Many, many athletes begin their day with a bowl of cereal. This can be a good thing, a nutritionally neutral thing, or a downright bad thing. Sure, a picky consumer can find a cereal that actually provides health, wellness, and energy benefits. But by default, most cereals leave much to be desired, and some are no better than a candy bar for breakfast. Here’s my non-cereal cereal option, my reasons for a non-cereal recipe, and comparison challenge for a few cereals on the shelves.
Recipe of the Week: Kelli’s Hemp Chia Berry Non-Cereal
- 1 tsp organic coconut oil
- 3/4 cup berries or other fruit, frozen or fresh
- 3 Tbsp Hemp Hearts (hulled hemp seeds)
- 2 Tbsp chia seeds
- dash of ground cinnamon, optional
Melt the coconut oil, and, if needed thaw the berries quickly in the microwave or stovetop. Frozen berries work well because they will provide some juice to keep the hemp/chia seeds from getting too dry.
Sprinkle in hemp, chia, and cinnamon.
If using fresh fruit, and seems to dry, decrease hemp to 2 Tbsp and all in 1/4 cup (dollop) Greek yogurt, non-dairy yogurt, or any type milk.
By definition, a cereal contains grains. My non-cereal does not, as it’s a mix of seeds and fruit. The reason? It’s not that I think all grains are horrible for you (although you may have noticed that I often replace grains with nuts, vegetables, etc.). In fact, some completely intact grains, like whole oats and rice, can certainly have nutrition benefits and make up part of a very, very healthy diet.
However, grains that are broken down simply can’t compete with many other whole foods nutritionally. They can be inflammatory in the body for those that don’t digest them well (gluten intolerance, for example). And, they certainly add carbohydrates to the diet which often causes a need for too much insulin, promotion of extra fat storage and sometimes insulin resistance. But the real reason I reduce them in diets, is simply there’s not enough room for them. When compared to seeds, nuts, vegetables like squash or yams, broken down grains (yes, even broken down whole grains) simply don’t measure up.
For example, hemp seeds contain 10 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, and several grams of plant based omega-3s per 3 Tablespoons. Chia seeds, depending on the variety, contain 6-8 grams protein, 10-12 grams fiber, and 5 grams plant-based omega-3s per 2 Tablespoons. I don’t know of a grain that can compete.
Of course, with these serving amounts, you also get a lot more calories than you would with the same serving of grains, but calorie for calorie, hemp and chia are examples of foods simply superior nutritionally. And, if you add more calories of grains for comparison, you’d end up with an out-of-balance too-high amount of carbohydrates. Generally, I am much more interested in getting the protein, healthy fats, and fiber needed, while moderating carbohydrates than I am in restricting calories.
This approach of moderating useless carbs generally promotes fat loss, reduced inflammation, hormone balance, reduced muscle loss, and steady energy compared to the all-you-can-eat carb approach. So, where do you think your cereal stacks up? Here’s 4 cereals plus my Hemp Chia non-cereal, from worst to best (yes, I’m biased), and my comments on each:
Fruit Loops and the like:
Nutrition (per serving): 110 calories, 26 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 1 grams protein
Nutrition (per 330-380 calories for comparison): 330 calories, 78 gm total fat, 3 grams fiber, 3 grams protein
Ingredients: Sugar, corn flour blend (whole grain yellow corn flour, degerminated yellow corn flour), wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat fiber, soluble corn fiber, contains 2% or less of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut, soybean and/or cottonseed), salt, red 40, natural flavor, blue 2, turmeric color, yellow 6, annatto color, blue 1, BHT for freshness. Vitamins and Minerals: Vitamin C (sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid), niacinamide, reduced iron, zinc oxide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin
Overall Comments: I’m a bit speechless when I think that this may be the majority of someone’s entire breakfast. There’s no way to get around it, most “sugar cereals” are simply sugar, refined grains (which act like sugar in our bodies), and chemical colorings/flavors.
Pros: Having a hard time coming up with any.
Cons: High sugar, low fiber, low protein, chemical colorings and additives
Raisin Bran and the Like:
Nutrition (per serving):190 calories, 46 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams fiber, 5 grams protein
Nutrition (per 330-380 calories for comparison): 380 calories, 92 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams fiber, 10 grams protein
Ingredients: Whole grain wheat, raisins, wheat bran, sugar, brown sugar syrup, contains 2% or less of salt, malt flavor. Vitamins and Minerals: Potassium chloride, niacinamide, reduced iron, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), zinc oxide, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12.
