It’s probably cereal for daily breakfast, a grilled sandwich for lunch and roti/sabji or simply salads for dinner. Since the early colonial era, much emphasis was not placed on breakfast and lunch while dinner was the main meal during which all individuals gathered together and sat down as a family. But again, it was nothing gala and pompous and discussions revolved about eating mostly. While the farmers and low-wage laborers ate an early dinner the rich intended to have it pretty late. But with the Industrial Revolution happening, people’s meal timings changed and individuals started to eagerly look forward to the one meal of the day in which all of them could sit down, enjoy and eat together as a family and it was none other than dinner. All these brought about changes to the food system and people started associating certain foods with certain meals. Early farmers worked hard in the field and had an extremely energy-rich meal but this had not changed and individuals during the Industrial Revolution too were eating the same meal as the farmer but their lives were pretty sedentary and meal timings were also late. People started suffering health problems including indigestion and this was when health advocates started looking out for healthier options that included vegetables and whole wheat-based foods. This paved way for the birth of breakfast cereal.
Seeing the Reality in Cereal
It was just like any other normal day in 1863 but James Caleb Jackson, a doctor, decided to put an end to the sicknesses caused due to improper food consumption and came up with the idea of cold cereal as an aid against infection. Sadly, his experimentation was not a success but this laid the foundation for John Harvey Kellogg who started making his version of granula from wheat flour, oatmeal and cornmeal. Granula indeed was the first manufactured breakfast cereal by Dr. Jackson that was not edible unless it was soaked overnight in milk. Competition leads to enmity and ‘granula’ became ‘granola’ in the hands of Kellogg. There has been no looking back since then for Harvey Kellogg and his like-minded brother William Kellogg who together have garnered a vast empire of a number of cereals and monetary power. In a time when bacon and sausages ruled the tables of American families for breakfast the invention of granola was a blessing in disguise for the public.
Cereal might be branded as one of the earliest introduced processed foods which has undergone mammoth transformation in the last century. The British and Irish people are the maximum consumers of this prized meal followed by Americans. Breakfast indeed is the most important meal of the day and it is only right that we don’t compromise on nutrients. Our lives have become too robotic and mankind doesn’t have the time to think on trivial things such as breakfast. All that we do is to take a bowl of cereal and pour a glass of hot/cold milk over it to grab a bite. It’s our work that decides our meal and not the other way around. Some don’t even have the time to eat a bowl of cereal that has ended up taking almost every color of the rainbow!
What started as a breakfast has now become a snack as people munch upon muesli and granola during evening hours! This might even become a marketing strategy as more than 30% Americans consume cereals for snacks and the British people welcome cereal consumption anytime with open hands. What started as a mixture of oatmeal, cornmeal and flour has ended up being one of the most sugar-rich and calorie-rich foods on our dining tables! Cereals are now healthy only if we choose the right ones to eat and in that case the breakfast cereal can add as much protein as your favored eggs, fiber as your oatmeal and calcium as a cup of yogurt. There are even those cereals marketed nowadays that brim of high sugar content but lack most of the protein and fiber content. We have even reached a state where people have started considering cereals as desserts in disguise.
Blinded by Ingredient Listings
Most of the cereals marketed today has some form of sugar mentioned as the second or third ingredient in the ingredient list. Even if there is whole grain the excess sugar can neutralize all the goodness of the cereal. Another horrible ingredient is sodium which has crawled into all our favorite processed foods making our waistlines bigger and our nutritional gains smaller. This makes porridge the best cereal for breakfast when there is no added salt or sugar to ruin its health! Muesli without added salt and sugar that contains different grains, fruits and nuts contributing to natural sweetness is also a recommended choice to start your day on a healthy note. Bran flakes are high in fiber and can be a good choice but taste-wise its not a great recommendation indeed! Cornflakes is the most famous of all but does not come at the top of the list as its low in fiber and cannot be a good wholegrain recommendation. The worst choices include muesli with added sugars, sugar-coated cornflakes, granola with dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and granola with chocolate (https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/breakfast-cereals-ranked-best-to-worst) that ruin all the goodness of whole grains and breakfast with excess sugar and calories.
Children too are attracted to these breakfast cereals as they come in all kinds of shapes and colors. But these are extremely unhealthy as they are processed, laden with sugar and missing any nutritive value. While whole grain might be an attraction as an ingredient it is overpowered by the presence of sugar, sodium, additives and other agents that push the cereal’s nutritive value down in the dumps. It is possible to buy cereal that is genuinely healthy but we would rather avoid it as those are the ones that are unprocessed, without much taste and boring as well. There are more than 340 breakfast cereals available in US alone and the varieties differ country-wise. A research on 60 different breakfast cereals targeted for kids showed that more than 2/3rd of them offered empty calories just like sugar. It depends on us to gain knowledge about the different breakfast cereals ruling the market and pick the right one that suits our needs finally.
Mind you, breakfast is not just a bowl of some yellow-colored corn kernels and a glass of milk. There is more to it! Enjoy your cereal and start the day on a healthy note to take you through the problems and hurdles that are yet to come your way.
Drop that Spoon! The Truth About Breakfast Cereals: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/nov/23/food-book-extract-felicity-lawrence
The First Breakfast Cereal Granula has to be Soaked Before Being Eaten: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/first-breakfast-cereal-granula-had-be-soaked-being-eaten-180962340/
Is Cereal healthy? https://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/05/health/is-cereal-healthy-drayer/index.html
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.