Haven’t we all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Unfortunately rushed schedules, lack of appetite, coffee consumption and the snooze button often overshadow the desire to eat in the morning.
Breakfast jump starts the metabolism and boosts your blood sugar making it easier to concentrate, focus and learn. This is why many schools go out of their way to offer breakfast programs for kids called “Breakfast for Learning”. The morning meal however is not just “kids stuff”. Research shows that adults who miss breakfast are more likely to be overweight. Without food in the morning, your metabolism remains slow thus burning less calories and leaving you with little appetite until later in the day. Unfortunately the hunger usually kicks in at full force by the end of the day and most breakfast skippers compensate by overeating in the evening leading to excess fat storage. Think of your metabolism as a camp fire. As you sleep through the night your “flame” burns low. In the morning you need to stoke the fire by adding some fuel to get you burning strong again. Don’t be surprised if breakfast leaves you hungrier before lunch. Hunger is a good sign indicating that your metabolism is burning through your food. A good breakfast and a small mid-morning snack will often mean increased energy and less eating at night time.
So what constitutes a breakfast of champions? For lasting energy remember to aim for a source of protein and carbohydrate. That would mean a minimum of 2 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide. The protein could come from Milk Products or Meat and Meat Alternatives. The carbohydrate could come from Vegetables and Fruit or Grain Products. Breakfast could be as simple as a piece of cheese and an apple on the way out the door or as complex as a veggie omelet with toast and juice.
One of the most common quick breakfast choices is cold cereal. A bowl of cereal with milk can provide protein, calcium, iron and an array of vitamins and minerals. All cereals however are not created equal. Use your food label savvy and choose a cereal that contains whole grains, a good source of fibre and a moderate amount of sugar. Here are a few quick label reading tips to choose a cereal that will fill you up, boost your energy and provide the necessary nutrients.
Serving Size: Check the serving size on the side of the box. Most cereals will list a serving size of 28-40 grams. That may mean anywhere from 1/3 cup to 1.5 cups. One cup of cheerios (30g) offers about 100 calories whereas 1 cup of most sugary granolas weighs in about 100g and 300-400 calories. It’s good to know what serving you need to feel satisfied. If you are trying to gain weight granola or cereals with nuts may be your best choice. For weight loss however look for lower calories and higher fibre.
Fibre: Look for a cereal that has at least 3 grams of fibre per serving. Canadians need close to 30 grams of fibre per day and on average get only 12 grams per day. Cereal is an easy way to boost your fibre, feel fuller and stay regular! If your favorite cereal is low in fibre, try sprinkling a high fibre source such as All Bran or ground flax seed on top of your lower fibre favorite.
Sugars: Look for a cereal that has no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving. A high sugar cereal may spike and crash your blood sugar leaving you feeling sluggish and hungry mid morning. Another way to evaluate sugar is multiply the value for sugar by 3. If this number exceeds the total carbohydrates on the label, the sugars may be too high. Canadians are recommended to consume no more than 30% of their carbohydrates as added sugars. IF you opt for a low sugar cereal and add an extra tsp of honey or sugar on top you’ll be taking in 4 grams of sugar for each tsp of added sugar. You’ll probably find you get more sweetness for a lower amount of sugar when you add it yourself.
Compare these cereals.
The first five meet the criteria of >3g of fibre and <8grams of sugar per 30 gram serving.
|Cereal||30g serving||Calories||Fibre (g)||Sugar (g)|
|All Bran Buds||1/3 cup||70||13||8|
|Bran Flakes||1 cup||100||5||6|
|Frosted Mini Wheats||12 miniwheats||100||3||6|
|Corn Bran Squares||1 cup||116||4.8||6.1|
|Raisin Bran*||½ cup||100||3.5||9*|
|Special K||1 cup||110||1||4|
|Corn Pops||1 cup||120||0||14|
|Quaker Harvest Crunch||1/3 cup||120||2||15|
|Frosted Flakes||¾ cup||120||0.5||14|
|Froot Loops||1 cup||120||1||15|
* Note the raisin bran is slightly high in sugar. To lower your sugar use bran flakes and add your own raisins. The commercial raisins are often coated in oil and sugar.
Heidi Smith is a Registered Dietitian specializing in weight management, lifestyle change and sport nutrition. She works out of the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph.