Health Care

Is your breakfast cereal really healthy?

Is your breakfast cereal really healthy? (Thinkstock photos/Getty Images)

Breakfast cereal is a food item made from processed grains and consumed as the first meal of the day. It is easy to prepare and can be eaten either hot or cold. Milk and sugar are usually added to make it more appetizing and palatable. Some people prefer to add yogurt and fruits in order to enhance the taste and nutrition value.

Breakfast cereals involve processing of the grains into fine flour before cooking. The flour may be mixed with water, sugar or chocolate. This is followed by a process known as extrusion, which shapes the cereal at high temperatures using a special machine. The cereals are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may be flaked, shredded or puffed during processing. They can be coated with chocolate or frosted with sugar before drying and packaging.

Nutrients your breakfast cereal contain

It is said that our breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This is indeed true, as consuming a wholesome breakfast packed with nutrients in the morning boosts our energy and keeps us pepped-up till lunchtime.

As per the data published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a 100 gram serving of a typical breakfast cereal provides nearly a fifth of the daily calorie intake (based on a daily diet of 2000 calories). The nutrient content of breakfast cereals is briefly discussed below:
Fats: Total fat contained is 7 g which is 10 per cent of the daily intake. The levels of mono- and polyunsaturated fats are double that of saturated fats, making it a healthy option, coupled with the fact that there is no cholesterol.
Carbohydrates: It is high in carbs, accounting for 22 per cent of the daily intake. Sugar content can be high in some cereals due to chocolate coating or sugar frosting.
Dietary Fiber: It is rich in dietary fibers that take care of 40 per cent of the daily needs.
Protein: Approximately 26 per cent of the daily protein needs are met by a typical breakfast cereal.
Vitamins and Minerals: Regarding vitamins and minerals, it is rich in iron and magnesium, moderate in calcium and vitamin B6, and low in sodium and potassium. It does not contain vitamins A, C, D and B12.
Is your breakfast cereal as healthy as claimed?

It should be noted that many cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs. Added sugar is a bad component of our modern diet. Importantly, most of the sugar coming in our diet reaches through processed foods, of which breakfast cereals contain relatively higher amounts of sugar. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer.

Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for convenience to the consumer. That is why these are also dubbed as “convenience foods”. Breakfast cereals are an ideal example of this type of food. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating, leads to over-consumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance. The fact that many young children are becoming over-weight or even obese, indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the economically upwardly mobile classes in India. Moreover, the manufacturers are also producing breakfast cereals as per the consumer’s preference, but at the cost of their health.

There are also instances of misleading labeling of the cereal boxes, intended to coax the consumer to buy the product. The cereal package often highlights the presence of “whole grains”, but on further scrutiny, these are usually in low amounts compared to other unhealthy components. The consumer should keep in mind that actual healthy foods do not require any health claims. This warrants further studies to ascertain whether the health claims are correct or misleading. Moreover, the manufacturers often adopt shrewd business tactics by displaying cartoon characters, superheroes etc. on the cereal box, thereby attracting the attention of unassuming children, in a bid to increase sales. Sadly, their tactics seem to be actually working! Therefore, breakfast cereals can actually lie to you if you are not careful.

What you can do to overcome these hurdles?

It is important to be aware that your average breakfast cereal doesn’t just contain the nutrients discussed above. There are many other artificial chemicals that are used during processing of the cereal. These broadly include the following:
Raising agents
While these components can enhance your breakfast experience, they can also be harmful if not added within the maximum recommended levels. For this reason, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations 2011 has suggested food additives like Erythritol (maximum limit as per GMP) and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (maximum limit of 50 ppm) for breakfast cereals.

Therefore, arming yourself with the right information about breakfast cereals will help you choose wisely. Keeping yourself and your family healthy should be your first priority. Therefore, be on the lookout for wild health claims displayed on the cereal packages. Always read the display panel carefully. Pay attention to the following details:
Nature and Amounts of Ingredients
Avoid cereals high in sugar and carbs.
Nutritional Information on the Label
Ensure that all the nutritional information is displayed on the label.
This information will ensure if the product is wholesome and nutritious.
“Best Before” Date or “Expiry” Date
Never buy expired food items.
Vegetarian / Non-vegetarian Logo
Breakfast cereals should ideally be vegetarian in origin.
FSSAI Logo and License No
This will ensure the high quality of the product.
Quality of the Packaging
Do not buy damaged or torn packages.
Ensure that the inner lining (primary packaging) is intact and the food is properly sealed.
Other breakfast cereal options

While Kellogg’s was the first to make cereals a wholesome breakfast product, there is a vast choice of breakfast cereals for consumers today. Some of the major healthier varieties include:

Wheat Flakes
Rice Crispies (Poha)

Dr Saurabh Arora has established Food Safety Helpline (, a one stop solution for the people in the food industry to stay up-to-date, understand and implement the requirements of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).


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