Breakfast myths busted: Is cereal really that bad for you?

·Features and Health Editor
·5-min read

When it comes to the breakfast stakes cereal more often than not can get a rather bad wrap.

In fact, breakfast in general seems to be the meal most Aussies are more likely to skip than any other, with studies showing almost half of us are choosing to ditch breakfast during the week.

breakfast
More than half of us are likely to skip breakfast during the week. Photo: Getty

And if we are eating breakfast, for some of you cereal might be a little way down the list of choices, especially if you've heard one of the most common and surprising myths around - that breakfast cereal is too sugary and has no nutritional value.

In fact a first-ever scientific analysis of different types of breakfast cereals and their impact on the health of Australians found positive benefits for body weight and nutrition, regardless of the type of cereal and its sugar content.

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If that surprises you, here molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett shares with Yahoo Lifestyle other breakfast myths that you didn’t know about:

Myth: Traditional breakfast foods are bad for you

Truth: Some foods high in carbohydrate, such as wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals contain dietary fibre, which helps us to feel fuller, therefore starting the day off right.

Breakfast cereal is a simple and convenient way to start the day and it can often provide more nutrients such as Iron, B-vitamins and fibre, than non-cereal breakfast choices. What’s better, cereal pairs well with other nutrient dense breakfast foods such as Greek yogurt, and nuts, which are a source of protein. Protein is essential in the diet as it is the most filling macronutrient that can help reduce grazing habits throughout the day.

Little girl eating colorful ring-shaped cereal in a bowl of milk, seen from above, Lifestyle concept.
Cereal is a simple and convenient way to start the day. Photo: Getty

Myth: Processed = bad

Truth: Most food needs to go through some sort of processing for it to even be edible and digestible – processing is a broad term that includes cooking, cutting and packaging.

For many foods it is also necessary to undergo some sort of processing in order to preserve the food and prevent wastage, and to make them tasty and practical. 

From a nutritional perspective, key nutrients like protein aren’t necessarily lost during processing, they can sometimes be retained or made easier to access through processing. Others like B vitamins and iron may be added back if they’re lost, in a process called enrichment. 

Staple foods, like breakfast cereals and breads are also often fortified with extra nutrients – these foods are chosen because they are affordable, accessible, shelf stable and popular. It is also important to consider to what degree the food item has been processed, with ultra-processed items to be consumed in moderation.

Myth: Cereal is too sugary and has no nutritional value

Truth: Australian data has shown that cereal contributes less than 3 per cent of added sugar in the diet. 

Many cereals contain whole grains and fibre which many people are not getting enough of. They are full of essential vitamins and minerals that are important for health and wellbeing, and are the number one source of iron in the Aussie diet, especially in children. 

Cereal contains a range of sugar levels, there are some sweeter ones, but most are moderately sweetened and many sweetened with added fruits which contain natural sugars.

For example, half of Kellogg’s 55 cereals contain two or less teaspoons of sugar per bowl. Updating formulations have meant that they have removed over 700 tonnes of sugar and 300 tonnes of salt from Aussie diets – that’s the equivalent to the weight of around seven blue whales!

australian breakfast cereals
Cereal has been proven to have positive benefits for body weight and nutrition. Photo: Getty

Myth: If it isn’t wholegrain it doesn’t contain fibre

Truth: Whilst whole grain foods contain fibre, not all fibre-containing foods contain the whole grain. Fibre is found in the outer part of the grain called the bran. The bran can be removed from the grain and used in foods. Foods made with bran may not always contain whole grain but they do contain plenty of fibre.

Two out of three Aussies are not meeting their daily fibre targets. In fact, four out of five Aussies don’t eat enough fibre to protect themselves from chronic disease! An adequate intake of fibre is between 25 and 30 grams a day for most of us. That might sound hard, but getting your daily dose is actually easy if you eat high-fibre options including fibre rich breakfast cereals, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Did you know that different whole grains have different levels and types of fibres - for example whole grain brown rice and corn both have naturally less fibre compared to other whole grains such as whole grain wheat and oats, which have higher amounts of fibre.

emma beckett
Dr Emma Beckett is a molecular nutritionist from the The University of Newcastle. Photo: Supplied

Myth: It’s expensive to have a healthy diet

Truth: It can be a misconception that healthy food is far more expensive than unhealthy and takeaway options. 

According to recently published Australian research based on modelling, it is possible to improve Aussie diets while spending less money on food, choosing low-cost nutritious foods improves diet quality and can reduce a family’s grocery bill by over 25 per cent.

There are actually lots of healthy options that are cheap to buy and aren’t going to spoil quickly. Wholemeal bread and breakfast cereals are good for the budget and last for a while. When it comes to buying fruit and vegetables, canned and frozen options are just as healthy as the fresh ones, and you can buy them cheap and store or freeze ahead of time. If you do your research and shop around, healthy eating really doesn’t have to be as expensive as it might seem.

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