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What Not To Eat: Cereal Edition
I have spent the last twenty-five years or so talking about what you should be eating. Last week I began a discussion of what not to eat. I can't say that I have deliberately avoided talking about what you shouldn't be eating, it's more that I like to remain positive. There's so much great food that's great for you and that has taken me a lot of time to talk about. Even so, I get a lot of emails asking about advice on foods to avoid. 

The Importance of Eating Breakfast
There are a number of reasons why you should make a healthy breakfast part of your life. When you consider that you had dinner at 6:00 or 7:00 the night before and you might get up for breakfast at 6:00 A.M. you have already gone about 12 hours without eating. By not having breakfast and waiting until your "coffee break" or lunch adds even more time. 

Breakfast Better for More than Your Weight
I've talked a lot recently about how important breakfast is to your health (Fiber for Breakfast! 10/17/07) and your waistline. I've also talked a lot about fiber and its effect on your health (Whole Grains and Hypertension 8/15/07). In a study that just came out in the Archives of Internal Medicine (2007;167(19):2080-2085), researchers at Harvard University have discovered that high-fiber cereals seem to be even more important than we thought.


 

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Should you be concerned about the sugar in your kids' cereal?



If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for more than a little while, you're probably aware that I feel that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that those who eat breakfast have better cholesterol scores, lower Body Mass Index and tend to eat less throughout the day.

We know that this is just as true for kids as it is for adults. But does it matter what they eat? Conventional wisdom says that sugary cereals are bad for kids and should be avoided. Leaving aside the question of whether sugary cereals in the morning can affect a child's behavior, does it matter how much sugar is in a child's cereal in terms of their overall health? Are children who eat sugary cereal in the morning more likely to be overweight or have a less nutritious overall diet?

In a study funded by General Mills (Nutr Res 2011;31(3):229-236), two General Mills nutrition researchers along with two researchers at Northeastern University made use of information gathered in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a large-scale study designed to assess the nutritional status of adults and children in the United States and performed between 2001 and 2006. Over 5,200 children between the ages of 6 and 18 participated in the study, which on five separate occasions asked the children to recall everything they had eaten in the previous 24 hours. In addition to the food recall, the children's height, weight and waist circumference were measured.

Using the food recalls, the researchers were able to assess the overall quality of the children's diets by comparing their intake to the US government's MyPyramid recommendations. Total intake of major nutrients, such as vitamins (i.e., A, B vitamins and C) and minerals (i.e., Iron, Magnesium and Zinc) was also assessed.

The researchers compared the health and diets of those children who did not eat breakfast at all with those children who ate cereal for breakfast, further breaking down the cereal eaters into three groups by increasing levels of sugar in the cereals.

Their results are somewhat unsurprising. Quite simply, they found that regardless of how much sugar was in the children's breakfast cereal, those who ate cereal had a significantly lower Body Mass Index than those children who did not eat breakfast. Similarly, children who ate cereal, even the most sugary cereals, ate less fat and cholesterol overall and got more whole grains, vitamins and minerals in their diet than those children who did not eat cereal.

What this means for you

This research might lead you to believe that you shouldn't worry about the amount of sugar in your kids' cereal. While the methods of this particular study are sound, remember: they're essentially comparing eating sugary cereal with eating nothing. If your child refuses to eat anything but sugary cereal, try serving Blueberry Muffins or another quickbread instead. Sweet and delicious, but not nearly as much sugar.

First posted: August 3, 2011