breakfast cereals. Therefore, arming yourself with the right information about breakfast cereals will help you choose wisely. Keeping yourself and your family healthy should be your first priority. Therefore, be on the lookout for wild health claims displayed on the cereal packages. Always read the display panel carefully. Pay attention to the following details:

  • Nature and Amounts of Ingredients
  • Avoid cereals high in sugar and carbs.
  • Nutritional Information on the Label
  • Ensure that all the nutritional information is displayed on the label.
  • This information will ensure if the product is wholesome and nutritious.
  • Best Before Date or Expiry Date
  • Never buy expired food items.
  • Vegetarian / Non-vegetarian Logo
  • Breakfast cereals should ideally be vegetarian in origin.
  • FSSAI Logo and License No
  • This will ensure the high quality of the product.
  • Quality of the Packaging
  • Do not buy damaged or torn packages.
  • Ensure that the inner lining (primary packaging) is intact and the food is properly sealed.

Conclusion From the foregoing discussion,it is evident that by-and-large, whole grain breakfast cereals are a healthy option. However, you should keep your eyes peeled and be alert while buying these products. Go for natural, wholesome cereals than artificially processed ones. This will be a healthy option, with lots of dietary fibres, minus the unwanted components like sugars, thereby ensuring a nutritious breakfast for you and your entire family. This article is written by Dr Saurabh Arora, who has a doctorate in pharmaceutics from Jamia Hamdard University and post graduate in the same field from NIPER. He has also established Food Safety Helpline (www.foodsafetyhelpline.com), for the people in the food industry to understand and implement the requirements of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Disclaimer: TheHealthSite does not endorse any brands and is not responsible for its efficacy. The review is based on the author s experience with the product. Image: Shutterstock

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