Nutrition Action Healthletter
January/February 2002 - U.S. Edition
It's no longer just a choice between oatmeal, cream of wheat, and Wheatena.  Now you've got cereals that are sweetened or not, fortified or not, flavored with added fruit or not, and packaged for single servings or not. The good news: most hot cereals are good for you.  They're typically whole-grain, low in fat, and a good source of fiber. In a world filled with Pop-Tarts, Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Chocolate Chip Squares, and Oreo O's Cereal--not to mention Dunkin' Donuts and Burger King Cini-Minis and Croissan'wiches--hot cereals are relatively uncorrupted. (No thanks to Quaker, which is now hawking candy-laced Treasure Hunt and Dinosaur Egg Instant Oatmeals.) Still, it takes some smarts to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Here's how.
1: Go For Whole Grain 2: Look For No Added Sugars 3: At Least Limit Sugars
4: Check the Fiber 5: Assess Your Vitamin Needs chart: Grains and Losses
Brand-Name Ratings by Bonnie Liebman and Jayne Hurley
Unsweetened, Unspoiled: Wheatena Toasted Wheat Cereal
Unsweetened, Unspoiled: Wheatena Toasted Wheat Cereal
Unsweetened, Unspoiled. Best Bite Wheatena’s mix of wheat bran, wheat germ, and toasted crushed wheat has more fiber (and more flavor) than many other whole-wheat or oat cereals. And its added calcium (20 percent of a day’s worth) comes in handy if you don’t take a calcium supplement. Like most unsweetened cereals, Wheatena takes only two minutes to cook in the microwave (or four or five minutes on the stove). Exception: Kashi Breakfast Pilaf, a delicious blend of seven whole grains plus sesame seeds, takes half an hour (unless you cook it ahead of time and reheat it in the morning).
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Berry Good: Fanatastic Wheat n' Berries Hot Cereal
  Berry Good. A nice break from oatmeal, this Honorable Mention is a mix of organic whole wheat, whole oats, and triticale. The crystallized cane juice is no better than any other added sugar, but you do get real berries, not berry-flavored apple pieces.
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Lightly Sweetened: Health Valley Banana Gone Nuts!
  Lightly Sweetened. Health Valley has a line of four fabulous instant hot cereal cups that have roughly half as much sugar as Quaker instant cereals. Banana Gone Nuts has real chunks of both, and the entire line has added soy protein, which gives your cup of cereal as much protein as a glass of milk. The company also throws in the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E (30 IU) and half a day’s selenium (35 mcg). For variety, try the Amazing Apple or the Terrific 10 Grain. Only one flavor—Maple Madness—had too much sugar for an Honorable Mention.
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Too Sweet: Quaker Oatmeal Deluxe Collection
  Too Sweet. Quaker Instant Oatmeals are fortified with vitamins and minerals, but they’ve got too much added sugar to get an Honorable Mention (and too much to please many taste buds). Try mixing one of the company’s sweetened instant oatmeals half-and-half with its regular (unsweetened) instant oatmeal. That cuts the sugar in half. (It’ll still taste plenty sweet to most people.)
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Grains and Losses
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Brand-Name Rating. Grains and Losses Chart (Acrobat 101k)

 

 
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1: Go For Whole Grain
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Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals, which may help cut the risk of cancer and heart disease. And they’re naturally rich in magnesium and potassium, which may help keep blood pressure in check.
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    Nearly all hot cereals—including oatmeal—are whole-grain. Exceptions: cream of wheat, cream of rice, and grits.

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2: Look For No Added Sugars.
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    Our Best Bites are whole-grain and have no added sugars. Your best bet is to throw in a handful of blueberries, raisins, or banana slices. That way, your sugar comes from a serving of fiber-rich, phytochemical-rich fruit.
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    When cereal-makers do the throwing, there’s no telling how much (or how little) you’ll get. Even brands like Arrowhead Mills sometimes add apple or banana powder instead of chunks of fruit. Dr. McDougall’s Instant Oatmeal & Barley with Real Peaches & Raspberries shows what companies could do if they wanted. One spoonful and you know that you’re eating chunks of real fruit, not just powder and natural flavors. Bonus: cereals with no added sugars usually have no added salt.
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    How do you find them? Not by looking at the “Sugars” number on the package’s Nutrition Facts panel. That would include any naturally occurring sugars in the grain or added fruit. Instead, check the ingredient list. Some companies (among them Quaker) come right out and say “sugar,” but other labels may list “dextrose,” “maple sugar,” or “cane juice.” They’re all essentially the same.

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3: At Least Limit Sugars
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    If adding hot water to your cereal is about all you can manage in the morning, and if you don’t like your grains plain, look for a lightly sweetened cereal.
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    We gave Honorable Mentions to ones that get less than 30 percent of their calories from sugar. In theory, it’s possible that our cutoff could have penalized a cereal with far more fruit than added sugars. But the cereals that had too much sugar for an Honorable Mention appeared to be higher in added sugar, not fruit.
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    We used percent of calories—rather than a limit on the number of grams of sugar—because serving sizes vary so much. If we hadn’t done that, some cereals would look high in sugar only because they come in a larger packet or cup.

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4: Check The Fiber
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    Any whole grain is a good grain, but extra fiber can help prevent constipation and may help lower the risk of heart disease, either by lowering blood cholesterol (if the fiber comes from oats) or by some other means (if it comes from whole wheat). Because their bran is still intact, whole grains always have more fiber than refined grains. But some whole grains have more than others.
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    Oat bran falls at the high end, with six or seven grams of fiber per serving. Whole wheat and multigrain mixtures are in the middle (five grams). And oatmeal (four grams) and brown rice (two or three grams) bring up the rear. But those numbers only apply to unsweetened cereal. A packet of sweetened Quaker Instant Oatmeal typically has only three grams of fiber, because sugar (and maybe some fruit) replaces some of the oatmeal.

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5: Assess Your Vitamin Needs
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    Most Quaker instant cereals are fortified with 20 percent of a day’s worth of six vitamins and iron and 10 percent of a day’s calcium. (Others, like Quaker’s Nutrition for Women, have even more.) That’s no advantage if you take an ordinary multi-vitamin-and-mineral supplement. If you (or your kids) don’t take supplements, though, you might want a fortified cereal. Just remember that a supplement is more complete.

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The information for this article was compiled by Jackie Adriano, with help from Tamar Genger.

 

Nutrition Action Healthletter Center for Science in the Public Interest January/February 2002 U.S. Edition It's chilly.  It's early.  It may still be dark. You need something quick, filling, and warm  for breakfast, and the makers of hot cereal are only too happy to oblige. Hot Cereals: Not Your Mother's Cream of Wheat Subscribe Today! Customer Service