The Not So Healthy Breakfast


Previously I described how breakfast is the most important meal of the day and how unfortunately it is a meal that many people tend to skip or short change due to our busy lifestyles. Clients will tell me that they are not hungry in the morning or that they do not have time.  We should be hungry in the morning.  We have not provided our body with fuel for 8-12 hours, so it should be looking for nourishment to get it going.  I have found that not being hungry in the morning is usually part of a vicious cycle of not properly nourishing the body.

Breakfast sets the stage for the day and studies show that “breakfast skippers” are often over weight and/or lack the energy to power them through the day.  The previous article included several suggestions for healthy breakfasts.  For those of you who missed that article, it is available in its entirety at my blog http://brwellness.blogspot.com/2011/06/start-your-day-with-healthy-breakfast.html

I closed the article with a question, “What’s missing?”  There was one specific answer I was looking for which several of you correctly identified.  I would like to mention that one caller responded “coffee.” That discussion is for another future article!  The specific “food” I was looking for was…cold cereal.  I’m sure this may surprise many of you.  Want an even bigger surprise – the “whole grain” versions that are now being sold to us as “healthier” may actually be even worse for us!  Let me explain.

I’ll start with the basics.  Cereals are made from grains.  Grains are a carbohydrate.  Carbohydrates are essentially sugar.  We can call them other things, but at the end of the day, when our body finishes its processing, they are sugar.  There is a clever way to know how much sugar you are eating.  There is approximately one teaspoon of sugar per four grams of a carbohydrate.  So, if you see on the food label that one serving (and are you eating just one serving?) contains 20 grams of carbohydrate, you are eating the equivalent of five teaspoons of sugar. 

Cereals are made from refined or processed grains.  We’ve talked about this before.  The most nutritious parts of a grain are the germ and the bran.  These are removed during processing to allow for greater shelf life.  The current trend in marketing is to promote “whole grain” cereal.  Well, there’s a little spin on that as well.  This does not mean all the grains in the cereal are whole, it only means that the main ingredient (that with the largest percentage) is a “whole grain.”  Therefore, those that are labeled “whole grain” include a substantial amount of processed grains. 

Let’s look at some examples.  Here are the ingredients in Cheerios:  Whole Grain Oats, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Oat Bran, Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Oat Fiber, Tripotassium Phosphate, Corn Starch, Wheat Starch, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.  Each serving has 20 grams of carbohydrate.  If you break this down – there are three ingredients – sugar (the grains and the starches), salt, and preservatives.  In each serving you get five teaspoons of sugar.  What about Special K? You’ll see it is not so “special”.  It has 22 grams of carbohydrate per serving from: Rice, Wheat Gluten, Sugar, Defatted Wheat Germ, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Dried Whey, Malt Flavoring, and Calcium Caseinate.  And Frosted Flakes?  I’ll spare you the ingredients, but let you know it has 27 grams of carbohydrate per serving – almost seven teaspoons of sugar!

How about the “healthy” cereals? How about one serving of Kashi Go-Lean Crunch with 36 grams of carbohydrates – that’s nine teaspoons of sugar if anyone is counting! 

One reader pointed out another item I did not mention – orange juice.  Here’s why – one eight ounce glass has 26 grams of carbohydrate – six and a half teaspoons of sugar. 

A little more food for thought one serving of skim milk has 13 grams of carbohydrate – another three plus teaspoons of sugar.

Do the math – this “healthy” breakfast of cereal, skim milk, and orange juice can actually be at least fourteen teaspoons of sugar!  Not a good way to start the day.

Bernard Rosen, PhD is a Nutrition Consultant and Educator. He works with individuals, groups, and at corporations to create individualized nutrition and wellness programs. He has offices in Thiensville and Glendale. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, e-mail at bernie@brwellness.com, call (262) 389-9907 or go to www.brwellness.com.