Overall Comments: Overall, this cereal’s a bit better as it’s higher in fiber and protein than most “sugar cereals.” However, since there are still grams of carbs in just one serving, it can make for a breakfast too high in carbs.
Pros: Overall, minimal ingredients, high fiber, moderate protein.
Cons: Too high in carbohydrates and sugar, with 3 high-sugar sources (2 refined sugars) first ingredients: raisins are a high sugar fruit, sugar, and brown sugar syrup.
Kashi GoLean Crunch and the like:
Nutrition (per serving): 200, 35, 8 ,9 (if 1.5 = 350, 53, 12, 13), 260 omega 3s (390 omega-3s) 200 calories, 35 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 9 grams protein, 260 mg omega-3s (plant-based)
Nutrition (per 330-380 calories for comparison): 350 calories, 53 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fiber, 13 grams protein, 390 mg omega-3s (plant-based)
Ingredients: Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Blend (Whole: Hard Red Wheat, Brown Rice, Barley, Triticale, Oats, Rye, Buckwheat, Sesame Seeds), Soy Flakes, Brown Rice Syrup, Dried Cane Syrup, Chicory Root Fiber, Almonds, Whole Flax Seed, Whole Oats, Expeller Pressed Canola Oil, Honey, Salt, Natural Flavor, Mixed Tocopherols For Freshness
Overall Comments: Really, I think this is a good cereal choice overall. It does have a good amount of fiber, protein, and relatively moderate carbs - good balance. Unfortunately, it also has 2 sources of refined sugar in the first 5 ingredients.
Pros: Good fiber, protein, and omega-3s.
Cons: 2 sources of refined sugars in first 5 ingredients.
Nature’s Path Hemp Granola and the like:
Nutrition (per serving): 260 calories, 36 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 6 grams protein, 600 mg omega-3s (plant-based)
Nutrition (per 330-390 calories for comparison): 390 calories, 54 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 9 grams protein, 900 mg omega-3s (plant-based)
Rolled oats*, evaporated cane juice*, soy oil*, brown rice flour*, flax seeds*, hemp seeds*, oat syrup solids* (oat syrup solids*, tocopherols), sea salt, molasses*. *Organic. Contains soy. Produced in a facility that uses wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Overall Comments: I give this one a tie with the Kashi GoLean Crunch. Overall, good cereal choice, although with a little less oats and little more flaxseeds and hemp seeds, they would have ended up with more protein, more fiber, and more healthy fats. The ingredients are high quality, but like most granolas, sugar is in the first 3 ingredients, before flax and hemp.
Pros: Use of flaxseeds and hemp seeds. Relatively moderate carbs.
Cons: Soy oil is a poor choice (concentrated source of omega-6s), and more sugar (cane juice) by weight than flax or hemp.
Kelli’s Hemp Chia Berry Non-Cereal:
Nutrition (per serving): ~370 calories, 26 grams carbs, 19 grams fiber, and 16 grams protein, 7600 mg omega-3s (plant-based)
Ingredients: Mixed berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, organic coconut oil, cinnamon
Overall Comments: Same as above. I simply don’t think sugars (even organic brown rice syrup!), grains, and high omega-6 oils can compete with the benefits of whole berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and coconut oil (high medium chain triglycerides).
Pros: Very high in plant based omega-3s, fiber, and protein with only moderate levels of carbohydrates. No refined sugars or grains.
Cons: Price and availability in some places. Although a bag/bottle of each ingredient will last a long time (one bag of hemp seeds generally has 26 servings at 3 Tbsp each compared to 8 servings in many boxes of cereal), there is a significant initial sticker shock when buying the 4 main ingredients. And, unless you live in a metro area, you may have to buy these ingredients online.
Would you like to compare another cereal or recipe? Send it to me and I’ll be happy to take a look before the next round of cereal challenges.
Looking to start your day right? If you choose cereal (or non-cereal cereal) choose wisely. Some are nothing more than an energy, hormone, and health drag. You can do better. You can start with a bowl full of healthy fats, fiber, antioxidants, proteins, and adequate carbs for steady energy and a lean, strong body. It’s not all about what you eat when training and racing that makes you a better athlete; daily nutrition provides ample opportunity to build a body ready for any challenge, and ongoing recovery afterwards.
Give your body what it needs everyday with the right Foods and Supplements. If you would like my help with it, I offer comprehensive plans as Instant Downloads and as Custom Clients starting at just $20. And, as a FuelRightBlog reader, get a further discount with coupon code: password-frblog username-reader. I’d love to work with you!
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