How Healthy are Breakfast Cereals?


Of all the foods in the market, breakfast cereals are one of the most challenging for consumers.  Many look healthy if you believe the marketing on the front of the box.  But there are some pitfalls in the selection of a cereal.  Three issues I have with breakfast cereals are the types of grains, the amount of fibre and how they are sweetened.


In the past few years, manufacturers have improved cereals greatly by using whole grains instead of refined wheat flour.  Many are “multi grain” e.g. oats, barley, rye and brown rice. However, in a recent tour of the breakfast food aisle I was dismayed to find that many - some of the most trusted brands - still contain refined grains e.g. white wheat flour and white rice.  Simply stated, refined grains do not promote good health


When we eat cereal the expectation is that we will get some fibre.  We need about 25-30 grams of fibre on a daily basis to maintain a healthy digestive system. However, many cereals still have only 1 gram of fibre, and a few brands have no fibre at all.  Low fibre cereals also tend to be high in sugar.


Sugar is still the sweetener of choice in most popular brands.  This is more of a concern for those cereals that are marketed to children.   A study recently estimated that eating these cereals would provide a 92% of  the daily sugar intake for sedentary girls age 9-13.  Empty calories from sugar lead to overeating and eventually to nutritional deficiencies. 


Next time you choose a cereal I encourage you to read the label carefully.  As consumers we can influence what is produced. If we don’t buy cereals with refined grains, low fibre and high sugar, manufacturers will have to stop making them.