10/2/09

Are you addicted to cereal?

Americans are obsessed with cereal. How do I know this? We have an entire aisle in the grocery store solely devoted to cold and hot cereals. We have a dairy aisle, meat aisle, vegetable aisle and then we have a cereal aisle.
There are several claims on cereal boxes that promote health and weight loss. For example Cheerios can help lower cholesterol, General Mills cereals are Whole Grain guaranteed and you can take the Special K challenge to lose 6 lbs in 2 weeks.
In my opinion, oatmeal is more satisfying and filling than 1 serving of cereal. Yes, 1 serving of cereal, which is typically 3/4 cup. If you were to eat 1 serving of cereal at 150 calories or 1 serving of oatmeal at 150 calories at breakfast, you are likely to eat less during the day and feel more satisfied with less calories by eating the oatmeal. Even if you add berries, nuts or raisins and milk to your oatmeal or to your cereal, I have a feeling your blood sugar will feel more balanced during the morning by eating oatmeal, compared to cereal and milk. Even if a cereal has the same amount of fiber as oatmeal, there is something about oatmeal that leaves you satisfied after eating it. Maybe you don't do oatmeal or cereal and PB&J or eggs are your breakfast of choice. :)
I found two studies regarding cereal and weight loss. Both studies found that cereal promoted weight loss and weight management. However, there are several variables to be considered in these studies.
In the first study researchers wanted to see whether ready-to-eat cereal, used as a portion-controlled, meal replacement, promotes weight loss. Results showed that the ready-to-eat cereals may be used to promote weight loss when consumed as a portion-controlled, meal replacement. In the second study researchers tested the hypothesis that providing a structured snack in the form of a "ready-to-eat" breakfast cereal would help regulate excess energy intake and contribute to weight loss in night snackers. Results showed that eating ready-to-eat cereal after the evening meal may attenuate caloric intake in night snackers and promote weight loss in compliant individuals.
Here I gave you the exact words for the purpose of the studies and the results of the studies. However, there are some missing links in these studies. Whenever a subject complies to the protocol of a study, they are likely eliminating other foods in the diet (control group) and sticking to a somewhat controlled diet. When compared to the subjects consuming a normal diet (placebo group or non controlled group), it is likely that subjects sticking to a specific protocol will lose weight. Furthermore, in the case of eating a specific serving for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner (As in the first study) you are greatly reducing your daily intake of calories and thus, weight loss is likely...so long as you don't replace those calories with another food.
I have a feeling that many athletes/fitness individuals are either starting their day with cereal or finishing their day with cereal...or both. I confess that I love cereal...all kinds! I grew up on cereal, easily going through a box in 2-3 days after 3 days in a row of 7,000-10,000 yards of swimming. Although I stopped my binge-eating days of eating cereal after swim practices, I still enjoy the yummy crunch of cereal.
Now I find myself using cereal as a topping. I like to top my oatmeal, my post workout smoothies, my french toast, my yogurt, my fruit and my cottage cheese with a little bite of cereal. Since there are a million cereals on the market, it is easy to enjoy a variety of cereals (although I'm sure we all have our favorites).
I find that athletes/fitness individuals tend to overeat when it comes to cereal. You can't just stop at one bowl. Maybe you are eating cereal and still maintaining weight or even losing weight through your fitness routine but perhaps you are eating cereal for a snack when you could be eating something a bit more healthy (say, fruits or veggies that you neglected during the day?). Then when the eating starts, it is hard to stop.
I can't really recall a cereal that will satisfy a person after 1 serving (and keep you satisfied for the hours after) and come to think of it, most cereals seem to have similar ingredients and similar nutrition profiles. Therefore, even if a cereal does keep you full after 1 serving, how can one cereal be healthier than the other?
Karel and I combine our cereals. Since I do the shopping, I made myself some guidelines for when I buy cereal. I hope you find it useful when you purchase cereal. More so, I hope you will find it easier to read food labels, recognize exactly what you are eating and keep you satisfied when using as a topping or for a meal.

Combining cereals in a large Tupperware container:
Choose 4 cereals that meet these criteria:
1) 1 box of a high fiber cereal - raisin bran, shredded wheat, kashi Go lean crunch, Bran flakes, etc.
2) 1 box of a puff cereal - organic millet puffs, corn puffs, brown rice cereal, rice puffs, etc.
3) 1 box whole grain cereal - first ingredient must read whole grain (not just wheat), less than 5g sugar, at least 1g fiber. Most general mills cereals are whole grain but use your best judgment and choose the best option, such as cheerios.
4) 1 box of your favorite - first ingredient will likely read milled corn, corn meal, wheat flour or rice, but prioritize wheat if possible and less than 12g sugar. Meusli, Life, Chex, frosted flakes, cinnamon toast crunch, golden grahams, granola, special K, etc. Avoid food coloring (hint-is your cereal brightly colored?), high sugar cereals and partially hydrogenated oils.
*As you will notice, I put no criteria for calories. High fiber cereals are high in calories and high sugar cereals are low in calories. There really isn't a winner when it comes to finding the perfect cereal so enjoy a little of everything.

-Start with the puff cereal and fill the container with 4 cups (should be less than 1/2 of the container).
-Put 2-3 cups of the high fiber cereal in the container.
-Put 2-3 cups of the whole grain cereal into the container.
-Top the container with 2 cups of your favorite cereal.
*Put all extra cereal into an airtight bag and store in the back of the fridge.
-Give the Tupperware container a good shake until the cereals are mixed. Keep a 1-cup measuring cup (for a bowl of cereal) and a 1/4 cup (for snacks) on top of the container so that you will always portion control when eating.
-Enjoy a little bit of everything and hopefully you will find yourself eating less cereal on a daily basis by satisfying your cereal cravings with a little bit of everything, rather than a lot of one thing. Remember, cereal is a great topper, it can be eaten in a coffee cup with skim milk and a little whey protein and flax seeds and you don't just have to eat it in a big bowl.

I'd love to hear your favorite cereal, how you portion control and how you like to eat it :)