On being agnostic about breakfast cereal

I’m having trouble with breakfast cereal. I have about half an hour between waking up and leaving the in the morning. In that time I have to wash, get dressed, make lunch and eat breakfast. Because it has to be eaten quickly, breakfast has to be quick to prepare and quick to eat – bacon and scrambled eggs is a no. Cereal seems like the best option: i.e. it’s quick to eat. The selection of cereals is ridiculous. And for some reason, manufacturers seem to think they can stick any old sugary crap into one of those cuboidal cardboard boxes with the caveat “eat as part of a healthy diet” and it becomes a healthy breakfast cereal.  A according to the NHS, a report from 2012 stated that ‘sweet breakfast cereals are still too sugary for kids’

It found that overall, 32 out of the 50 were high in sugar, and that 12 out of the 14 cereals (86%) aimed at children had excessive levels of added sugar.

It goes on to point out that a lot of breakfast cereals are little better than sugary crap – 35 of the 50 cereals tested were high in sugar – something as a nation we eat way too much of. Weetabix was the only cereal aimed at children that had low levels of sugar – Frosties (37% sugar) had the highest, and Crunchie Nut Cornflakes were 35% sugar.  Even supposedly healthy cereals have high amounts of sugar: Bran Flakes – 22% sugar, Special K – 17%. Let me reiterate – Special K, whose entire remit seems to be make women think they look fat, and the only way to solve this is to eat two meal of Special K a day – has levels of sugar considered too high. Mueslies are also somewhat dubious, Alpen has a fucktonne of sugar in it. At least all the sugar in the Dorset Cereals muesli is from the dried fruit it contains. Basically, the only cereals that are actually healthy are Shredded Wheat, Oat So Simple porridge and Weetabix and presumably their supermarket own brand equivalents. This essentially means that your choices for breakfast cereal boil down to “cardboard” or “sugar flakes”.

I have chosen cardboard. However, I find that I’m almost always hungry at 10:30. Thus breakfast cereal has failed in its promise to “keep me going to lunch”. I have to ask why I even bother. Despite the fact that  everyone (I have no idea who specifically told us) knows that breakfast is “the most important meal of the day”. Curiously, science has no fucking clue – studies show that people who skip breakfast eat more calories, studies show that people who skip breakfast eat fewer calories, lose weight/don’t lose weight. It’s all over the place

A behavior that is often targeted in weight management programs and that may contribute to long-term success in weight maintenance is breakfast eating.

Wyatt et al 2002

A link between skipping (breakfast) and obesity is constantly being challenged and in many studies, a lack of this link was repeatedly demonstrated.

Zilberter and Zilberter 2014

Well, I have chosen to eat breakfast – but why am I hungry TWO HOUS BEFORE lunch? I had a look at the serving size. The serving size of 2 Tesco branded Wheat Biscuits (cheap Weetabix) is 37.5g, this contains 135 calories. I would add about 130g semi-skimmed milk, which google tells me is 65 calories. That’s a breakfast of 200 calories. That doesn’t seem like a lot. should I be eating a larger breakfast?

Another study the NHS reports on published in the Nutrition Journal suggests that people who eat larger breakfasts have a higher energy intake across the whole day, whereas people who eat fewer calories don’t tend eat more food to compensate. This sounds a lot like what may be happening when people skip breakfast altogether. Though there are a great big fat pile of caveats. It’s a cross sectional study observing people’s habits – i.e. people who tend to eat more at breakfast eat more during the day. People are different.

low energy intake at breakfast can be helpful to lower daily intake and improve the energy balance during treatment of obesity Whether or not this approach really favours weight loss has to be examined in further interventional studies. At present prevailing data are rather equivocal.

Schusdziarra et al 2011

No one hedges like scientist.

Bust should I really only be eating a tenth of my daily caloric intake at breakfast. Seems small… A fifth would make more sense. According to the NHS Change 4 Life page  one should aim for 400 kCal for breakfast, 600 kCal for lunch and 600kCal for dinner (the remainder of your daily intake to consist of drinks and healthy snacks). So, maybe the cereals are wrong. And it’s not just my cereal either: Kelloggs – Fruit ‘n’ Fibre, one 40g serving is 152 calories without milk, Special K 30g serving plus 125 ml semi-skimmed milk provides 172 calories, a 30g portion of Cornflakes without milk is 113 calories. Nestlé – Cheerios suggests a 30g serving plus 125 ml semi-skimmed for a grand total of 174 calories, 40g of Shreddies plus 125 ml milk provides 208 calories. So most cereals are based on small portion sizes. Maybe this enables them to get away with higher sugar levels when giving percentages of your RDA… The reason portions are so small was described by Kellogg’s spokesman Paul Wheeler to Bee Williams at the Telegraph

apparently lots of studies have shown that 30g is about what most children can manage.

The principle consumers of breakfast cereal being children. This is confirmed by Kellogg’s

Knowing this, we provide our serving size recommendations based on what the cereal looks like in the bowl, the level of vitamins and minerals we add and the average amount eaten by a child.

Kellogg’s website

This is starting to make sense; the portion sizes are supposed to be for me, unlike the 75g for rice or pasta posited by the Food Standards Agency. It’s based on what children eat. Therefore, I don’t have to feel like a guilty fat pig when I eat more than the piddling small handful of cereal at the bottom of my breakfast bowl. And neither should any other adult. Nestle even suggest that maybe a small bowl of cereal isn’t really enough for breakfast.:

Nutritionists recommend consuming around 20-25% of your daily calorie intake at breakfast (for a woman eating 2000 calories this is about 400-500 calories). Like any other meal, a good breakfast is one that is balanced and includes foods from a few of the food groups, for example fruits & veg, milk & dairy and bread and/or cereals. A great way to start the day is a bowl of Nestlé cereal with whole grain, milk, a glass of fruit juice and/or piece of fruit.

Nestle website

And with that, I’m going to tuck in 295 kilo calories of malted breakfast cereal, to which I may or may not add additional fruit/crackers/doughnuts…


  1. I Don’t Understand Cereal |

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