Does your breakfast cereal lie to you? Here’s what to look for on cereal box labels
Cereals that are high in sugar and carbohydrates can lead to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.Updated: May 31, 2017 08:57 IST
Is your breakfast cereal as healthy as it claims to be? How much do you know about the nutritional content of your first meal of the day?
Many cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs. Added sugar is a bad component of our modern diet and most of the sugar coming in our diet reaches through processed foods, of which breakfast cereals contain relatively higher amounts of sugar. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes mellitus, heart disease and even cancer.
Processed food is essentially any food that has been modified from its normal state, mainly for convenience to the consumer. That is why these are also called ‘convenience foods.’
Breakfast cereals are an ideal example of this type of food. Artificial processing of cereals by frosting with sugar or chocolate-coating, leads to over-consumption of sugar than the recommended dietary allowance. The fact that many young children are becoming obese, indicates that the problem of over-consumption is very real, especially among the well-to-do in India. The manufacturers are producing breakfast cereals as per the consumer’s preference, but at the cost of their health.
Then there is also the issue of misleading cereal boxes labels. The cereal package often highlights the presence of ‘whole grains,’ but on further scrutiny, these are usually in low amounts compared to other unhealthy components.
The consumer should keep in mind that actual healthy foods do not require any health claims. This warrants further studies to ascertain whether the health claims are correct or misleading. Moreover, the manufacturers often adopt shrewd business tactics by displaying cartoon characters, superheroes, etc., on the cereal box, thereby attracting the attention of children, in a bid to increase sales.
Here’s what you can do
It is important to be aware that your average breakfast cereal doesn’t just contain the nutrients discussed above. There are many other artificial chemicals that are used during processing of the cereal. These broadly include: Binders, carriers, emulsifiers, stabilisers, raising agents, texturisers, fillers, colours, flavours.
While these components can enhance your breakfast experience, they can also be harmful if not added within the maximum recommended levels. For this reason, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 has suggested food additives like erythritol (max. limit as per GMP) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (max. limit of 50 ppm) for breakfast cereals.
Arming yourself with the right information about breakfast cereals will help you choose wisely. Be on the lookout for wild health claims displayed on the cereal packages. Always read the display panel carefully. Pay attention to the following details:
* Nature and amounts of ingredients. Avoid cereals high in sugar and carbohydrates.
* Nutritional information on the label. Ensure that all the nutritional information is displayed on the label; this information will ensure if the product is wholesome and nutritious.
* ‘Best before’ date or ‘expiry’ date: Never buy expired food items.
* Vegetarian / non-vegetarian logo. Breakfast cereals should ideally be vegetarian.
* FSSAI logo and license no. This will ensure the product is of high quality.
* Quality of the packaging. Do not buy damaged or torn packages. Ensure that the inner lining (primary packaging) is intact and the food is properly sealed.
Whole-grain breakfast cereals are a healthy option. However, you should keep your eyes peeled and be alert while buying these products. Go for natural, wholesome cereals than artificially processed ones.
This will be a healthy option, with lots of dietary fibres, minus the unwanted components like sugars, thereby ensuring a nutritious breakfast for you and your family.
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First Published: May 31, 2017 08:57 IST