Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Why I never eat breakfast cereal.

(Warning, this is a non-evidence based, anecdotal post)

I've been working exclusively in weight management for over 7.5 years. I figure during that time I've had over 4,000 patients. I've also been tracking my own eating, and at times, so too has my wife hers.

Something I've noticed?

Cereal doesn't hold me well. Many of my patients neither.

Doesn't matter if the cereal's fortified with protein or not, high fibre or low, if I consume the same number of calories from a more "solid" food like eggs and toast, or toast and peanut butter, it provides me far greater satiety.

My wife, during her 3rd pregnancy, was much hungrier than her other two. When she tracked her hunger in a food diary it became clear to her - it was the cereal.

Working with my patients, I've often seen the same pattern.

And sometimes it's not daytime hunger that's amplified by breakfast cereal, but rather afternoon and nighttime struggles and cravings.

Whether it's a carb thing, an insulin thing, or some other thing, I don't know. Carb wise, given my go to is toast with something, I'm not convinced, but whatever the cause, I know cereal and me, we don't work well together.

So if you're a cereal eater, and if you also happen to struggle with cravings and hunger at any point in the day, why not try the very simple personal science experiment of swapping out the cereal? Worst case scenario, it doesn't help at all, and best case, you'll have some improvement over dietary control.

If you want to be pseudo-sciency, pick up a food diary for the experiment. Keep track of hunger, cravings, control etc., and then if you're really keen, try a bunch of different breakfast options, rotating them around (including cereal), to see if there are certain breakfasts that work better for you than others at conferring better full day control.

What have your cereal experiences been like?

(Full disclosure - I have no affiliation whatsoever with toast, egg or peanut butter manufacturers, and I'm not selling any cereal makers short)

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  1. I have to disagree. Certain cereals aren't very filling but I find those high in fibre do the trick. Topped with a sprinkling of granola, even better, paired with one peanut butter toast and fruit and I'm good until lunch. Dry cereal is often my go-to snack later in the day, especially when I was pregnant. And I am not sponsored, endorsed or otherwise indebted to any cereal companies.

  2. Porridge (oatmeal) is very filling for me. I normally have about 1/3 cup cooked with fat free milk, and with a banana and a little honey mixed in. So it's a fairly substantial breakfast, and I can normally get through about 5 or 6 hours before I get hungry again.

    Any other kind of cereal, no matter what the additions, just doesn't do it for me. But then, neither does toast on it's own - either of those options would leave me hungry again in about 3 hours.

  3. Alexie7:45 am

    I eat porridge for breakfast, every day, using plain oats, full fat milk and some fruit and honey. I find that very filling. Maybe because it's hot and stodgy?

    When it comes to cold cereal though, I'm with you. I tried muesli for a while. Apart from the fact that it's incredibly high in calories, I found myself ravenously hungry by mid morning.

    (I would happily endorse an oat company if they would keep me supplied.)

  4. Roman Korol8:24 am

    My vote is with the porridge-eaters; those other trick cereals have never turned my crank. Combined with half a banana and some milk, I find oats good and filling. Whenever I plan a swim or a bike ride or something similar that morning, or feel unusually peckish, I supplement it with ½ cup cottage cheese, a slice of bread I bake myself, a pat of butter, and 1 tsp of raspberry jam with reduced sugar. Keeps me sated until well into mid-day.

  5. Charlene8:32 am

    I have also made this discovery with cereal and have stopped eating it entirely.

    I use to eat it for breakfast or put portion controlled amounts in plastic bags to snack on dry throughout the day and through food journaling I discovered that it led me to be hungrier and eat more food throughout the day.

    I don't miss it at all.

  6. I agree with your anecdotal findings. I haven't found a boxed supermarket style cereal with any staying power. I do eat oatmeal (not the prepackaged instant sugary kind) on occasion and don't get hungry afterward.

  7. Paulette8:40 am

    As with many others here I find oatmeal to me a really satisfying breakfast. I make batches up for myself & my husband mixed with peanut butter. Then 5 days a week, its reheated PB oatmeal topped with a cooked fruit of some sort and for me ~100g of plain goat yogurt. Weekends are egg breakfast days - I do find these to be even longer lasting

  8. I love cereal, but I find it's much more filling with whole milk (vs skim). I also swap out half of my flakes for walnuts and apples. So I guess it's more of a hybrid cereal than anything else.

