Breakfast cereals – they sound healthy, but are they?

If you’re an over 50-year-old Aussie like me (don’t let the surname fool you – we’re from good convict stock on mum’s side), you probably grew up with breakfast cereal as your standard breakfast fare.

Corn Flakes, Rice Bubbles, Coco Pops, Nutri-Grain and many others were found on breakfast tables across the country.

Actually, Coco Pops did not feature on our table at breakfast, or any other time. Mum and dad wanted us to have a healthy start to the day. They knew Coco Pops contained far too much sugar to qualify as a healthy breakfast cereal.

They were right, of course. But if they were alive today, they’d be in for a bit of a shock. They would be surprised and disappointed to learn that the breakfast cereals we were allowed to have didn’t really cut it either.

Recently, with Australians taking greater interest in the actual nutritional benefits of ‘health foods’, cereals have come under closer scrutiny. And all is not quite as it seemed to my mum and dad back in the 1960s and ’70s.

Breakfast cereals exposed

Earlier this year, consumer advocate CHOICE did a deep dive into some of Australia’s most popular breakfast cereals. What they found was probably not what those who still love a bowl of Corn Flakes each morning wanted to hear.

As someone who grew up on, and still eats, Corn Flakes, I kind of expected them not to stack up. Over the years I’d gleaned bits and pieces about ‘high sugar content’ and other implications of unhealthiness.

But I held on to hope. That hope was dashed by the investigation.

It’s not that Corn Flakes are glaringly bad for you, they’re just not as good as you might have imagined. They do get a Health Star Rating (HSR) of 3.5 (out of 5), which sounds quite reasonable. But Australia’s HSR system does leave room for some less than healthy aspects to ‘slip through’.

For instance, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes are high in sodium, coming in at 485mg per 100g. That’s more sodium per 100g than a Big Mac. Having said that one Big Mac weighs 220g while the average corn flakes serve is around 30g.

Corn Flakes are not especially high in fibre either. At just 4.2g per 100g, one bowl will give you about 1.3g. The daily fibre recommendation is 30g or higher.

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes actually have a lot more sugar than many would think, too, coming in at just under 9 per cent by weight.

What are the alternatives?

If you love your flakes at breakfast, CHOICE suggests considering a switch to one of the wheat variety. It cites Uncle Toby’s Weeties, Kellogg’s All Bran Wheat Flakes and Kellogg’s Guardian as healthier alternatives.

Each of these has much higher levels of fibre and lower levels of sodium. Weeties also has zero added sugar, but Wheat Flakes and Guardian actually have slightly higher levels of sugar than Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

But the truth is that there are far healthier options for your morning meal than breakfast cereals.

If eating cereal and milk is important to you, consider rolled oats. While still a cereal, they are far less processed than flakes, and the health advantages are many.

Personally, I still love my breakfast cereals. I do still have Corn Flakes quite often, but Sultana Bran is my regular these days.

It’s still a ‘flake’ but is slightly healthier than Corn Flakes, and far more so than Coco Pops or Froot Loops!

As with most things in life, a bit of common sense and balance is the key. You can still have your breakfast cereal, and eat it, too – in moderation.

Did you grow up on famous family breakfast cereals such as Corn Flakes and Coco Pops? What were your favourites? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Make breakfast a breeze with these quick egg recipes

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

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