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Which one is healthier?
Breakfast cereal and muesli are healthy, right? Everybody knows that! That is what the adverts are saying (and what they say it is of course correct! ALWAYS!)
Hmm… right. But is that really true? Let’s find out!
Culprit 1: Cereal
Breakfast cereal are made from processed grains and normally the best meal we can have for breakfast.
They are easy to prepare and can be eaten either hot or cold.
That is what we know
From the factory side breakfast cereals are processed from grains into fine flour before cooking. The flour may be mixed with water, sugar or chocolate. This is followed by a process known as extrusion, which shapes the cereal at high temperatures using a special machine. The cereals are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. They may be flaked, shredded or puffed during processing. They can be coated with chocolate or frosted with sugar before drying and packaging. All for enhancing the taste for the customer.
But it wasn’t like that before!
“Before when?” – you ask
Well the first mass produced cereal product – Kellogg’s®Corn Flakes® was initially developed as an anti-aphrodisiac by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg in 1898. The original product was rather bland and not tasty. It was only in 1906, when Will Keith Kellogg (the brother or the originator) developed and perfected the “flaking technology” by which corn could be flaked. He also improved the taste of the product by adding sugar.
The whole movement of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals began in America in the 1830s. The virtues of vegetarian diet and in particular the importance of wholemeal flour helped cereal product to enter the market. The first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, Granula was a baked lump of slow-cooked wheat and water that was said to be hard as rock and had to be broken up and soaked overnight to be edible. It was sold at ten times the cost of its ingredients.
Only by adding flavors from sugar, chocolate or dried fruits, breakfast cereals products become popular.
That is how cereal has become a breakfast staple for over a century now.
That is how Chocapic got created 🙂
Culprit 2: Muesli
Muesli was invented by Swiss doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner at his health clinic in 1926. He called it the “apple diet dish” or “Apfeldiätspeise”. The name muesli appeared later and is derived from an old German word for “puree”. His method called for combining a small amount of oat flakes (just 1 table spoon) and water with two or three small, chopped apples, lemon juice, condensed milk or cream, honey and chopped nuts (1 tablespoon as well).
The end product was neither a breakfast dish nor mainly based on oats. At the good doctor’s health clinic, this dish was served at the beginning of every meal, not just at breakfast time.
Bonus round: Granola
In the 1970s, Somalon introduced “Crunchy Muesli”, toasted with sugar and oil – a product that had a similar texture to Americans’ familiar granola. In contrast to muesli, the original granola was cereal based. It was invented by another doctor, James Caleb Jackson, in New York in 1863 and consisted of whole grains, crumbled and baked until crisp.
The commercial granolas usually contain nuts and dried fruits and are similar to toasted mueslis. Most of them fall pretty heavily into the processed food category. A good practice is to read the nutritional information on the pack carefully to avoid overloading on fats and/or sugars.
Which one is the healthiest?
Remember that many cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs! The same point exists for muesli and granola. Dried fruit content makes the muesli even rich in sugar rather than cereals.
Added sugar (even if they are added in the process of preparation of fruits) is a bad and addictive component of our modern diet. Like loads of processed foods, breakfast cereals contain relatively higher amounts of sugar. That leads to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for convenience to the consumer. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating, leads to over-consumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance.
Additionally, many young children are becoming over-weight or even obese, indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the economically upwardly mobile classes in India.
The marketing of both cereal and muesli industries trick us by incorrect claims on quality and nutritional content. We are busy to stop to think about nutrition and to read the back of the box closely.
But maybe it is worth it?
End note: What to look for?
Naturalness and Amount of Ingredients – Avoid cereals high in sugar and high sugar dried fruits. Sugar may be listed under multiple names, such as brown sugar, caramel, and honey. Some cereals also contain artificial sweeteners. Aim for no more than 8 grams per serving. This cereal contains sugar and honey, plus the artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium. That may explain why this cereal has only 80 calories per serving.
Chemical Additives – Avoid processed products – anything processed has lower nutritional value.
Check the fiber type – On this cereal label, whole grain corn is the first ingredient, which is good. But there’s no way to know how much of the cereal’s fiber is coming from the whole grain. In fact, it may contain added fiber in the form of inulin, pea fiber, and bleached oat fiber. They may not have the same health benefits as fiber from whole grains. Always check a cereal’s label for added fibers. And whole grain doesn’t always mean high fiber. Check the label; you want a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber.
Nutritional Information on the Label – This information will ensure if the product is wholesome and nutritious.
Vegetarian / Non-vegetarian Logo – Breakfast cereals should ideally be vegetarian in origin – aka no powder milk.
What marketing and labeling tricks do you know? We are going to feature the best ones in the next week’s post!
Quote of the week: (Michele, age 22)
“Diet is all about the balance”