Finding your true (cereal) love, online
Cereal has always held a special place in my life. Growing up, my father established “The Empty Bowl Club” to which my sisters and I could only gain admittance if we finished our cereal. Our pantry always held multiple varieties, which I loved to mix and match in the same bowl. And during our courtship, my husband tracked down a beloved cereal from my childhood– a hard-to-find box of Quaker Corn Bran– and presented it to me as a gift. Swoon.
As a nutritionist, I think cereal is a very easy way for most people to get a bunch of nutrients into their daily diets that they often have a hard time fitting in otherwise. I’m especially referring to fiber here, as the average American only eats 13g of it per day: that’s about 50% of the average woman’s daily requirement and a paltry 30% of the average man’s. Shame on us! Fiber is key to lowering cholesterol, helping protect our beloved colons from developing cancer, and keeping us feeling full until lunchtime. Cereal is also an important dietary source of B-vitamins (most cereals are fortified with them, and whole grain cereals contain them naturally) and iron (most cereal is also fortified). For women of childbearing age, breakfast cereal is often an important dietary source of folic acid and iron, both of which are needed to maintain healthy pregnancies; and for strict vegetarians, some cereals can be an important source of iron and vitamins B12–both of which are needed to prevent anemia. As you can see, I’m a big fan of cereal, and will be the first to admit to eating it for dinner when life gets hectic and I don’t have time to cook.
But the cereal aisle is packed with choices, each box touting its ability to improve our health with whole grains, heart disease, soy protein or fiber. For those of us with gluten intolerance, our choices are disappointingly few and often lacking in the basics: fiber and vitamins. (You can read about my favorite supermarket wheat and gluten-free cereal picks here). Despite the multitude of choices, it’s rare that I find a “perfect” cereal that meets my criteria of having at least 5g of fiber per serving and less than 10g of sugar. Those that have enough fiber often don’t have a very interesting flavor or texture. Most gluten-free ones lack fiber altogether. Most all cereals have too much sugar.
Am I dreaming? I can really design my own cereal from scratch?
As it turns out, in this age of customized internet everything, we now have the opportunity to build our own organic breakfast cereals and granolas. The democratization of breakfast cereal has arrived courtesy of a nifty website called Me & Goji. I will allow you the pleasure of exploring the site on your own, but will point out some of the features I liked the best:
- Choices! 7 cereal “bases”, 18 base “enhancers”, 15 dried fruits and 15 nut/seed selections from which to choose.
- The nutrition information panel updates in real-time as you build your own cereal so you can see how each ingredient impacts your cereal’s calories, fat, fiber and more. This may seem corny to you, but to a nutritionist, it’s more uproarious fun than playing Guitar Hero.
- A shout-out to the gluten-free crowd: they have one GF cereal base (which looks to me to be Nature’s Path Mesa Sunrise cereal–one of my top GF cereal picks, as it turns out!), and all of the fruits, nuts and seeds are GF as well.
- A blog that shares the 5 best cereal names each week. Which is way more entertaining than reading the back of a Wheaties box.
One cylindrical container (called a “cereal capsule”), contains almost twice as much cereal as a standard cereal box, or about 15 standard servings. Your cost will depend on what you put into it, but the cereal I just designed for my mom as a Mother’s Day gift cost me about $10, not including shipping. (Hope you’re not reading this, mom.) True, it’s steep compared to a box of Kashi, but each bowl still comes out to less than the cost of an average daily Starbuck’s habit. Plus, the container is reusable. I think of it as a gift-with-purchase. Am I saying these things to make myself feel better about spending $10 on a box of cereal? Absolutely. But it doesn’t make them less true.
Food for thought: some morning cereal prescriptions
The fun part about designing your own cereal is letting your tastes guide you. But if the choices leave you bewildered–or if you’re designing a gift for someone else– here’s some nutrition inspiration for you to consider…
- Cereal Rx to promote heart-health: Start with the whole grain, high fiber base of your choice (the Samurai wheat, perchance?) and enhance it with oat bran to help keep cholesterol in check. Add some cacao nibs, whose flavonoids help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and top with antioxidant-rich blueberries.
- Cereal Rx for breakfasters with diabetes: Start with a whole grain cereal base (like the Artisanal one) and spike it with some oat bran: the soluble fiber will help slow the carbohydrates passing through your digestive system and prevent your blood sugar from spiking dramatically. Enhance the base with two or three servings of cinnamon: in larger doses, it’s been shown in studies to help improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Stay away from the dried fruits, as they are a concentrated source of sugar (the cereal itself is enough carbohydrate, since presumably we need to leave room for the carbs in your milk, yes?), and opt instead for a nut or seed selection that’s rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, like walnuts, flax or chia seeds. If you have room in your carb budget to top this masterpiece with a small portion of fresh (not dried), high-fiber berries, though, I’d go for it.
- Cereal Rx for vegans: Aim to include ingredients that can be elusive in a fully plant-based diet: To the base of your choice, add quinoa flakes to provide a complete source of protein, iron-rich pumpkin seeds and some Vitamin C-rich strawberries to help you absorb the iron. Finish with a sprinkle of walnuts to get in your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids from a vegetarian source.
- Cereal Rx for sugary-cereal addicted kids: Let them have at the site and make whatever they want. Between the fun of dragging and dropping (healthy, whole grain) ingredients into a virtual cereal bowl and getting to name their own cereal, there’s no way they won’t partake of their masterful creation when it arrives at your doorstep. They’ll hardly notice that there’s no option to add sugar or red food coloring to the base.