In times past, I would have told you that there’s no such thing as a healthy breakfast cereal (unless it was one of those whole grain boil-for-20-minutes porriges which tasted so bland that you had to add butter and sugar to make it palatable, completely defeating the purpose).
In fact, during my weight loss journey, I don’t remember once eating a cold cereal for breakfast. So many calories with so few nutrients … and only an hour or two, at most, before I would be hungry again.
The Problem with Cereal
A good example of seriously suspect cereal is the venerable Cap’n Crunch (I know, I know, you’re older and wiser now and don’t eat that crap anymore … right?). In one 3/4 cup “serving” of 27g, 23g consists of carbohydrates, over half of which is sugar. That’s right, the captain is 44% sugar (12g). The remaining 4g of non-carbohydrates consist of about 1g each of fat, fiber, protein, and minerals. In other words, a mere 4 of 27 grams are things your body needs more than it needs carbs.
Complicating things is the fact that virtually nobody eats the recommended “serving”. I was reading on a cereal manufacturer’s website where they claimed that a serving of cereal is lower in calories than are most other breakfast foods. I wonder if that is because they made their idea of a “serving” ridiculous:
Even the cereals that claim to be good for you are often extremely limited in their benefits. The cereals that consist of the most real nutrients are often difficult to choke down. Anyone who’s gagged on a spoonful of soggy brown “fiber twigs” (so tantalizing when so labeled!) knows what I mean.
My Unusual and Surprisingly Tasty Solution
In my weight loss coach training, I learned a ton about how important certain nutrients are, not only for weight loss but for health in general. In future articles I will discuss each in turn (for example, did you know that fiber not only makes your bathroom time easier and less smelly, it also scrubs cholesterol and other harmful things from your blood vessels?). For the purposes of this article, let me just say that my training made me want to seek out more of the good stuff in my diet.
Problem is, most of the really good nutrients are in things I don’t really eat. How does one conveniently get fish oil, flax, chia seeds, avocados (love ’em but they’re finicky, expensive, and compliment only so many foods), berries, and so on?
Actually, as things turn out, it’s easy. Just adding the above items (minus the fish oil and avocado, probably) to a small bowl of decently-nutritious cereal makes the cereal taste better, leaves you full longer, and simultaneously gives your body more of what it quietly craves.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, I was about to prepare some of my new concoction this morning when I thought, “Hey, I could photograph this for my readers!” So, bearing in mind that I was dealing with bad Autumn morning lighting and a serious lack of food photography skills, enjoy my ad hoc presentation of my favorite healthy* breakfast cereal, perfect for mornings when I’m in the mood for something cold, crunchy, and convenient, but still rich in nutrients.
- Frozen blueberries (because berries are so nutritious and full of antioxidants, vitamins, etc.). Fresh berries are even more awesome, when in season.
- Breakfast cereals, chosen first because of their Nutrition Labels, second because they taste not half bad together. These cereals combined are 36% fiber and protein (compare Cap’n Crunch at 7%). They also contain half as many calories, per gram, as the Cap’n.
- Flax seed oil
- Chia seeds
- Unsweetened rice milk (rice milk is already on the sweet side). You can use other types of milk, but I promise it won’t taste as good. Vanilla is optional.
Let’s make a meal!
Note: while writing this article, later in the day, I paused and went to the kitchen to measure how much cereal I tend to use. Turns out it’s 1/4 cup of each, for a total of 1/2 a cup of cereal. In case you were wondering, that’s a teaspoon in the picture.
You must try to get chia seeds into your diet. These are so full of so many good-for-you things that are hard to get elsewhere, such as Omega-3’s and fiber. They’re a little pricey, but they last a while, as you don’t need too many at a time.
Look, I know this photo looks highly unappetizing, but please trust me: once all the ingredients are together, the flax-y taste of the oil disappears, and the oil lends a richness to the cereal, as if you’d added cream instead.
Give a quick stir and enjoy! The combination of fruity, crunchy, sweet, buttery, lightly cinnamon-y flavors is actually quite nice, and winds up being far better than any individual flavor in the bowl. This mix takes a bit of chewing, too, so you feel like you’ve had something substantial to eat. The fiber helps keep the hunger away, as well (I ate this at 9 this morning and I was just barely getting hungry by noon). Also, starting the day off like this can really help put you into a healthy mindset. Today, for example, because I’d had my awesome breakfast and I knew I would be sharing it with you, I was careful to eat a good lunch and enjoy an indulgent but still modest-sized dinner.
By the way, I hope you noticed that I ate literally half of the cereals’ recommended portion (the Go-Lean is so light and puffy that it recommends 1 1/4 cups), but with my additions I got WAY more vitamins and healthful things than the cereals alone provide, and which I would have struggled to fit into my diet the rest of the day.
Now it’s Your Turn
Experiment with what you can find locally, and figure out what you like. Consult nutrition labels. Try new flavors. Add an avocado (kidding! although now I’m curious….). Make it something that you can eat and enjoy. If you don’t need to lose weight, up the portion to however much you need, and know that you will be getting even MORE of this awesome goodness into you.
And, of course, please come back to share with us any great combinations you’ve found! In fact, take some pictures, too: I’d love to publish your guest post.
. . .
* PS: You caught me saying “healthy” instead of the more proper “healthful”. But nobody uses the term to describe breakfast cereal, according to google, so I caved, at least for this article.
PPS: Yes, I am aware that the portion shown is very modest. Still, this tiny bowl was about 400 – 450 calories, but since almost half of those calories are from super-nutritious chia seeds, flax oil, and blueberries, I’m happy to send them down the hatch, and they are surprisingly filling.