What do you have for breakfast? Cornflakes, Bran Flakes, Special K? Since their inception, cereals have been pedalled as the ‘healthy’ way to start your day but do you really know what they contain? Sure they’ve got all those great health benefits right? Like they’re high in fibre, and vitamins and low in fat? And heck, eating some cereal can even help you shed pounds right?! Well, be prepared – what I’m about to tell you might shock you…
If you’re a cereal fan, what you’re eating for breakfast may actually be doing you more harm than good! Now, I’m not a Nutritionist or Food Scientist, only a humble Personal Trainer with a keen interest in what I put into my body. But the fact is I don’t need to have a degree in nutrition or dietetics to be a ‘FOOD DETECTIVE’ when I go into the supermarket and pick up a box or packet. Like anyone else, I’m drawn to the bright packets and good marketing, but the stuff that really interests me is the small writing on the back of that packaging – the ingredients list! It’s this information that lets me know what I’m eating and what I’m putting into my body to fuel it (would you go down the gas-station to put diesel in your unleaded car and NOT check the label on the pump first?!).
Now, I admit that often when I read the label on a packaged food I don’t know what all the ingredients are. However, this is exactly what causes me concern – If I don’t know what an ingredient is (or especially if I can’t even pronounce it!) I see it as a warning that: ‘If I don’t know what this, I am not going to put it into my body’. Most of the time (not all, but most) the main ingredient in a boxed cereal is refined sugar, and it may be listed using a different name – sugar comes under many guises. Here are just a few to look out for:
- Fruit juice concentrate
Now you may still think that this is no big deal but how much sugar do you consume in a day? How much sugar do you add to your tea or coffee? What about the sugar added to the sandwich or soup you ate at lunchtime (check the ingredients – sugar won’t be the first ingredient listed, but in most cases sandwiches and soups do contain some added sugar)? How much was in those biscuits you had in the afternoon? …Basically, it all adds up and you could be consuming a lot more sugar than you realise and excess sugar consumption can have devastating effects on health:
1. Sugar is an empty calorie: i.e. it doesn’t contain any fibre, protein, fats, vitamins or minerals! Furthermore, your body has to borrow vital nutrients from healthy cells to metabolize the sugar – for example, calcium is drawn from the bones and teeth to help ‘neutralise’ the effects of sugar, and over time this can lead to an increased risk of both osteoporosis and kidney stones.
2. Sugar can contribute to overweight and obesity.
3. Sugar can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
4. Sugar can increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
Now I realise it can be hard to cut back on ALL the sugar in your diet, but perhaps one of the best ways to reduce your sugar consumption might be to swap your processed ‘healthy’ cereal (with its added sugar) for an alternative breakfast?
Personally, I like to ‘eat like a Caveman’. Yes you read that right, A Caveman! Did cavemen open a box and pour milk over the top? No. And did they suffer from obesity? No.
For breakfast I have Meat, nuts (e.g. cashews, almonds, brazil nuts) and berries. This breakfast keeps me fuller for longer as I get the protein my body needs for regeneration and repair from the meat, essential fats from the nuts, and lots of wonderful antioxidants from the berries (blueberries are a personal favourite of mine). Now this is just my own preferred breakfast, but there are LOTS of other alternatives to cereal that are just as tasty and much more nutritious – e.g. scrambled eggs and spinach; oatmeal (from rolled oats with no added sugar or ingredients – not the ‘instant’ oats!) with nuts, seeds and berries; plain natural yoghurt with fruit, nuts and seeds…the list goes on!
Nowadays obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes are getting to epidemic proportions, so now more than ever it’s important to be aware of how you start your day and what you ‘fuel’ you and your family with. Try to make better food choices and become a FOOD DETECTIVE like me – always check the label for hidden sugars! And remember, often the easiest way to know what you’re eating is to keep it simple and eat whole foods that don’t come in packages – like fresh fruit and veg and meats!
Next time I will talk more in-depth about sugar and why it is ‘bad’ for your health (as well as your waistline).
Personal Trainer DW Sports Newtownabbey