Oat Cereal: The Good and Bad

oat cereal Oat cereal, including oatmeal, can dish up some serious health benefits. When we think of oat based foods, we typically think of them as being a good source of health enhancing fiber, particularly soluble fiber. By definition, soluble fiber actually dissolves in water. In foods, soluble fiber adds a pleasing consistency. When we eat foods with soluble fiber, we can potentially decrease our blood sugar and cholesterol levels. There is scientific evidence that soluble fiber, once fermented in the gut, can reduce inflammation and even support our immune system. And fiber, in general, fills us up so it’s easier to lose weight! With so many health benefits, why would we hesitate to eat it?

Oat cereal may have gluten

If you need to avoid gluten, not all oat cereal is gluten free. Oats do not contain gluten, but they may become contaminated with gluten if processed with other gluten containing foods. Choose brands of oat based cereals manufactured in a gluten free facility if there is a medical reason to avoid gluten. These products, such as the one in the below photo, can state they are gluten-free. They can state this because there were no other gluten containing products made at the processing facility that could contaminate the oats.

gluten free oatsOat cereal and weed killer

Glyphosate is a weed killer that is sprayed on many of our conventional crops including oat crops. This compound has caused reproductive problems in animals and is thought to be a potential carcinogen in humans. The common weed killer Roundup contains glyphosate.

Published safety limits are hard to find. As is the case with a lot of controversial food topics, it’s hard to get at some of the facts. According to a Consumerlab.com. review, California has set a daily limit of 1100 mcg. In contrast, European countries set a higher adult limit of 34,000 mcg. The same review states a standard 3/4 cup serving of Original Cheerios contained only 32 mcg of glyphosate. If this is still not low enough for your healthy eating strategies, you can always opt for organic versions of your favorite oat based foods. You may not be able to totally avoid ingesting some of the glyphosate, but you can decrease your exposure by going the organic route.

Fungal contamination

Ochratoxin is a fungal toxin found in foods of plant and animal origin. Molds produce the Ochratoxin when exposed to heat and moisture during crop production. Up to 70% of oat-based cereals in the United States have been reported to contain this toxin. And, it’s a compound strongly linked to cancer. According to research, choosing organic over conventional counterparts will not be helpful. Cooking does not destroy this toxin. The best practical risk reduction strategy is watching your portion sizes! This will obviously limit your exposure to the toxin if it’s in the cereal.

The good news: Oat cereal is a good source of fiber and protein

oatmeal labelSo should you skip the oat cereals? I think definitely not! Oatmeal and other oat cereals are a source of healthy complex carbohydrates and a fairly significant source of dietary fiber. A single 40 gram serving of oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Choosing gluten free organic options and watching portions will go a long way in making sure the oat cereals you choose are the best possible choices for your health.

Oat cereals are low in iron and sugar

And, what may not be readily apparent is the fact that oatmeal is a cereal that is low in iron. While cereal for much of the population is an important source of necessary dietary iron, there are many people that do not benefit from that iron. In fact, the iron may harm their health. Most men and older women should be picking cereals that are lower in iron. And, if your oat cereal is unflavored or plain, the sugar content clocks in at virtually nothing. Given the sugar content of most cereals, that is actually unusual and clearly a nutritional advantage.

Oats are a good prebiotic food

Your gut contains many bacteria that help you stay well. This is frequently referred to as the gut microbiome. The make-up of your individual gut bacteria is unique and hinges, in part, on the types of foods you eat on a regular basis. When you have the right mix of gut bacteria, your immune system is stronger and your digestion is better. While bacteria reside in the gut, people can also consume bacteria known as probiotics. The gut bacteria may be altered to improve overall health when these probiotics are consumed in adequate amounts. Certain foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are rich sources of probiotics. Probiotics are also available as a supplement (purchasing tips).

Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, assuring their viability. Prebiotic foods are usually rich in fiber. While the fiber is in the digestive tract, the bacteria use it for food. Eventually, the fiber is excreted in digestion, but while in the digestive tract, it plays a crucial role in feeding the gut bacteria. Oatmeal is a classified as a prebiotic food.

Take away

As is the case with many foods, oats are at risk for pesticide and toxin contaminants. Choosing smaller amounts and organic versions of oat cereals can lessen risk from these contaminants. The good news is oats are low in sugar and iron (good for many people). They are a lower calorie source of protein and fiber. That fiber lowers your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and aids in weight loss. And, it’s critical for feeding your gut bacteria. Bottom line, oats are a pretty good fuel for both you and your gut bacteria.

While I like oats for the above reasons, another researcher suggests oats may be the next superfood as they are loaded with anti-oxidants!