  9. Cereal for breakfast doesn't work for me either, although my mum is quite satisfied having porridge almost daily. I do enjoy some hot oatmeal or Weetabix, but I am more likely to have it for an evening snack, with a dollop of peanut butter.

    What does work for me is whole grain toast and eggs, scrambled with some mushrooms or asparagus,red onion and a bit of cheddar or rye toast with cream cheese and salmon or if I am travelling, an Egg McMuffin works okay too.

    hmmm .. I should disclose that I am not married to an egg farmer! :-)

  10. Anonymous9:33 am

    I have also found that cold cereal doesnt get me through the morning. I agree that old fashioned oatmeal is better but usually have a boiled egg and toast. Another cereal option with even more staying power than oatmeal are mutligrain porrideges like Red River Cereal and Sunny Boy (only available out west).

    I am not sponsored, endorsed or otherwise indebted to any cereal companies but my brother and father are grain farmers :)

  11. Good posts! Oatmeals not working for me, maybe not eating enough! What seems to work (and stops me having lunch1 and lunch2) is wholegrain toast and honey sprinkled with sesame seeds/pumpkin seeds/linseed.

  12. A quick look at Wheat Belly may tell why wheat, aka wheat cereal is such a problem food. I knew it was a problem before, and had dopamine, serotonin, and opioid effects, but not how bad it is.

    If only 1/4 of what he says is correct, Wheat is not a good food in any form.

  13. Best advice I've read on your blog so far: " pick up a food diary for the experiment. Keep track of hunger, cravings, control etc.".

    That is what every body with a weight problem should do. Realizing that the hunger, cravings and control are not just a matter of self-control but some physiological reaction to what you are taking in. The most important 'take away' from this is, don't just buy into the advice you are given and follow it without seeing how you react to it. If you react badly with cravings and hunger and loss of self control, it isn't your character that is flawed, it's something in your body that is reacting to the food you are eating.

    To those of you who 'disagree', it's not a matter of 'agree' or 'disagree', it is a matter of your own body. If you don't get hunger and cravings from cereal, great for you. Doesn't mean that others do not.

  14. I COMPLETELY agree. I never eat cold cereal. I could eat an entire box and I'd still be hungry an hour later. For me it's hot cereal, oatmeal with either ground flax and tigernuts or a tablespoon of chia seeds. During my pregnancies when I couldn't stomach oatmeal, I switched to whole grain toast with almond butter or eggs.

  15. Agree, I find a bowl of cold cereal has me feeling hungrier sooner thant even the mornings that I only have coffee (I realize that's not good either but yes, sometimes I'm too busy for breakfast). My ideal breakfast is plain oatmeal with some raisins, pb, and a little pure maple syrup.

    Sorry to go off topic here, but this weekend I watched the documentary "Fat Head" and the whole time wondered what Dr. Yoni's opinion on it would be? Have you seen the film?

  16. Anonymous10:17 am

    I never eat breakfast cereal in the morning, but my evening is not complete without a bowl of cereal after supper (I typically eat it as dessert). Indeed, I am never fully sated until I have had one.

    It's probably not a great habit to be in, and my servings are greatly in excess of those recommended by the manufacturer. But since a bowl of cereal stops hunger dead in its tracks for the rest of the evening, it may be an acceptable bargain.

  17. Anonymous10:25 am

    It's true. I can't eat cereal because by 10 a.m. I'll be ravenous and at work. I'll have to walk across the street to McDonalds just to calm my hunger. Eggs and toast are the way to go for me.

  18. I avoided cereal for many years, but have been eating Kashi Go Lean for almost a year now and find it is the most filling breakfast option for me.

    I actually eat a cup of cereal, which is a combination of about 1/4 c. bran buds and 3/4 Kashi. I find it tastes great with skim meal and a sprinkling of flax meal on top. I also add half a banana.

    This breakfast works really well for me and I have compared it to eggs and toast and porridge. For me, it wins, hands down.

    I haven't seen any correlation with cravings later in the day.

    Just goes to show, we really are all different.

  19. Anonymous11:19 am

    Spoon size shredded wheat with a good amount of All Bran Buds and some blueberries keeps me full more so than peanut butter on toast and it goes a lot further in keeping me regular.

  20. Completely agree with you. I eat cooked rolled oats rather than cereal and I'll add a banana with peanut butter. Holds me way beter than any cereal can.

