Put down the Crunchy Nut and step away from the Special K - it seems our morning favourites might not be as innocent as we once thought...
A bowl of cereal appears to makes the perfect breakfast. It's fast, easy, and inexpensive - not to mention there's an endless choice of healthy and nutritious options that provide a wholesome start to the day... or so we thought.
On closer inspection it seems that the trusty breakfast choice of many is in fact crammed full of sugar, salt and wheat - three of the worst ingredients to kickstart your day. This presents a serious problem as a recent study conducted by YouGov showed that out of 2,000 UK consumers, breakfast cereal was their most popular choice, with 88% of respondents reporting that they often ate it and with two thirds having it at least once a week. Could it be that much of the nation has been unknowingly piling on the pounds before they’ve even begun a day's work? We got in touch with personal trainer Tegan Haining, and creator of Bodyism James Duigan , to find out.
“The majority of breakfast cereals (with a few exceptions) are far too high in sugar and salt and are so heavily processed,” says James. “Check out the ingredients label of any breakfast cereal and sugar is often high up the list and is in fact the last thing you want at breakfast time. Why? Because it will cause a sharp increase in your blood-sugar levels. This in turn will increase the production of insulin, which will prevent you from burning fat and encourage your body to store in instead.” Not to mention, when your blood sugar crashes a few hours later, your body will call for another snack high in refined carbs, continuing the unhealthy cycle.
The other major problem with store-bought cereal is that more often than not it contains wheat which, once eaten, converts to sugar faster than any other grain - this sugar then converts to fat which is why wheat needs to be avoided if you want a lean body. “Nearly all products that contain wheat also contain gluten ,” says James. “Gluten is used mainly as a binder in the processing of food and can be very hard to digest, leading people to become susceptible to indigestion, yeast overgrowth, allergies and eventually coeliac disease. Wheat also contains phytates. Phytates bind with health-boosting calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc in the intestinal tract, preventing these minerals from being properly absorbed. So, if you eat wheat excessively, you could end up with mineral deficiencies (which make you hungry all the time), allergies (hay fever, and skin rashes) and intestinal problems (such as IBS and bloating).
“Even cereals marketed as healthy options aren’t what they seem,” says James, “so ignore the advert of the girl in the swimsuit, or the sports star who tell you they never start the day without them and just check out the ingredients. If wheat, salt or sugar are on the list, put the box back on the shelf.”
For most of us, having cereal is just a habit. So all you need to do is try and switch it up with something more satisfying. “It’s important to start the day with a good source of protein and healthy fats,” says Tegan, “as this won't spike your blood sugar levels like cereal can, making it harder to manage cravings throughout the day. Stick to lean breakfast foods like egg, salmon or avocado instead that are a great source of protein to set you up for the day."
If however, you’re a cereal junkie and not quite ready to go cold turkey, opt for an oat-based muesli that’s mixed with nuts, choosing organic, gluten free and low sugar where possible. Alternatively, “Try soaking some gluten free oats overnight in almond or coconut milk, adding blueberries, cashew nuts and a little honey,” says Tegan. Soaking the oats makes them much easier to digest which helps prevent bloating, while the honey and cashews deliver a bowl of clean and crunchy sweetness into your morning routine.