Breakfast foods are by and large one of the healthiest items available in the average grocery store, and one of the most helpful in a weight loss program. A large variety of cereals (both hot and cold) dominate the selection. It's up to us to choose the right items. And, as we shall see below, choosing the right items is easy if we follow a few simple rules.
As far as Cold Breakfast Cereals are concerned, here are the ground rules:
- The lower the sugars, the better! The content of sugars is indicated on
the nutrition label (under 'Carbohydrates'), along with the content of fiber. In fact, the
entire art of picking the right cereal resides in this one number. A
content of sugars up to 6-7 grams per serving is acceptable. Of course, there
are certain cereals with sugars as low as 1 gram (e.g., toasted whole grain oat
Cheerios from General Mills). These cereals can be served with skim milk and sweetened to taste with a zero-calorie sweetener (such as Splenda). The taste is in my opinion indistinguishable from that of cereals with
higher sugar content. Other examples of cereals beneficial for weight control
Note: All of the above-mentioned cereals are from General Mills.
- Multigrain Cheerios (6 grams of sugars per serving)
- Corn Chex (3 grams of sugars per serving)
- Crispix Rice and Corn (3 grams of sugars per serving)
Beware of the fancier cereals with added frosting, raisins, yogurt, honey,
cinnamon, chocolate, etc – this simply spells higher sugar content (i.e., higher
glycemic index and glycemic load).
You may notice that cereals with higher content of sugars still bring in a similar
number of calories per serving as cereals with lower content of sugars. As
such, you may argue: "What do the sugars matter?"
Don't be deceived, they matter! Foods with higher sugar content (higher
glycemic index) cause an abrupt increase in our blood glucose level, which leads
to higher secretion of the hormone insulin. Insulin, in turn, leads to fat formation
and fat storage in our body. Insulin also promptly removes glucose from the
bloodstream, causing an abrupt decrease in glucose levels which evokes the sensation of hunger. In
conclusion: Foods with high glycemic index predispose to weight gain and cause
hunger at shorter intervals after eating. So, a cereal containing 20 grams of
sugars per serving is apt to cause more hunger and weight gain than a cereal
containing 6 grams of sugars per serving. This occurs even if the two cereals
contain the exact same amount of calories. It's all about how those calories are
distributed in the cereal. The less calories come from sugars (versus other types of carbohydrates), the better for weight control purposes.
- The higher the content of fiber in a cereal, the better. A fiber content of 3
gram or higher per serving is acceptable. Also, if you see both 'Dietary Fiber' and
'Soluble Fiber' listed on the nutrition label, this is an advantage. (For instance,
the toasted whole grain oat Cheerios from General Mills contain 3 grams dietary
fiber and 1 gram soluble fiber).
More about fiber here
- The content of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol in your cereal should be
zero. However, this won't be a major criteria in your search, since nowadays it's
difficult to find a cereal that doesn't satisfy this condition. All the nutrition
labels I've looked at faithfully indicated 'zero' for all these components.
One word of caution, however: If you really want to be sure there are no bad
things in your cereal, read the list of 'Ingredients' at the bottom of the nutrition
label. Make sure the words 'partially hydrogenated vegetable oils' are not there.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are equivalent to trans fats, which are
highly harmful to health. Incidentally, I have come across cereals that indicate
'trans fats zero' in the upper part of the label, and then list 'partially
hydrogenated vegetable oils' under 'Ingredients'. Arguably, it may be an
insignificant amount, but there is no way of telling for sure! And if you're consuming a cereal on a regular basis, you probably want to make sure there are no trans fats in it.
Note: Finding 'vegetable oils' listed under 'Ingredients' is ok. What you don't want to see are the
words 'partially hydrogenated'.
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- When choosing your cereal, always look for 'Whole Grain' products. They
bring in a higher amount of fiber and have a lower glycemic index than refined
(enriched) products. Most of the time, if a cereal is made with whole grain, this
is readily advertised on the package. If that's not the case, look at the ingredient
list: If you see 'whole wheat', 'whole corn', or 'wholemeal' as the first
ingredient, this is a whole grain product. Conversely, terms such as 'enriched' or
'bromated' may indicate the products lacks whole grain.
Another way of
identifying whole grain products is by the content of dietary fiber. If the content
of dietary fiber is high, the product is most likely made with whole grain.
Besides fiber, whole grain brings in antioxidants, essential aminoacids, vitamins
and dietary minerals with important health benefits. Supplying these products to
our body is vital during a weight loss program.