  21. Anonymous12:28 pm

    If I eat anything too grainy or carby for breakfast, I'm starving in about 90 minutes. That includes steel cut oatmeal and a variety of hot & cold cereals without added sugar. If I eat a couple of eggs, I'm good for hours.

    1. This is me. I ate hot cereal for breakfast today and an hour later I get sweaty and shaky, like a sugar low. I have to eat protein for breakfast.

  22. I have tried to amend my diet quite significantly toward the more balanced approach. I have accomplished this at lunch and supper. However, I seem unable (or unwilling) to ditch my morning cereal. I swear for a period of 3 years in university, I ate a bowel of Raisin Bran every morning. I now at least vary my selection but I just love that mix of grain and dairy in the morning. It is one thing I have been entirely unable to give up! That's alright. Like you say, "If you can't maintain a lifestyle change for the rest of your life and be happy about it, why change in the first place?" My thoughts exactly!

  23. I'm with Sunday's Child in my vote for eggs paired with something like asparagus,shiitake mushrooms or chopped tomatoes for carbohydrates. I think of cereal as a dessert or a snack, not as something to fuel my day. I encourage my cancer patients to have something more protein-based for breakfast most days - even having leftovers if they can face it. I also find wholegrain sourdough bread toasted and topped bruschetta style to be very satisfying, so it must just be that the simple carbs of cereal (even with the so-called fibre and protein added) don't suit me first thing. Porridge needs a blob of almond butter and some berries to satisfy. I think some people are more protein people and others more carb people and it is about listening to your body to discover which one satisfies you. For you carb lovers I have just posted a good-for-you granola recipe.

  24. Anonymous1:33 pm

    I eat a bowl of cereal daily. That said, my "cereal" of choice is homemade granola (the basic recipe: spelt flakes, rolled oats, almond milk pulp, millet, oat bran, sunflower seeds and some molasses for both sweetness and iron, plus whatever else I've got on hand). A small-ish bowl of this (1/2c-2/3c) with a generous splash of homemade almond milk and a glass of water is enough to fill me up until lunch with no cravings. I don't know what the calorie count is, but I'm guessing it's on par with a commercially-packaged granola.

    If, however, we substitute in some mini wheats or cornflakes for the granola and cow's milk for the almond variety, I'll be gnawing my arm off before 9am!

    In fact, upgrading to the almond milk was, for me, the biggest difference. While the cereal's very important, I find that I can be at least somewhat satisfied with a commercial cereal in a pinch, although I will be hungry before lunchtime. Cow's milk, on the other hand, always left me feeling starved (plus, I've always detested the taste, so the change was quick and pleasant).

  25. Cereal on its own doesn't hold me, and I definitely feel hungrier for the remainder of the day when I eat any processed grains for breakfast. But there are a handful of high-fiber cereals (like Ezekiel 4:9 or Uncle Sam) that, when paired with something high protein (egg, strained yogurt), keep me satisfied until its time for morning snack or lunch.

  26. Anonymous2:29 pm

    What is 'cereal'? Home-made granola? Steel cut oatmeal? Cocoa Puffs? Lucky Charms? Within the category 'cereal' there are huge differences in the amount of sugar, salt, protein, fibre and fat. You can eat 'good' high fibre cereal and get little protein. Feeling 'full' after eating and being sustained for several hours are different things.

  27. I agree with you regarding not eating cereal. I find that with every meal I have to have a major protein and it has to be portion sized more then carbs. I rarely eat anything sweet, like a dessert, but if I do, it has to have a protien with it eg. apple pie has to have cheese or chocolate has to have nuts or I add nuts to it. I rarely get hungery and eat three meals a day and one snack. I sometimes forget to eat lunch b.c. I have had a good quality protein for breakfast.

  28. i stopped eating boxed cereal years ago. Instead of throwing out the remaining boxes, I gave it to my parents. My father ate the lot (about six weeks supply for me) in three days and gained five pounds.

    All the sugar must have set up some fierce carb cravings.

  29. Cynthia3:09 pm

    I'm another porridge eater. I have 1/3 cup large flake oats cooked with 1 tbsp ground flax seeds and 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries in the microwave, and I add 1% milk with vanilla protein powder after.

    Cooking it in the microwave isn't quite as good as the stovetop, but it's fast and it keeps me going until my mid-morning snack.

