By Lilian Presti
Cereal is an American breakfast classic that many of us grew up on. Because it's so easy to prepare and most kids love it, today's parents continue to buy cereal week after week, hoping to keep breakfast time stress-free and to get some nourishment into their children. But depending upon which cereals you choose, you may not be getting exactly what you think you're getting.
These days, buying breakfast cereals can be confusing. Many carry healthy labels or promote some health benefit even if they aren't the best choice for health. Because of this deceiving labeling, many parents can fall into the trap of buying something they think is healthy but which really isn't.
To ensure that you're buying a healthy product for your family, read labels and look for the following cues from www.NaturallySavvy.com:
WHAT A CEREAL SHOULD CONTAIN
1. High Fiber
A cereal should ideally contain at least 15 percent fiber per serving size, or a minimum of 5 grams to 6 grams of fiber per 30-gram serving. Some very high-fiber cereals would have over 6 grams of fiber per 30-gram serving.
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains mean that the cereal hasn't been made with refined grains. Not only do refined grains not have much nutritional value left, but they also contain virtually no fiber. To add insult to injury, these refined grains also raise blood sugar levels quickly, which leads to a host of health problems, such as unstable energy levels, insulin resistance and weight gain.
3. Few Ingredients
Healthier cereals normally contain fewer ingredients on the label. If your cereal has many ingredients listed on the packaging -- and any that you can't pronounce -- put it down and look for a better choice.
WHAT TO AVOID IN A CEREAL
Most commercial cereals are full of sugar, with some brands containing more than 50 percent sugar. All of this sugar wreaks havoc on young bodies and should be strictly limited.
There should be no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving, ideally even less. And look for various forms of sugar on the ingredient list, such as high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, glucose, fructose, honey, maple syrup, molasses and maltose, among others. Sometimes manufacturers add several types of sugar so it can appear lower on the ingredient list.
Many children's cereals have color added to make them more attractive to young eyes. Children love color and manufacturers know this. However color added to foods can cause many side effects and health problems. and should be avoided.
If a visual glance at the packaging doesn't suggest color, you may still want to read the ingredient list to ensure that no color has been added.
Many cereals have preservatives added to keep them fresh. However, many of these preservatives can be problematic and lead to health problems. Two commonly added preservatives are BHA and BHT, both of which are implicated in allergies, inflammation and cancers.
Interestingly, these same preservatives have been banned in many other countries due to safety concerns.
4. Trans Fats
Some cereals contain dangerous fats called "trans fats" that should be avoided by parents interested in protecting the health of their children. To avoid these bad fats, read cereal labels carefully and look for the words "hydrogenated oil" or "partially hydrogenated oil." If you see these terms, put the product down because it contains trans fats.
Keep in mind this interesting fact: The least nutritious cereals are often the most heavily marketed to children. So it's not just important to be conscious of what your kids are eating, but also of what they're watching, since this can prompt their requests. Ultimately, though, it should be the parents' decision on which cereals to bring home.
Lilian Presti is Naturally Savvy's Pregnancy and Pediatric Nutritionist. She is a registered holistic nutritionist. NaturallySavvy.co is a website that educates people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle. For more information and to sign up for their newsletter, visit http://www.NaturallySavvy.com
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This column was printed in the November 7, 2010 - November 20, 2010