One of the staples of the American breakfast, cereal comes in an mind-numbingly wide variety of shapes, flavors, consistencies, and colors. We grow up watching breakfast cereal commercials with kid-friendly cartoon spokespeople (or spokes-animals!) and then, as we get older, trade the heavily frosted options for what we understand to be healthier choices in terms of morning meals on-the-go. Cereal is fast, filling, and delicious. Unfortunately, it is likely also much more trouble for your health-conscious lifestyle than you even realize.
That misconception is definitely not your fault. As consumers age and come to be more aware that the breakfast cereals kids love tend to be jam-packed with sugars and artificial flavorings, we naturally outgrow them. The cereal industry, however, has an equally large portfolio of cereals marketed to speak specifically to that inevitable shift in preferences. You can likely even note the difference on TV. The cereal commercials that air when you are sitting on the floor watching Saturday morning or after-school cartoons as a child are not the same ones you see now that you are fully grown and relaxing on your couch in the evening after a long day of work.
In the commercial and on the packaging itself, cereals marketed for adults aggressively make the case that they are great for you. Invariably, they are marketed as delicious and easy. The second ubiquitous theme – breakfast cereal is (allegedly) healthy. Many cereals for adults tout all sorts of claims to be “all-natural,” and brag about organic ingredients or added gimmicks like dried fruit. Often, they boast about the kinds of grains they use and all the energy for the day you should expect to derive from them. Above all, phrases like “heart healthy” and “filled with vitamins and minerals” reign supreme.
All those claims may be very exciting for someone looking to lose weight or get healthier. Breakfast is a critical meal, and the right breakfast can turbocharge your metabolism for the rest of the day. However, if you opt for cereal regularly, you are likely hindering all the hard work you put in to lose weight the rest of the day. In fact, you might even be making yourself fatter! Marketing breakfast cereals as a health food is great for lining corporate pockets, and nearly as good for lining your body composition with unnecessary fats. In the coming weeks, I will break down the science of why exactly that is true, as well as outline some better options. Right now, however, you should reconsider that innocuous box of breakfast cereal in your pantry and start practicing one of, if not the, most important skills a healthy person needs: reading the ingredients. To be fit for life, you need to be a conscious and informed consumer, and the best way to do that is start learning as much as you can today!