  30. Anonymous4:37 pm

    I have binge eating disorder and have analyzed all my habits to get it under control. My number one go-to food when I have a binge episode?
    Boxed cereal (specially nut and honey flavored) with cow's milk. why? I can eat the whole box and barely feel nauseated from overeating, so the soothing effect of eating can last longer and if I take a pause, I can eat more food after... for this reason, boxed/sweetened cereal has been banished from my house recently!

    The only cereal I do have now is puffed Kamut and I have it with greek yogurt which is what fills me up.

  31. high-fibre cereal, supplemented with fresh fruit and plain yogurt works great for me.

    my daily breakfast is 1/2 cup of bran buds with 1/2 cup plain, fat-free, organic yogurt and 1 cup of fresh berries (or frozen-thawed berries in winter) with a cup of black coffee and a glass of water. it sustains me until lunch, which i often don't eat until 5 or 6 hours later. i think the tartness/lack of sweetness helps.

  32. I love a bowl of cereal... but I eat it as a snack or as dessert if I am still a bit hungry after supper...

    I don't equate oatmeal with cereal... they are very different and a bow of oats will keep me satisfied for hours...

  33. Juliet6:13 pm

    My own non-evidence-based and anecdotal experience is very much the same. Cereal, even the healthy, fibre- and protein-rich kind, does not fill me up at all. On top of that, I find it's really easy to overeat. So I end up with more calories than I need and feeling famished within an hour, regardless of whether I've had a small bowl or half the box.

    I do like oatmeal, though, and if I mix in nut butter or sprinkle nuts on top it is substantial enough to keep me going. When considering taste and satisfaction, my winner is definitely eggs on a piece of multigrain toast.

    These comments clearly show that everyone's different, but reading your post had me nodding in total agreement.

  34. This article on the modern American breakfast ran the week before your post - thought you might find it interesting:

    As far as my anecdotal evidence, I also don't find most cold cereal filling. But the bigger reason I don't eat it is that it pretty much has no nutritional value. Even most of the "healthy" stuff is processed crap with nutrients added. I'd rather eat real food with real nutrients.

    I alternate between steel cut oats (often made with some dried fruit for flavor, or stir in some unsweetened applesauce) and Greek yogurt with fruit mixed in. My favorite add in right now is blueberries and crushed pineapple. Yum!

  35. Anonymous3:05 am

    I have the same experience with cereal as you do. Oatmeal or whole grain bread with peanut butter is much more filling.

  36. EVERY boxed commercial cold cereal I've looked at has some form of sugar as its second or third ingredient...even the "organic" and "healthy" ones like Kashi. Eat that on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and get ready for the insulin spike, subsequent crash and more cravings/hunger cycling for hours. Cold cereal is pretty much all crap and I no longer buy it for myself or my family. Special K somehow established itself as a health/weight loss "food" despite being composed entirely of GMO corn, chemicals, sugar and artficial everything. PLAIN oatmeal cooked up with raisins, goji berries, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, cinnamon, almonds, cacoa nibs, or whatever whole food add-ins you prefer is a great breakfast...throw in an egg or some egg whites and you'll be fueled til early afternoon.

  37. Yes, cereal does leave me hungry soon afterwards, especially if I have it with milk. But if I switch the milk for greek yogurt, it's not bad.

    I do love a good hot cereal (red river cereal especially), with added fruit and nuts, and that can keep me going for a while.

  38. Anonymous12:04 pm

    I'm with the oatmeal crowd- made with water, eaten with a drop of cold milk on top if you feel like it. Maybe made with half-and-half milk and water. There's no better breakfast.

  39. Holy mack! This post obviously hit a nerve. Personally, I need the cereal - a specific cereal, um, All-bran buds. :) 'Nuff said about that. But I agree with you, I think a breakfast of cereal alone falls short in the "fill up" department. I wonder if it's because they're generally too sweet, processed, and don't contain enough fibre and protein to keep our tummies happy and full?

  40. Andrea - I think it's all of the above - too sweet, too processed, and not enough fibre.

  41. When I started eating high raw I thought I'd miss cereal. I mean, you don't even have to be awake to consume it - so easy. But I've found that a bowlful of fruit is at least as filling.

