Dr. Zorba Paster: Look for less sugar and fewer calories in your cereal bowl

2014-07-24T05:00:00Z Dr. Zorba Paster: Look for less sugar and fewer calories in your cereal bowlDr. ZORBA PASTER | family physician, Dean Health madison.com

Who said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? I suspect W.K. Kellogg was behind that one. And back in the late 1800s when he founded his cereal company, he was right on.

We need food in our stomach to “break the fast” from dinner the night before. Of course, in modern times that fast might not be 12 hours, as was typically the case back in the day. It’s maybe more like eight hours between that bowl of ice cream you snacked on just before you said nighty-night to when you wake up the following morning.

Back to breakfast. Kids need it for sure. Study after study shows that when kids have food in their stomach they learn better. That research prompted the “breakfast at school” movement we have today. A fine idea.

So sticking with the cereal theme, let’s look at what they contain for our kids and for us. An article in USA Today (my “I’m bored in the hotel lobby and there’s nothing else to read” paper) highlighted a report from the Environmental Working Group stating that we’re over-fortifying our cereals.

The report claimed our kids are getting too much zinc and niacin, Vitamin A and more. The group demanded that the Food and Drug Administration take action to stop this abomination they said is destroying our children’s health.

So I did what any red-blooded American would do in this day and age: I Googled the Environmental Working Group. The website was quite nice. What they advocate for is a cleaner, better environment, also quite nice.

But when I looked to see what was behind their demands of the FDA (i.e. the science), I didn’t find anything. The group implied that many of our children are suffering and we don’t know it. Hmmm …

There is such a thing as too much Vitamin A, a vitamin found in fortified cereals. But it’s not a problem that’s cropping up at all. Don’t you think if our kids were at risk we would see it at children’s hospitals all the time? Don’t you think?

In my opinion, this is fear mongering — and a chance to raise some money perhaps?

Putting vitamins in cereals, flour and milk was an absolutely brilliant idea spearheaded by nutritionists and home economists in the 1930s. It all but wiped out rickets, scurvy, pellagra and beriberi. The iron we added greatly reduced iron-deficiency anemia. When we added iodine to salt we wiped out goiter. And folic acid, added more than a decade ago, reduced birth defects.

To imply that these things are bad for children is just plain wrong.

What the report didn’t do was focus on obesity — and the calories found in many cereals. I suggest you go check out the calories in the cereals your own children eat.

Here are the top five cereals, in order of sales, and the calories in a one-cup serving: Honey Nut Cheerios, 150; Frosted Flakes, 150; Honey Bunches of Oats, 120; Cheerios, 100; Cinnamon Toast Crunch, 175.

Be careful of the fine print. When I looked up Cheerios, it said 100 calories, with “one cup” in the smaller print. When I looked up Frosted Flakes, it said 110 calories, and I thought how could that be? Then I read the fine print and it said, “¾ cup.” Ah ha. Completely misleading.

My spin: Breakfast is important, no doubt. Good nutrition means eating right. Do your research. Choosing wisely means eating less sugar. When you’re searching on the web or reading the cereal box, read the fine print to determine true calorie-count comparisons.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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