All through my typical middle class childhood, breakfast was idly or dosa made by my mother from lentils soaked over night and ground in home. Occasionally it was pesarttu (dosa made from moong dal) served along with upma. All was all good till we were made to feel, that we were eating unhealthy, thanks to the advertisements by corn flakes companies. Being a single income family with three growing male children, buying breakfast was unimaginable purely for financial reasons. Now when i am educated about the contents of corn flakes, i feel that those financial constraints were a blessing in disguise and helped us stay away from the so called healthy breakfast.
Now let us look at the basic process of corn flakes manufacturing. Whole corn/Flour/Grits are cooked along with flavouring agents, vitamins, minerals, sweeteners, salt, and water and rolled/shaped into flakes and then toasted. Finally antioxidants (read preservatives) are added to breakfast cereals to prevent them from becoming stale and rancid. The process is pretty similar for all the cereals. But to understand the impact of this food, we need to look into the area of the package, that we generally lay least emphasis on, THE INGREDIENT LIST! Now lets look at the list of ingredients. I shall focus on two main items below:
Ingredient list of normal corn flakes
A 30 gram serving of normal cornflakes has 2.5 grams of sugar. And of course it tastes bland and thats why we add sugar when we eat them and buy chocos for our kids. Lets observe the sugar content in chocos in the label below. The same 30g serving of chocos has 7.9 grams of sugar. That is thrice as much sugar as the normal flakes.
Ingredient list of Chocos
Now the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its recent guideline on sugar intake for adults and children has advised to limit the daily calories intake from free sugars to 10%. It further remarks that limiting free sugars intake to less than 5% of total energy intake reduces the risk of dental caries and other diseases like diabetes and obesity. So essentially they are advising us to minimize the calorie intake from free sugars to 5%. Now what does this mean for a child?
Now lets assume that a child on an average has to take 1600 calories daily to maintain body weight and function. So 5% of that is 80 calories. Now each gram of added sugar is equivalent to 4 calories. So a 30 gram serving of chocos with 7.9 grams of added sugar, is almost equivalent to 32 calories from added sugar , which is more than one third (40% to be precise) the daily allowance of added sugar. Now things could be worse if you add more white sugar to the breakfast which is done in most indian households. Further the control on portion size to exact 30grams is also not very common.
On the whole, if a child is getting 40% of his or her sugar allowance from only breakfast, how can he/she accommodate the chocolates, coke and sweets?
The total carbohydrates in 30 gram serving of normal cornflakes is 26.5 grams of which sugar is 2.5 grams and fibre is just 0.8 grams. So we are looking at around 22.2 grams of carbohydrates. The problem with them is that they are simple carbohydrates owing to the processing of corn into flour/grit (please note that chocos is made from flour and cornflakes is made from grit). Simple carbohydrates break into glucose very easily and spike up blood sugar levels which is the last thing that you would want for your health. So not surprisingly the Harvard Health Publishing has indicated the glycemic index (the rate at which a particular food raises blood sugar, glucose being the benchmark at 100) of regular cornflakes at 71 and glycemic load at 20 which are both quite high. It can be noted form the same table that 150 grams of steamed brown rice has a glycemic index of 50 and glycemic load of 16, well below corn flakes. It actually means that brown rice is a more healthier breakfast than cornflakes.
(food, glycemic index, serving size, glycemic load)
Now that the numbers are clear you can make a more informed choice on the breakfast for your children and yourselves. In my own opinion a healthy breakfast should consist of more whole foods like vegetables, smaller portions of fruits and full fat yoghurt. For non vegetarians eggs can be an ideal breakfast as they have zero sugar and can release the energy required for the body slowly.
Happy healthy living!