  42. rebecca1:50 pm

    hmmm- I'm totally with you on no processed boxed cereal. I feel like my recent weight loss has certainly been hugely supported by my shift from cheerios to homemade muesli(oats, barley, almonds) or oatmeal with plain yogurt and/or fruit with NO ADDED sugar). eggs alone just won't do me.

    A solid stick-to-your ribs breakfast of muesli with NO sugar really helps keep my 2:00 pm wander-around-the-office-and-look for-sweets habit at bay.

    For the record, I think , breakfast muffin/scones/donuts are even worse at triggering later blood sugar crashes and cravings.

  43. I dunno. Former BMI dietitian Shawna put me on to a sugar-free super high fibre cereal that does the trick when combined with some source of protein at breakfast time. Fibre One original. Mind you, I double the serving size from 29 to 60 grams, but use a wtered down skim milk, so overall I estimate it at 300 calories which ain't bad considering the 28 g. of fibre it delivers. Still eat Red River Cereal or oatmeal pretty well every morning from about October to April, though with some protein (e.g. boiled egg, couple of sardines, 20 almonds) on the side.

    Agree with the other posters. Most cereals leave me ready for a Tim's Choco-caloric by 10 a.m.. This might be worth a real study. In addition to our ever-so-well-rounded personal experiences of course.

  44. Anonymous9:41 pm

    I don't eat breakfast cereal either. I eat oatmeal every morning with soy beverage. I have never had a weight problem and try to eat healthy. I add ground flax seed which provides the extra fibre. So much better than Bran Buds which is not a whole food.

  45. Anonymous10:09 am

    I'm with you; cereal does not keep me full. I even splurge on the very high-fiber Kashi, and still get mad-hungry less than 3 hours later. I usually have a small handfull of nuts when this happens, and that does the trick. I find that a small piece of whole-grain toast with an egg on it, or a nut butter on top, fills me up all morning long. Listening to your own body is key!

  46. I found one cereal that provides the taste I crave and a decent level of satiety because of a relatively high fiber content with a tolerable sugar content -- Blue Menu Multi O's from Loblaws. The calorie count is a bit high if you like a full bowl, but with 1% milk I find it can sustain me until lunch. I ate this several times a week while losing 72 pounds from Feb until about Oct. Obviously, portion control is also important. Note that I also recently tried Whole Wheat Shredded Wheat and found it acceptable in small portions. But I went back to Multi-Os pretty quickly. Better bang for the buck (calorie-wise.)

  47. Anonymous7:55 pm

    Oatmeal just creates more hunger. I start of feeling full & then starve at the 2-3 hour point. My peanut butter keeps me for hours & there is a difference between feeling hungry and starving for your next meal. I agree with the post, more fat = more satiety and less insulin release.

  48. Cereal has always been a weak point to my diet, I've noticed. To have a taste of chocolate without actually eating chocolate, I'll have a serving of cocoa pebbles. But while tasty, this doesn't leave me more satisfied than before. I have ounce upon ounce and to no avail. I am still hungry. And so I continue vacuuming in carbs to satisfy an insatiable desire. In all this, a simple piece of bread and cheese will carry me for hours.

    I've even asked myself one time, why not just give yourself the bread. Put whatever you want on it. And I plainly did not want toast and jam or a sandwich. I WANTED cereal. It was then I realized that my eating cereal was strictly a bad snack craving and it needed to stop.

    Cereal is my mindless snack and its pit is bottomless. I refer to cereal without milk however. Depending on the milk used, it could actually be helpful at some points, and I stress "some." I also tell myself to sit and have a bowl correctly with milk and fruit, but I don't desire this either. I just want to toss something in my mouth, which I'll just need to learn to control.

    More fat does satisfy me better, and therefore, counterintuitive as it is, keep me from overeating carbs, or any fat-free food for that matter. I've realized this for many months now and I'm glad that you agree.

  49. For me, I find that it's a protein thing. Eggs keep me full longer than any kind of grain-based breakfast (cereal, toast, whatever). That said, I do find porridge more filling than cold cereal for some reason.

  50. Anonymous12:53 pm

    Your cereals are fortified with synthetic nutrients have fun with that

  51. Anonymous4:48 pm

    I used to eat Kellog's All Bran cereal with almonds and flax seed for several years until it clicked that it was making me more hungry/tired and I was snacking through the day. I found that drinking Ensure for breakfast kept me full for several hours and it's very nutritious.