Is your breakfast providing you with all the nutrients you need for the best possible start to the day?
We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as it is the first meal that ‘breaks’ our overnight ‘fast’, so until we eat our body is literally running on empty. Knowing this, it stands to reason that we would want to provide our bodies with the best possible start to the day, with long lasting energy from whole grain complex carbohydrates plus provide protein, vitamins and minerals from nutrient dense nuts, seeds and fruit.
Despite knowing these simple facts, it seems the majority of breakfast cereals or mueslis on the market fall drastically short in providing this basic nutrition.
After analysing a variety of different breakfast cereals and mueslis available there is a common theme seen – added sugar, added sodium, heavily processed refined grains with little variety in grain content (wheat predominates). Shockingly consumers can even pick up a cereal with the word ‘grain’ in the name yet the product does not even contain any whole grain cereals (only processed varieties). The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that you aim to eat at least two serves of whole grains per day. Whole grains have not been refined and still contain all layers of the grain resulting in higher levels of nutrients than their refined counterparts. Whole grains are known to benefit:
- heart health
- reduce the risk of some cancers, particularly of the digestive tract
- reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Assist in better weight control
- Overall digestive health
This creative marketing of grain content may be helping to sell cereal but is doing little to contribute to the long term health of Australians.
Another common technique used by cereal manufacturers is to use processed varieties of grains, however because they have stripped away the wholegrain content they then need to add back in synthetic vitamins and minerals. This vitamin and mineral addition is then used as a marketing technique to convince consumers that this overly processed synthetically produced cereal is ‘good’ for them.
Consumers are now becoming more proactive in their health than ever before, they are now seeking out nutrient dense whole foods in replace of processed and synthetically put together foods. So it is about time that the market starts catering for this demand.
The best type of breakfast is a complete breakfast that incorporates a balanced proportion of complex carbohydrates, protein, essential fatty acids and dietary fibre. There are only a small percentage of cereals or mueslis on the market today that can claim they meet these attributes. Interestingly, most cereals do not provide a comprehensive nutrient intake. There are a select few that do claim added benefits, such as fibre or antioxidants. However, it seems uncommon for any of them to claim more than one or two features, for example to get your intake of fibre, antioxidants and omega 3 you may have to buy up to 3 different cereals! Unfortunately there also seems to be minimal inclusion of nutrient dense nuts and seeds that can contribute valuable fatty acid and protein to our diets.
Another factor to consider when it comes to purchasing your breakfast is not just looking at what it does contain, it is equally important to look at what is doesn’t contain. For example, it is best to avoid cereal and mueslis that contain added colours, flavour or preservatives or those that are loaded with added sugar and salt (sodium).
In 2011 Choice (Australia’s premier consumer advocacy group) were calling for a mandatory front of pack labeling system, known as the traffic light labeling system, particularly for muesli. The concept behind this system is to make it easier for consumers to visually identify healthier food products by comparing the colour codes on the package. Choice felt this was important after they tested 159 mueslis available on the Australian market, they warned that “a spoonful of muesli may be a mouthful of sugar and fat”, with one brand being found to contain twice as much fast as a McDonalds Double Quarter Pounder! This does not sound like a complete wholesome start to the day at all!
In addition to this, in April 2011, food law specialist firm Food Legal believed that sweet cereals may become a vulnerable target for regulatory moves which may align with government attempts to enforce stricter nutrient profile criteria on any food making a health claim.
This shows these industry players are aware that the market is changing, both in terms of consumer demand and regulatory guidelines. With consumers now seeking our nutrient dense foods with fewer calories our current market is doing little to provide these wholesome choices for consumers, apart from using misleading messaging about added synthetic vitamins, minerals and processed grains.
There are some players in the market that are actively creating complete functional foods to increase consumers’ wellness through the inclusion of natural nutrient dense whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit plus being free of unnecessary additives. So it is time to start questioning the nutritional content of our breakfast cereal so the wholesome varieties can be easily identified. After all, who wants to eat a mouthful of sugar and fat for breakfast?