Healthier Choices in the Cereal Aisle
I’ve got my children pretty well trained when it comes to the ‘junk food aisle’, as we call the confectionary, chips and soft drink aisle. They know it’s junk, and they know it’s occasional food. The cereal aisle is a different ballgame, though.
One of my children, especially, loves cereal and rarely eats anything else for breakfast. Now that the boys can read, they love to tell me that this cereal is ‘high fibre’, and that one will ‘give you energy, to counter my ‘it’s not healthy’ claims.
The key with breakfast cereals, as with most processed foods, is to ignore that front of the pack and go straight to the nutrition information panel. This panel is your friend. Learn to read and understand it.
So, I’ve decided to do a helpful guide to healthier grocery shopping in the cereal aisle.
- Needs to be high in fibre – at least 10 grams of fibre per 100 grams
- Make sure it’s wholegrain
- Low GI (although don’t choose this over low salt and sugar). A GI value of 55 or lower means low GI.
- Low salt/sodium – good levels are less than 150mg per 100 grams
- Low sugar – look for something less than 15 grams per 100 grams
- Low in saturated fats – less than 1.5 grams per 100 grams
Be careful of phrases like ‘added vitamins and minerals’. This can sometimes be a disguise for too much salt, too much sugar and not enough fibre.
How much fibre do you need? According to the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel, adults should be eating 30 to 35 grams of fibre per day, children from ages 1-3 need around 14 grams, older boys need 28 grams a day, and older girls need 22 grams a day.
CHOICE Magazine did a wonderful review of breakfast cereals, which includes a table of supermarket cereals and how much fibre, sugar, salt and fats they contain.
Have a look at cereals aimed specifically at children – very scary!
A high fibre cereal should contain 10 grams of fibre per 100 grams.
The Heart Foundation Ticks are for foods that are healthier than comparable foods, so this is good to look out for. It’s worth noting that manufacturers pay a fee to use the Heart Foundation Tick, and not all manufacturers choose to do this, so just because it doesn’t have the Tick doesn’t mean that it’s not good. As ever, read the nutritional information on the pack
According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, no more than 10 percent of your child's daily calories should come from saturated fat, regardless of age or gender. In a 1,300-calorie diet, that's 14 or fewer grams of saturated fat. A diet made up of 1,500 calories can consist of no more than 16 g of saturated fat.
Cereals with less than 1.5 grams of saturated fat per 100 grams are great, but stick to under 4 grams per 100 grams, and you’re doing okay.
CHOICE Magazine’s review of Australian breakfast cereals makes a great point about sugar in cereals. When you read the ingredients on the box, ingredients must be listed in order of the highest amount. If sugar or sugar additives are high on the list of ingredients, give it a miss. However, if fruit is high on the list, the cereal might be okay. The sugar content on the nutrition panel will be high, but it’s better to have sugar from fruit than from additives.
For example, Sultana Bran is a pretty good choice of cereal, but it has a very high sugar content. However, most of this sugar comes from the sultanas, so it’s still a reasonable choice.
As a general guide, try to choose cereals that contain under 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
Low salt (sodium):
Approximately 75% of the sodium we eat comes from processed foods. Cut down on the processed foods, and look for foods that are low in sodium, i.e. have 150 mgs or less per 100 grams. It’s handy to know that no sodium foods should have 5mgs or less per 100gs.
I was looking at our box of Rice Bubbles the other day, and realized that these have about 550 mgs of sodium per 100 grams – making it a high sodium food. Just because it’s a plain cereal, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily good for you.
We should be eating less than 2300 mgs of sodium per day, so keep an eye on the nutrition panel and go for lower sodium products.
There’s a great fact sheet on salt intake from the Queensland Government at http://www.health.qld.gov.au/nutrition/resources/renal_lowsalt.pdf
Artificial colours and flavours
One of my hobbyhorses, it never ceases to amaze me how many artificial colours and flavours are added to our foods. I was very pleased when Aldi announced that none of their products contain artificial flavours, and it’s certainly one of the reasons I buy a lot of our cereals from there.
My eldest son is gradually being allowed more independence in the choice of foods that he eats, and he unwisely chose some horrible lollies for his weekly treat last week. I read the ingredients panel, and couldn’t see one natural ingredient. I pointed this out to him, but he still wanted them. He ate a few, and then broke out in a rash. He told me he’d be reading the ingredients next time.
We’re lucky that he just itched for a while. Artificial colours and flavours can cause all sorts of problems (see my earlier post about Code Red ingredients: http://blog.hellocharlie.com.au/2012/02/tips-for-healthier-grocery-shopping-part-1/
Needless to say, check the ingredients list and avoid cereals with artificial colours and flavours.
As ever, the less processed it is, the more likely it is to be lower in salt, fats and added sugars. The favourites in our house (okay, let’s be honest, they’re my favourites – but I do the shopping!) are:
- Rolled Oats;
- Uncle Toby’s Shredded Wheat
- Sanitarium Kids Weet Bix
- Kellogg’s All Bran; and
- Uncle Toby’s Vita Brits Weeties
The big problem with these cereals is that they’re pretty dull. I get around that by putting out small containers of sultanas, chopped dried apricots, cranberries, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, linseeds, pepitas and fresh fruit and letting the kids add these to their cereals.
Occasionally we have other cereals (like the aforementioned Rice Bubbles) that one of my children in particular loves. He’s allowed these, as long as he adds oats and All Bran.
I’ve also found a high fibre sprinkle that has carob powder in it. I’m not a huge fan of carob, but my I’ve got my two thinking that this is a ‘chocolate’ breakfast sprinkle.
What are your favourite healthy breakfasts?
CHOICE Magazine review http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/food-and-health/food-and-drink/groceries/breakfast-cereal-review-and-compare.aspx
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