Chances are your mum always told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day - and I'm for this post, I'm going to side with her on that. It's not just because I'm a mum myself, honest.
I think the kind of breakfast you have sets up your health-related choices for the rest of the day; a croissant on the go before an early meeting? Well may as well have a large coffee with it and then another one in a few hours time when he sugar crash hits. Or alternatively, start the day with a fibre filled and protein heavy breakfast, say protein pancakes with chia seeds and Greek yogurt. You're now in a healthy mindset ready to get some exercise in (run for the bus) snack on some nuts later (hide your almonds in your desk drawer at work so that Jo from accounts won't steal them) and eat some veggies with your home cooked dinner when you get in from work (instead of opening the Dominoes app, again), all because you started the day with much more energy.
Why the box on the breakfast table?
When it comes to real life (away from the Instagram worthy breakfasts of health bloggers, full time personal trainers and yoga studio owners) many of us reach for the cereal box. Why? Because our kids want cereals, not 'Avo on toast'. Our spouse wants to just pour out a big bowl, splash milk over it, scoff it quickly and dash out the door. It doesn't require any preparation, washing up is kept to a minimum and it keeps everyone happy when they're all in a foul mood from an early start on another rainy Monday morning (it doesn't even rain on Instagram, does it?)
Are cereals any better than croissants?
Let's compare the nutritional values of croissants Vs a standard box of cornflakes, gram for gram. I've pulled up the nutritional values for 100g of each for the ease of comparison. Of course, we know that croissants vary by size and cereals bowls also vary massively by size, so ignoring recommended portion sizes (and the fact that many people don't adhere to them in the first place anyway), let's see which would be healthier in terms of nutritional information, if we were to eat 100g of each.
When it comes to saturated fat content, cornflakes are a clear winner, however, when it comes to protein, sugar, sodium and fibre content, alarmingly there isn't much difference! Cornflakes have more vitamins, which is great, although these are added back into the cereal during processing,i.e. they're 'fortified'.
'Healthy' cereal brands?
Wanting to be healthy, but also wanting convenience, often leads to us seeking out 'healthier' brands of cereals as a compromise. Special K is one of these healthy cereal brands that come to mind. As a kid I remember seeing the iconic red dresses and red swim suits of healthy looking, glowing, smiling women sprawled out on sun loungers on the box and the adverts. I wanted to be like them. In fact when I lost loads of weight in my early twenties, I even wanted a red dress to go out in and looked for a red swim suit - but I couldn't find one in my bra cup size, because I live in the real world and not advert land, of course.
Dodge the Diet
My friend's mum went on the Special K diet when we were kids. It basically involved eating Special K for breakfast and again for either lunch or dinner. She lost weight quickly, but after the recommended two week duration, she returned to her previous way of eating and gained all the weight plus a few lbs extra back. Of course, eating cereal for multiple meals is not sustainable in the long term and neither is it advisable. Besides, there's far better things to eat for lunch and dinner!
So putting aside the whole promotion of faddy diets and skinny red-wearing models used to advertise the brand, let's look at how Special K compares to standard box of cornflakes, in terms of nutrition.
The Special K Nourish range consists of three flavours (at present for the UK): Dark Berries, Dark Chocolate & Coconut and Nuts & Seeds (RRP £2.99 a box). They certainly taste nice but how do they stack up nutritionally?
Comparing these against a regular everyday box of cornflakes, we can see that they contain a lot more fibre as well as a boost in protein compared to regular cornflakes - this is owing to the nuts, seeds and wholegrains contained. This is great to see, as well as the vitamin profile - many people are lacking in Vitamin D during winter months so it's good that this is included and B vitamins are essential for the nervous system, skin and eyes.
Disappointingly there's an increase in sugar, and not of the naturally occurring variety either, in fact it's higher in the ingredients list than the fruit/coconut/nuts contained in the different flavour varieties. These cereals are more sugary than a croissant and shockingly, more sugary than a glass of cola. Chances are you'll also add milk to your cereal which further ups the sugar content of breakfast.
This is very worrying in a product that claims to be healthy and I would urge Kellogg's to review the amounts of sugar poured into their products (but please do not use artificial sweeteners instead!). It's not surprising there's an increase in diabetes type 2 and obesity when our breakfast cereals are as (if not more so) sugary than fizzy pop!
I'm not a nutritionist or dietitian, but as a health-conscious consumer, I would skip all brands of breakfast cereals when it comes to your daily breakfast and opt for wholegrain toast, protein pancakes (made using a banana and 2 eggs), or porridge for breakfast. This way you won't be starting your day on a sugar high only to end up crashing at your desk by 10am, and the added vitamins in the cereals can easily be picked up naturally in wholegrains, poultry, fish, eggs and leafy greens.
Cereals are tasty and convenient, but much like croissants, it's best to limit your consumption of them.
Disclosure: I was provided with samples of Special K Nourish for the purpose of review, as always my view are my own.