Dr Alan Barclay
Finding healthy low GI breakfast cereals
Despite all the noise about sugar there’s more to making healthy choices in the breakfast aisle than going for the one with the least amount of sugar on the nutrition info panel. Good choices will:
Carbs: The carbs in breakfast cereals come from both the sugar and starch. The nutrition info panel tells you how much there is in a typical serving but doesn’t tell you anything about the type or nutritional value of either of them. (Note: If you want to work out the amount of starch in a food, it's the grams of total carbohydrate minus the grams of sugar.)
- Be high in fibre (from wholegrains or dried fruit)
- Be low in added salt (sodium)
- Contain only good fats (e.g. from nuts, seeds and grains ), and
- Be low GI.
Not all sugars are the same. The sugars found in Australian ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are typically sucrose or table sugar (GI 65) which is refined and usually added to the product, and fructose (GI 19) and lactose (GI 46) which come naturally with the dried fruit or yoghurt in the product and are a nutritious source of dietary fibre (dried fruit), and/or vitamins and minerals (dried fruit and yoghurt).
Not all starches (or ‘complex carbohydrate’) are the same either. First of all, there are two types of starch in food – amylose is harder to digest than amylopectin and the ratio of one to the other has a powerful effect on a food’s GI. Prof Jennie Brand-Miller explains how that works HERE.
Secondly, less processed grains like steel cut oats or traditional rolled oats are much harder to digest than finely milled re-constituted grains like bran flakes (See Prof Jennie’s comments in GI Update, below). Unfortunately, it is not possible to tell how refined the starch is by reading the food label – even the latest buzz word ‘wholegrain’ does not tell you the full story. So while a ‘wholegrain’ breakfast cereal is a good overall choice (it is higher in fibre, vitamins and minerals), its wholegrain content does not provide you with any real indication of how it will affect your blood glucose.
Fat: Many cereals from corn flakes to porridge oats naturally contain relatively small amounts of fat. However, it’s increasingly popular to add tasty and nutritious nuts and seeds to cereals boosting the amount of fibre and vitamins and minerals. Keep in mind that they are high in total fat, so can add significantly to the product's overall calorie content. However, the fat is predominantly mono- and poly-unsaturated, so it will not adversely affect blood cholesterol levels. Be aware that some mueslis are toasted in added oil or fat, often a highly saturated fat like palm oil. Traditional (untoasted) mueslis are better choices.
Salt: Because most cereals are relatively bland, it is common for food manufacturers to add salt to enhance the flavour – even if they have already added sugar (a little salt enhances sweetness believe it or not). Excessive salt intakes are associated with higher blood pressure, amongst other things, so salt-reduced or no-added salt are the ones to look for if available.
Tips for making good choices: Use our GI Symbol nutrient criteria for breakfast cereals to help you make a healthy choice an easy choice:
Breakfast cereals that carry the GI Symbol in Australia and New Zealand:
- Fat: 5g per 100 g or less, or 5–10g per 100g, provided that saturated fat is not more than 20% of the total fat content (or up to 15g per 100g if the source of saturated fat is grains, seeds or nuts but not coconut)
- Salt: (sodium) 400mg per 100g or less
- Dietary fibre: 3g per 100g or more
- Morning Sun Natural Style Muesli – Fruit Free Nuts and Seeds GI 55
- Morning Sun Natural Style Muesli – Apricot & Almond GI 49
- Morning Sun Natural Style Muesli – Peach & Pecan GI 49
- Naytura Fruit and Nut Muesli GI 48
- Woolworths Select Traditional Rolled Oats GI 57
Beware! Some manufacturers claim on their packs that their breakfast cereal is low GI when consumed with milk. The cut-off for low GI foods (55 or less) is for individual foods (i.e. the cereal itself), not a mixed meal (i.e. cereal and milk). The cut-off for mixed meals and diets is 45 or less.
For more information about the GI Symbol Program
Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Glycemic Index Foundation (Ltd)
Phone: +61 (0)2 9785 1037
Mob: +61 (0)416 111 046
Fax: +61 (0)2 9785 1037