If you want to try the very popular overnight oats, the basic recipe is here.

Why do you think oats are healthy? Please share so I can add to this blog. If you learned something from this blog, please share as well.

 

 

Cereals With Too Much Sugar? Pick These Cereals, Not Those

sugar in cereal

When you look at a Nutrition Fact Label, you can see sugars noted on the label. The amount of sugar will be stated in grams of sugar from the product based on the serving size noted on the label. Here’s a quick fact to visualize what those grams of sugar look like if put into a teaspoon. For every 5 grams of sugar, that is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. So, if a cereal has 17 grams of sugar per serving, then that cereal contains over 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving. I think most nutrition professionals would say such cereals have too much sugar. At least this one would!

Checking labels for cereals with too much sugar

Cereal label showing sugar in cereal

So, if you take a look at the Nutrition Fact Label, you can see that a serving of this cereal has only 2 grams of sugar. That sugar content is very low in comparison to most cereal products. It would be a good choice if you wanted to limit your sugar from cereals. While limiting sugars is important, a cereal should be providing other important nutrients such as fiber and iron. For many people, the amount of iron in cereal is particularly problematic and could potentially be harmful to their health.

Drawbacks to lots of sugar in the diet

Sugar is classified as a simple carbohydrate. It is a type of carbohydrate that has virtually no nutritional value other than calories. This is in direct contrast to complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates give us so much more than just empty calories. These foods are significant sources of B complex vitamins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, legumes, barley, brown and wild rice, and whole grain derived products. In fact, the cereal chosen to eat for breakfast should be viewed primarily as a complex carbohydrate and should not be a significant source of the other carbohydrate-the simple ones. So, what ‘s the real problem with too much dietary sugar?

The list could go on and on, but here are some highlights:

Cereals with too much sugar, 15 grams or more (3 teaspoons of sugar)

  • Frosted Flakes have 21 grams
  • Raisin Bran Crunch has 19 grams
  • Raisin Bran has 17 grams
  • Lucky Charms have 17
  • Cracklin Oat Bran has 16 grams

Options with 11-14 grams of sugar (2+ teaspoons of sugar)

  • Cheerios Oat Crunch have 14 grams
  • Kashi GoLean Cereal Crunch 13
  • Great Grains have 13 grams
  • Honey Nut Chex have 12 grams
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 11 grams
  • Kashi GoLean Multigrain Toasted Berry Crisp has 11 grams
  • Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Crunch has 11 grams

Options with less than 10 grams of sugar (less than 2 teaspoons of sugar)

  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 9 grams
  • Oatmeal Squares with Hint of Brown Sugar have 9 grams
  • Honey Nut Cheerios have 9 grams
  • Life Cereal has 8 grams
  • Quaker Life Cereal has 6 grams
  • Multi Grain Cheerios have 6 grams

Cereals with 5 grams or less of sugar (1 teaspoon or less of sugar)

  • Grape Nuts have 5 grams
  • Wheat Chex has 5 grams
  • Special K (plain) has 4 grams
  • Rice Krispies have 4 grams
  • Crispix has 4 grams
  • Corn Chex has 4 grams
  • Wheaties have 4 grams
  • Corn Flakes have 3 grams
  • Kix has 3 grams
  • Rice Chex has 2 grams
  • Cheerios (plain) have 1 gram
  • Fiber One has 0 grams

Choosing the best cereal for your individual needs

So, none of us need to be loaded up with sugary cereal. It does not matter how old or young we are, we should be avoiding high sugar cereals! The one exception might be if you count it as a dessert (which I do occasionally).

However, when choosing your cereal, it is also important to consider things like the iron and fiber content. For determining your iron needs and which cereal would be best for your individual health, just check here. This is actually quite important. Iron requirements vary by age and gender, and cereal is fortified for the population needing the most iron. Those needing the most iron are women of childbearing years. The rest of us may actually be exposed to excessive quantities of iron in cereal. This is particularly true for those that like extra large servings. Knowing your iron requirements should always be a guideline for picking a healthy cereal. For other cereal purchasing considerations, refer here.

Take away messages

Sometimes it’s not an easy decision on which cereal to pick. If cutting iron is critical, you may need to be eating a tad more sugar than desired. And, if fiber is a priority, you may need to comprise once again. But, knowing the nutrition facts on your favorite cereal choices can go a long way on choosing the best option for your individual or family needs!

Do you have a great cereal that you enjoy that is low in sugar with the right amount of iron and fiber? Care to share? Speaking of sharing, please share this post if you enjoyed it.