- Use fat-free milk with your cereal. It is almost 50% lower in calories than
regular milk, for virtually the same taste.
Here are a few calorie considerations regarding various cereal brands:
- General Mills offers quite a few cereals with a very reasonable calorie content, 100 - 120
calories per cup, which means 140 - 160 calories with 1/2 cup of fat-free milk. Among
these, look for the low sugar products previously mentioned.
- Kellog's Cereals are usually higher in calorie content, on average about 180 - 220
calories per serving. This in itself is acceptable, however most Kellog's cereals also
contain a higher amount of sugars (12-14 grams), which makes them less favorable for
- Post Cereals are in between General Mills and Kellog's as far as calorie count, bringing in
on average about 120 - 160 calories.
A favorite of mine is 'Honeybunches of Oats' (120 calories per serving and 8 grams of
sugars, which is still acceptable). It comes plain or with added fruit bits (peaches or
strawberries), for the same calorie and sugar amount. I find the peach version, in
particular, to be absolutely delicious.
Another option is 'Grape Nuts Flakes' (110 calories and 4 grams of sugars).
Other Post products, like 'Shredded Wheat', 'Banana Nut Crunch', 'Raisin Bran',
'Honeybunches of Oats with Vanilla Clusters' have higher calorie content (180 - 240
calories per serving), along with higher sugar content (12-14 grams), which makes them
less favorable for weight control.
Hot Cereal is another great way of having breakfast. The grocery store selection here is
dominated by 'Quaker Oats' and other equivalent brands. All of these are whole grain products,
which bring in a reasonable calorie number and sugar amount. Many of these products presently
advertise 'Reduced Sugar'. Typically, one serving of such a hot cereal product brings in about
120 calories, zero grams of saturated fat, and about 4 grams of sugar (which for weight control purposes couldn't be better).
My suggestion would be to purchase the individual packet containers (at least in the beginning) - they are easier to prepare and give you an idea of the recommended portion size.
Breakfast Snack Bars are a great way to have breakfast on your way
to work. Several options are available, usually in the cereal aisle, many of which satisfy our
requirements for a healthy breakfast (i.e., sugars up to 7 grams and saturated fat below 3 grams).
For instance, consider the following:
- South Beach Diet Snack Bars (100 - 150 calories, sugars up to 7 grams, saturated fat up
to 2 grams, whole grain 8 grams, dietary fiber 3 grams)
- Special K Bar (90 calories, sugars 7 grams, saturate fat zero)
Note: If one bar doesn't satisfy your hunger, you can always have two. In fact, a good breakfast should bring in at least 200 calories, so as to control hunger throughout the morning.
Pancake mixes are another item found in the cereal aisle. Let me state right away this can be a diet killer. If the serving size is not respected, or if regular syrup is added, a sizable number of calories may be ingested.
To illustrate, a pack of 'Aunt Jemima' pancake mix should make about 20 servings. Each serving
is said to contain about 160 calories (for the dry mix alone) and 6 grams of sugars. To this calorie
count you have to add the other ingredients used for preparation, i.e. milk (hopefully fat-free),
eggs (hopefully egg beaters) and oil (hopefully a small amount). This makes for 3 small
pancakes. And now comes the real killer: Maple Syrup. Regular Maple Syrup is simply
atrocious: 1/4 cup contains 210 calories and 36 grams of sugar. Even light Maple Syrup brings in
100 calories and 21 grams sugar per 1/4 cup. Fortunately, there's a ray of hope: Fat-free Maple
Syrup (the one I found was from 'Log Cabin') brings in only 35 calories per 1/4 cup. Comparing
with the above, there is no question which one you should use.
In conclusion, a 'cautious' pancake breakfast is likely to bring in about 300 calories. All in all,
this is still a reasonable amount. An indiscriminate pancake breakfast, however, may bring in anywhere
from 500 to 1,000 calories, which is unacceptable for a weight control diet. When ordering
pancakes in a restaurant, be aware this is calorie number you're likely to ingest.
The same principles apply to Waffles, Crepes, French Toast, etc. Prepared at home with low
calorie ingredients and consumed in reasonable portions, they make for borderline acceptable dishes. In
restaurant portions, however, they are a sure way to pack on the pounds. In conclusion, I would qualify pancakes and the like as questionable breakfast foods, especially in a weight control diet.
Note: All calorie counts are approximate.
We hope the information on this page sheds some light on the importance of healthy breakfast foods, and makes it easier to choose the right breakfast foods for your weight loss program.
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