I recently had dinner with an engineer who used to work at a plant that made cereal. He was a fascinating and engaging dinner companion but didn’t come across as a health nut. So he caught my attention when he decidedly stated he would never eat cereal and neither should we. Of course, being obsessed with food and processing, I had to ask for more info.
His plant made cereal for many different brands. He said they, and the other manufacturers, used the same method for producing all cereal, regardless of the shape, size or even texture. The grain was ground into a very fine white powder. Most of the grains’ nutrients are lost in this process. The powder is made into a batter and cooked at high heat for several hours. Then it can be turned into every cereal shape and color you can imagine—from flakes to crispies to stars to Os.
To make flakes, you bake the batter and roll it between cylinders; shredded-type wheat cereals are made by using a grooved cylinder to make the shreds. So, it may look like it’s a whole grain wheat product but it starts as the same white powder. To make crispies, you whip the batter and bake it so it forms the well-known shape that is intended to look like puffed, crisp rice. Other shapes require a thicker batter that goes through an extruder and is cut into shapes.
All nutrients have to be added back in because they are lost in the processing and cooking. They add them by spraying on synthetic vitamins or adding them into the batter. They also spray on and mix in flavorings, colors, preservatives, fiber and sweeteners.
The result is a high glycemic edible product with synthetic vitamins, colors, and flavors and sugars. Synthetic vitamins, as you can imagine, are not the most efficient, effective or safe way to get your nutrients. And, if you eat the cereal by the handful or with some skim milk or nonfat yogurt, you can’t absorb the fat soluble ones at all.
But what of alternatives like oats—granola, muesli, oat based energy bars, quick cook oatmeal? That’s worthy of a whole conversation on its own, so I’ll cover that in my next blog.
In the meantime, here’s the crib notes on some great non-cereal breakfast options. Let me know your favorites and I’ll add them add to the list.
- the many forms of eggs mixed with veggies and/or fruit (you want to make sure you are getting some vitamin C with your eggs so you can absorb the iron in them—lemon in your water will do the trick too);
- sprouted grain or sourdough bread with nut or seed butter, sausage or avocado and tomato;
- a berry or banana smoothie with Greek yogurt and nuts, or if you really need that crunch,
- Greek yogurt with granola—there are a few brands that have soaked oats but they can be hard to find (more on this in my next blog). You can get into the habit of making your own, it’s really easy and cheap. You just need a little time for the soaking and dehydrating;
- for an allergen friendly smoothie, try adding freshly ground or micro sliced chia, sunflower or pumpkin seeds and coconut water or regular water with your banana or berries;
- banana or pumpkin pancakes–1 smashed banana or 1/2 cup of pureed pumpkin or winter squash, 1 egg, 1 t vanilla, a bit of salt, cinnamon, and a bit of ground flax or GF flour to hold it together;
- Leftovers from a previous dinner (I have a hard time with this because I like gentle flavors in the morning and spicy at night but I have a friend who swears by it); or
- A carefully selected nutrition bar. Take care in which one you pick or you could be getting the bar equivalent of cereal–fake food with synthetic vitamins, flavors, colors and sugars. Look for seeds or nuts as the first ingredient, make sure the sugars are low (aim for 10g or fewer per 200 calories), and avoid bars that use puffed cereal as fillers or us puffed protein bits.
Can’t go cold turkey? No problem, wean yourself off or use cereal as a once a week convenience. But believe me, you’ll notice very quickly the difference in your energy and focus when you eat healthier foods at breakfast.
Have a great start to all your days!
Colleen Kavanagh is a lifelong nutrition advocate. She is the Executive Director of A Better Course, a nonprofit aimed at improving child nutrition, and the co-founder and CEO of ZEGO, the only food company designing nutrient dense snacks that won’t hurt your stomach, trigger your allergies, or spike your blood sugars.