Cereal is arguably one of the most consistent foods in American life. We’re raised on the stuff—from palming Cheerios as toddlers to slurping down a bowl before school, the breakfast staple is at once both versatile and dependable. The milk-spoon-bowl practice is instilled in us early on, and apparently, it’s a habit that lasts: this year, over 280 million Americans answered that, yes, they do eat breakfast cereal.
Brands have harnessed our infatuation, and as a result, there is no shortage of options when exploring the cereal aisle. As of 2012, it was estimated that there were almost 5,000 different kinds on the market. From those marketed as healthy to those that don’t even attempt (looking at you, Oreo O’s), there’s truly a cereal for everyone in today’s consumer world.
But what are we really buying, when we toss a box in the cart? Cereal might be a mainstay, but when we scoop it down in the morning, how is it actually affecting our body throughout the day? We did some digging and determined the lesser-known side effects of eating cereal. Read on to learn more about your morning habit, and for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
Cereal delivers some key nutrients.
Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, referenced studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data, among others, when explaining that there actually are key nutrients lurking in your cereal bowl. Not only does the breakfast deliver on whole grains and fiber, but it also weaves folate, iron, zinc, vitamin A and B vitamins into a person’s diet.
However, while there are some cereals on the shelves that can provide a few key nutrients into your diet (including calcium and vitamin D if you eat cereal with milk), it’s important to look for the right types of cereals that are high in fiber, versus being high in added sugars.
“When you are purchasing cereal, aim for at least 3 grams of fiber on the nutrition facts label and look for whole grains in the ingredients list,” says Ashley Larsen, RD.
But nutrient overload is possible.
In the dash to maintain a customer base as society skews ever-healthier, and amidst growing evidence that cereal isn’t all that good for you, many brands have opted to add nutrients to their cereals. You’ve seen this on the outside of boxes—”original antioxidants,” it might read, or “with vitamins!”
While this feels like a promising addition to your morning meal, a study published by Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that these added minerals can be risky, especially for kids. Over-consuming vitamins, the study surmises, can result in any number of ailments, from the simple, like skin reactions, to the more severe: liver damage, anemia, and even osteoporosis.
Cereal may contribute to obesity.
This is not news, especially after you peek at our list of unhealthiest cereals, but the childhood obesity risk is one of the most concerning side effects of cereal. Often, the least nutritious cereals are marketed to kids—we’re talking serving sizes that contain more than 20% of a person’s daily value—and have lasting health implications.
Larsen cited a review of dietary patterns in children that presents a clear correlation between obesity and diets that are high in processed grains and sugar. She explained, “as a dietitian, I suggest choosing a cereal that is lower in added sugar (less than 5% Daily Value) and adding sliced fruit to add flavor and color.”
You could end up having a harder day at work.
We’re all familiar with the dreaded 3 p.m. crash, but according to a study published by the Journal of Physiology, your bowl of cereal in the morning could be not only worsening that energy dip, but also slowing down your thinking.
There is a connection, the study found, between sugary, unhealthy foods and poor cognitive function. Feeling brain fog? Try swapping that cereal for a lower-sugar brand (or maybe even breakfast superfood, oatmeal).
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