Cereal: Not the Breakfast of Champions

In a society obsessed with health food – we can be led to buy some pretty ridiculous foodstuffs: fat free yogurt flavored as New York Cheesecake? Ninety-nine percent fat free cereal with more sugar than a candy bar? At the end of the day, I am not fussed whether the bowl of milk and processed grain is gluten free, fat free, sugar free and folate fortified; if it’s cereal, it is far from a “health food” option.

Cereal happens to be one of the most processed foods out there, and many are loaded with carbs, lacking in fiber and devoid of protein. It is true that traditional cereals, without the additional dried fruits and honey-encrusted nuts, can serve you well – but let’s be honest here – how many of you perfectly portion a 1/3 cup of oats every morning? Eating cereal for breakfast has been shown to increase insulin levels and leave you hankering for your skinny latte come 10 am. This is why it is so important to consume clean lean protein and healthy fat for breakfast

Where’s the evidence? A study from The University of Alabama appears to shed some interesting light. The study demonstrated that eating a high fat breakfast actually prevented symptoms of pre-diabetes. Such symptoms include high blood pressure, insulin resistance and abdominal obesity – all prevailing health problems in Australia. In the study, the researchers fed two groups of mice either a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast. Interestingly, the mice that ate the fatty breakfast had normal metabolic rates throughout the day and were able to burn fat sufficiently. The high carbohydrate mice showed an increase in weight, belly fat and glucose intolerance.

As prevailing knowledge suggests, this study showed how important breakfast is for setting your metabolism for the rest of the day. But perhaps, it also demonstrated the importance of what’s IN the breakfast. In the same study, researchers concluded that the mice that consumed fat were primed to efficiently burn carbohydrates and fat throughout the day. Apparently, the mice that ate the fat rich breakfast were more “flexible” in burning the array of food we consume on a daily basis. And for those mice who ate a carbohydrate heavy breakfast? They were excellent at burning carbohydrates throughout the day, but terrible at burning fat. Not convinced yet? How about a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed that cutting back on protein caused you to store fat? The study divided 25 average weight, healthy 18 – 35 year old men and women into three groups

  1. Low-protein diet – 5% of calories came from protein
  2. Moderate-protein diet – 15% of calories came from protein
  3. High-protein diet – 25% of calories came from protein

The three groups were encouraged to eat 1,000 calories more per day over 8 weeks. Understandably, ALL groups put on weight – but the body composition of the three groups was vastly different. Yes, the low-protein group gained less weight than the normal- and high-protein groups. BUT, the low protein group lost lean muscle mass and stored more fat – whereas the moderate and high protein groups increased toned muscle tissue and stored less fat. So, while the low protein gained the least weight, they were the ultimate losers with the most body fat out of all the groups.

Numerous studies have been carried out in investigating the effects of macronutrient ratios in breakfasts. For example, in a study in 2008 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition researchers showed that a high-protein breakfast decreased your hunger hormone ghrelin (the hormone that screams at you to eat!) far better than a high-carbohydrate breakfast.

Now, before we go and burn our cereal boxes and start ordering bacon and eggs, I simply want to suggest an element of caution when approaching the supposed figure friendly cereal aisle. Carbohydrates appear to be getting a massively bad rap at the moment – but like everything – moderation is the key. Just like cutting out fat, if you cut out all carbohydrates, you will also be doing your body a disservice.

First things first, this research demonstrated:

  1. The Importance of breakfast to set your metabolic tone for the day.
  2. The need for protein and fat in your breakfast.

Now, if you are consuming a typical bowl of “healthy cereal” splashed in skim milk and topped with banana, you’re getting about 65 grams of carbs, only 5 grams of protein and a mere 2 grams of fat. Not exactly going to fill you up until lunchtime. The take home? Start re-evaluating your concept of the “healthy breakfast” and start adding some protein and fat into the equation. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at how your body looks and how steady your energy levels are throughout the day!

image via musicfanatic29/flickr

And do you want to know if you should you go Keto? Paleo? Deciding what to eat to feel your best shouldn’t be complicated. We’ve removed the guesswork to give you all the best nutrition tips & tools, all in one place. Ready to kickstart your health journey? We’re here to guide you.

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