Breakfast is probably the most important meal of the day as it is eaten after a period of 8-12 hours of fasting (Break-fast). With today’s fast lifestyle, it is a big deal if you manage to squeeze 5 mins to blow-dry your hair or finish that workout or perfect that winged eyeliner. With such morning hustle this most important meal has taken a lazy seat, with most urban young population gravitating towards ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals. They are convenient to make, are preprocessed so no preparation required and can be made in 2-15 mins, depending how you like to cook them. Even when you stroll the supermarkets, you will find shelves after shelves filled to the brim with shiny attractive cartons of these breakfast items. I am sure each one you reading this must have tried at least one of such products. (C’mon, we all ate Corn Flakes at some point in our lives) So, what makes them so lucrative? Well, agreed they are super convenient, tastes pretty good and they have a stable shelf life. Ever wondered what makes them last long? Or what makes them tastes so good (even when eaten raw). You will be surprised to know the ingredients lurking in your bowl of cereal which makes them so delicious.
I am sure you all must be aware of ill effects of refined sugar by now (if not, either you are living under a rock, or genetically blessed with that toned and healthy body system). There is a reason why that cold-coffee tastes super delicious when ordered from a café in comparison to when it is prepared at home. You don’t even know the amount of sugar added in Café cold-coffees, which if given the exact recipe to make at home you will hesitate to add to your glass of caffeine dose. Refined sugar is directly related to type-2 diabetes, heart diseases and even cancer! Sugar has many pseudonyms such as high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, sucrose, and barley malt. Instead look out for healthier and sustainable alternatives like jaggery, honey, dates, coconut sugar etc. And remember cutting down complete sugar from the diet – although ideal is not sustainable and advisable.
Artificial Colours and Flavors
You must have read countless times to eat food in every color of the spectrum. Purple for blueberries/grapes, red for beetroot, yellow for pumpkin, mango etc. You want this color and flavours to come from fruits, veggies and spices. But do you know where these are coming from in your breakfast bowls? Most RTE cereals contain artificial colors which are petroleum derived. Can you imagine yourself eating something like that? Yet, we are happily chomping on them every morning unaware of their presence and the subsequent side effects. They are known to cause allergies, disrupt the endocrine system and might be even carcinogenic. Artificial flavors are made in a laboratory which may contain incidental contaminants not listed in the ingredient list. There are recent studies which link artificial flavors to hyperactivity, ADHD and other behavioral problems in kids. The most commonly used artificial colors are Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. Their sole purpose is to make food look appetizing.
So, what can you do about it? Look out at the ingredient list and ensure the colour and flavours used are completely natural. Check out and beware of the words ‘artificial’ and recently in trend ‘nature identical’.
Breakfast cereals often feature health claims like “low-fat” and “whole grain”. Yet their first listed ingredient is often refined grain. They add a small quantity of whole grains which doesn’t make these products healthy. This is like ‘Atta (whole wheat) bread’ or ‘brown bread’ available in market, which mostly contain refined flour with minimal quantity of whole wheat flour to label it and market it as whole wheat bread. But what exactly is refined grain? A whole grain is made up of bran, germ and endosperm. Refined grain is when the whole grain is milled (ground to flour or meal) which removes bran and germ in the process. It gives them finer texture and extends shelf life but at the same time strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all the fiber. Refined grains are digested quickly leading to rapid spike in sugar levels and subsequent hunger and cravings. It is linked to obesity and many metabolic diseases.
Have a good look at the ingredient list to know if the product contains whole grain or is it just a marketing gimmick. Some examples of whole grains which you can include in your diet are Oats, brown rice, barley, buckwheat, millets.
Hydrogenated oils are preferred by the manufacturers because of its low cost and high shelf life. But its presence in the ingredient list is concerning as it adds trans-fats in the body. Trans fat is considered to be the worst type of fat there is and it is actually a double trouble. It increases the harmful LDL cholesterol and decreases the good HDL cholesterol causing inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. It is also known to cause cancer and autoimmune diseases. Do make a double check that this ingredient is not listed in your preferred box of cereal.
Notes: Images used are for illustrative purposes only.