Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Grading your breakfast

Fix that morning failure with these honour-roll alternatives

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It's a mad scramble to get your kids up, washed, dressed and out the door in the morning, but you're always determined to make sure they are fed.

Study after study proves that a healthy breakfast can keep kids more physically and mentally fit so they can handle the day ahead of them.

In a couple of weeks, the bell is about to ring for the first time this school year. Are you sure the breakfast you plan to feed your kids is truly good for them?

Here are some of the most popular and apparently nutritious quick breakfast items that don't exactly make the grade:


Fat-free or low-fat flavoured yogurt


The grade: You probably assume that because it's fat-free, it's heart-healthy and won't contribute to excess weight. In reality, fat-free yogurt usually has more sugar than its fat-laden counterparts. (A 174-gram serving of Yoplait's Yoptimal fruit-flavoured yogurt contains 24 grams of sugar, for example. That's more sugar than what's in one Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and same as a Skor chocolate bar).

A+ alternative: Instead, feed your kids plain, Greek-style yogurt. This will contain more protein (to keep them fuller longer), less sugar, (helping them avoid blood sugar spikes and fatigue) as well as no thickeners such as gelatin or corn starch. Plain yogurt also has a fresher taste and richer texture than flavoured yogurts in a cup or tube. For sweetness, add fresh fruit and a touch of honey.


Ready-made muffin


The grade: Many people consider these breakfast favourites a healthy alternative to morning doughnuts or pastries -- especially "bran" muffins. After all, they must be high in fibre, considering the name. The reality? Muffins often have the same amount of fat and calories as birthday cake. Consider that the raisin bran muffin at Tim Hortons has a hefty 40 grams of sugar and 13 grams of fat.

A+ alternative: Make your own muffins so you can control the ingredients in it. If you'd rather buy, there are lower-fat varieties at stores and eateries. Keep in mind that if the paper bag or napkin where you're housing your muffin ends up with grease stains, the muffin is high in fat. Better yet, choose to feed your little ones whole-grain toast and peanut butter instead of a muffin. It will contain far less sugar and fat.


Cold cereal


The grade: You're sure you're doing the right thing by feeding your kids cereal. After all, the manufacturers fortify it with iron -- and the label says it contains whole grains. But whether the cereal in your pantry is high in fibre and low in sugar is another story. Take Apple Jacks, for instance. One cup of the sweet treat contains 12 grams of sugar and only three grams of fibre. Honey Nut Cheerios is not much better. After oats, the next three ingredients on the label are all forms of sugar. One 3Ñ4-cup serving (that's the serving size listed on the cereal's website, even though it's less than what most people would eat), contains nine grams of sugar and only two grams of fibre. (If your kids aren't getting enough fibre, they could experience constipation and other intestinal discomfort).

A+ alternative: Try a cup of regular Cheerios which contains only one gram of sugar and a slightly higher three grams of fibre. A 21-biscuit serving of Frosted Mini Wheats cereal contains more sugar than Cheerios, at 11 grams, but it has the added benefit of six grams of fibre.


Instant oatmeal


The grade: You know that oatmeal is good for your kids, but the instant variety, unfortunately, doesn't have all the same benefits as its unsweetened, stovetop-cooked counterpart. Mainly, there's more sugar and additives in instant oatmeal. One 35-gram packet of Quaker Instant Oatmeal, peaches and cream flavour, contains 12 grams of sugar, two grams of fibre and according to the ingredient list of the product website, contains a slew of additives such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a source of trans fats), guar gum (a thickener) and corn syrup solids, which are sweeter than table sugar.

A+ alternative: Steel-cut oatmeal is the best but it takes longer to cook. To save time, opt for quick-cook oats. At least you'll know the oats are free of sugar and unnecessary additives. This morning standby helps you start your day full and satisfied, especially when sprinkled with a dusting of brown sugar. But the miracle of oatmeal stems from much more than its stick-to-your-ribs quality: it's all in the fibre. Oatmeal is a rich source of soluble fibre, which has been shown to bind with cholesterol and remove the fatty, artery-clogging plaque from your blood. Besides keeping your arteries clear, researchers believe the fibre in oatmeal helps steady blood-sugar levels steady, keeps you full longer and prevent insulin fluctuations, which can lead to weight gain.


Cereal bars


The grade: Granola bars -- and now bars touted as "cereal" or "breakfast" bars -- have crept onto the market over the past few years. These so-called health foods are often nothing more than calorie dense foods that have as much sugar as a few cookies. Nutri-Grain cherry pomegranate bars contain 13 grams of sugar, two grams of fibre and two grams of protein. This doesn't seem so bad. But consider its high fast-acting sugar content and its low protein and fibre content. Studies show that kids who eat breakfasts that lack fat, protein and a slow-acting carbs tend to get hungry faster.

A+ alternative: Of course, your kids are better off with a veggie omelette and whole-grain toast. But if you must feed your kids a cereal bar instead, look for one that's higher in fibre and protein and lower in sugar. (One that fits the bill is South Beach Meal Bars. Each contains approximately eight grams of sugar, nine grams fibre and 12 grams of protein.


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2012 D1

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