Fresh data shows benefits of all cereal breakfasts

21 June 2016

A first-ever scientific analysis of different types of breakfast cereals and their impact on the health of Australians has found positive benefits for body weight and nutrition, regardless of the type of cereal and its sugar content.

The new analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from the Australian Health Survey (AHS) found that when compared to people who eat other breakfasts, people who eat breakfast cereals have:

  • the same daily energy intake (kilojoules) but significantly higher intakes of iron, calcium, fibre, folate and magnesium
  • lower intakes of sodium
  • were more likely to meet nutrient needs.

The research was undertaken by Nutrition Research Australia, and Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) for the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum.

It also found that adults who eat breakfast cereals have slimmer waists and are more likely to be a healthy weight than people who eat other breakfasts.

The Director of Nutrition Research Australia, Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore, says the results will challenge perceptions about breakfast cereals.

“This is the first time we have Australian data on the health impacts of different types of breakfast cereals.

“It shows consistent positive benefits regardless of whether Australians ate ready-to-eat cereals, muesli or oats and whether the cereals were minimally pre-sweetened (less than 15g sugar/100g) or pre-sweetened breakfast cereal (15g sugar/100g or more).

“It’s a result that even surprised us.”

According to the ABS data, total sugars in breakfast cereals account for less than 2 per cent of total energy (kilojoules) in the diets of Australians who consume it.

“Our analysis of Australian data adds to the large body of evidence that breakfast cereals make an important contribution to nutrient intakes, particularly for dietary fibre, calcium, and iron- nutrients of which Australians are not getting enough,” Dr Fayet-Moore says.

“While more than 80 per cent of breakfast cereal consumers had milk at breakfast, adding significantly to the nutritional quality of the meal, one of the most interesting findings in these data is the amount of nutrients that come from the breakfast cereal itself. For instance, breakfast cereals were a large contributor of cereal fibre in the diet, which is particularly essential for gut health and preventing chronic diseases.”

According to a study in 2014 by the GLNC, there has been a significant drop in consumption of core grain foods among Australians,largely driven by weight loss fads.

“Australians need to be cautious of misinformation to ensure they make smart choices for good health,” says Dr Fayet-Moore.

“It is important they choose nutrient-dense breakfast cereals and take advantage of one of the most significant sources of cereal fibre in our diet.”

The GLNC also has produced new data on the nutritional quality of breakfast cereals in Australia following a recent audit of the category.

GLNC’s Nutrition Programme Manager, Chris Cashman, says the nutrition credentials of the Australian breakfast cereal category are impressive.

“There are more than 420 breakfast cereals for Australians to choose from. More than half carry the Health Star Rating and the majority (82 per cent) are rated 4-5 stars.

 “The data also confirms the important role of the breakfast cereal category as a leading source of whole grains and dietary fibre in the Australian diet – with 60 per cent of breakfast cereals classified as high in whole grains and 45 per cent high in fibre.”

The GLNC audit revealed that 95 per cent of the category meets the Australian government’s benchmark for sodium set at 400mg per 100g or less and the majority of breakfast cereals in Australia (63 per cent) have less than two teaspoons of total sugars in a 40g serve.

“While we do need to be mindful of overall sugars intake, Australians shouldn’t let an obsession with sugars turn them away from nutrient-rich core grain foods like breakfast cereals,” Mr Cashman says.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokesperson Lisa Renn says this is one of the most common concerns from clients she sees in her practice.

“People are confused; so often we see Australians limiting nutritious foods because they are concerned about single nutrients like sugar.

“It’s our role as health professionals to guide them through health information – and misinformation – to reassure them that nutrient dense foods such as breakfast cereals are good choices for them and their families.

A summary report, entitled ‘Bowled Over at Breakfast: New Australian data on breakfast cereal types and their impact on nutrient intake and body weight’, can be read on the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum website here.