Twinkies for Breakfast

December 13, 2011 in General Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

There no question that starting the day with a good breakfast is important; it’s especially important for children, for their health and for their school performance. Public programs have been designed to provide breakfast for ‘at risk’ children to insure the children start the day with the energy and nutrients to power their thinking for the school day.

In the past, I’ve read the profit numbers for Kellogg’s and Post, and if I match that up with some of the most popular cereals, I start coming to conclusions that are somewhat frightening – a lot of someones are eating enormous quantities of those highly advertised (and highly profitable) sugar cereals.

I’ve previously written quite a bit about sugar and cereals, but a recent report on an 84-cereal assessment simply cries out for another post. In this report, a large percentage of the cereals assessed provide more sugar than a Twinkie!  The report originates from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health non-profit organization. This report gives a better idea of who the ‘at risk’ children are, and why and in what way they are ‘at risk.’ (Read the entire report.) I was wondering: Are two working parents, knowing that their children need breakfast, putting a gallon of milk and a box of sugary cereal on the table and calling it breakfast? At least they know the kids will eat something that is essentially candy. While I’m in the Grandma phase and don’t have children at home, I do know how busy parents can be. The point is that concerned parents would generally not give their child a Twinkie or 3 Chips Ahoy cookies for breakfast, but that’s what happens when they serve one cup of Honey Smacks (55.6% sugar), Golden Crisp (51.9% sugar), Apple Jacks (42.9% sugar) and Cap’n Crunch original (44.4% sugar) and many other cereals.

Recently a person commented that giving these cereals for breakfast is “not so bad.” Be sure to realize it’s not so good either. Sugar does not deliver nutrients – it is devoid of nutrients; which is why it is called empty calories. When you serve a lot of empty calories you are not optimally nourishing your child, or an adult either for that matter.

One little observation on the 84-cereal study is that the sugar numbers do not include the processed flour that is so often included in the cereals; it instantly turns to sugar, first converted right in the mouth due to the action of the amylase in saliva and continuing to run up the glycemic index in the stomach. So the real sugar delivery is much higher than even the startling numbers reported.

Food Navigator reports that New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle said in a statement released by the EWG: “Cereal companies have spent fortunes on convincing parents that a kid’s breakfast means cereal, and that sugary cereals are fun, benign, and all kids will eat…No public health agency has anywhere near the education budget equivalent to that spent on a single cereal. Kids should not be eating sugar for breakfast. They should be eating real food.” I heartily agree with Marion Nestle and strive with my work here at Dr. Grandma’s to try to counter the massive dis-information campaign derived from the huge cereal advertisers’ enormous budgets. Find a family member who can do the numbers – they show that these huge advertising costs are possible because sugar and refined flour are so inexpensive – but the boxes of sugary cereal are not.  Thus, the cost to make the product (especially in mass quantities) is low, so why can’t you buy it for closer to its real costs?  You are paying for massive advertising, for big coupon discounts, not just when you buy the box, but also in health care costs later on.

The results of this study are not a surprise to me. I can still remember how my children got to choose junk cereal when we went camping. I, too, ate what they picked. That’s how I learned that to me, Cap’n Crunch tasted like straight sugar – no flavor. I remember eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch and kept going back to the box over and over – like it was enticing candy or cookies. When scientists say that sugar is habit-forming, and stimulates the same brain responses as opiates, it doesn’t surprise me either. If it is so, sugar can act as a drug, tantalizing not just children to eat more than they need. WebMD has a 22-slide show on sugar addiction; it is a very concise compilation of information in 21 short paragraphs.

Some people are hoping that the government will begin taxing the food manufacturers on caloric sweeteners added to foods. It may be helpful; but by the time the arguing dies down the waistlines of you and your children will have grown.

What can the busy parent do now?

  • Try mixing a high sugar cereal like Honey Nut Cheerios with a lower sugar cereal like the original Cheerios to help the child make a transition. You can keep adjusting the proportions until the high sugar cereal is a very small percentage.
  • Choose cold cereals that are low in sugar. Some examples are: Shredded Wheat; General Mills Cheerios (the original); Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite-Size; and General Mills Kix. Even if you put a teaspoon of sugar on the Shredded Wheat, you could save 3-4 teaspoons of sugar per cup by not serving the super sweet cereal.
  • Make your own packets of oatmeal (not instant), using Old Fashioned or Steel Cut Oats. Mix in sweetener (We use zero-calorie, all-natural Delight.), and some cinnamon, if desired. They’re every bit as convenient as the instant. I add dried cherries, raisins, frozen plums or apricots and the water. Three servings are microwaved in 6 minutes on high. That’s a fairly fast breakfast.
  • All the sugar numbers from the study are for a meager one-cup serving; what if your child needs 2 cups to be satisfied? You may want to measure with a standard measuring cup how much is really involved. So you say, two cups – two and a half cups. Hummm? Could you or your child actually be eating over a fourth cup of sugar for breakfast? Knowing this is worth your time and attention.
  • Don’t forget that every day doesn’t need to be cereal.  Reverse omelets or scrambled eggs in a whole-wheat wrap are a nice on-the-go meal.
  • Dr. Grandpa’s favorite quick breakfast are traveling pancakes. He can eat the pancakes in his hand.
  • It’s surprising how much sweetness is added to cereal with a sliced banana, or some berries on top. You may discover that you don’t need so much sugar.
  • We often add nuts to our cereal and muffins; they really help the meal last a long time – a nice steady release of energy – no crash and burn with these meals. (Crash and burn – blood sugar spiking from a huge sugar delivery; then the body sending a load of insulin to bring it down; only to discover that you’re quickly hungry again.)

Now may be a good time to begin thinking about beginning the New Year by no longer serving Twinkies or Chips Ahoy equivalents and the like for breakfast. You’ll do yourself and your family a favor.