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22 March 2011

Start your kid's day right

There are lots of breakfast cereals available on the supermarket shelves. But which is best for your child? And how nutritious are the options?

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There are lots of breakfast cereals available on the supermarket shelves. But which is best for your child? And how nutritious are the options? Stephanie Niewoudt of YOU Pulse investigates.

It's a chaotic weekday morning in the Pienaar home. School starts in 45 minutes and the children still have to have breakfast. Luckily there are several instant cereal options to choose from.

Deidré (16) storms in, brush in hand, and asks for All-Bran Flakes. Janine (12) is searching through the cupboard for Jungle Energy Crunch. Jacques (9) can’t decide if he wants Coco Pops, Rice Krispies or Frosties this morning. Or maybe he wants a mixture of all three? Breakfast is a real headache for Michelle, mother of this brood. She sometimes wonders about the nutritional value of cereals. Do they contain too much sugar?

But everytime she makes something like good old-fashioned mieliepap they pull up their noses at the food. And anyway, who has the time to cook porridge in the morning before work?

Dianne Ivison, a registered dietician, believes in one simple rule: children must enjoy what they eat or it will land in the dustbin.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she says. “With this meal you break the long fast of the night. It helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels and keeps your energy level high, as well as kickstarting your metabolism.”

She says most breakfast cereals are very nutritious but urges parents to keep a variety so that children can choose and in so doing eat a more balanced breakfast. “Some breakfast cereals for example contain more of certain food substances than others. If children have less of some nutrients on one day they can make it up the next day by eating a different cereal.”

YOU Pulse went shopping and placed 10 well-known breakfast cereals under the microscope. Dr Whadi-ah Parker, a nutrition expert and until recently a researcher with the chronic lifestyle diseases unit of the Medical Research Council, did the analysis for us.

We chose the old favourites: Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, All-Bran Flakes and Frosties; Bokomo’s ProNutro, Weet-Bix and Instant Oats and Tiger Brands’ Energy Crunch Muesli and Jungle Oats.

Though Jungle Oats has to be cooked first we included it with the instant cereals because it is ready within three minutes.

Dr Parker measured the nutritional values of a half-filled bowl of cereal – which amounted to 125 ml – and added full-cream milk. The amount of milk was 62,5 ml for the dry cereals, 30 ml for Jungle Oats and Instant Oats and 90 ml for ProNutro.

As the weights differ from one cereal to the next, in some cases a half bowl was enough for a serving but in other cases not. A half bowl of Corn Flakes weighed 20 g, All-Bran Flakes 25 g, Rice Krispies 20 g, Coco Pops 15 g, Frosties 20 g, one bar of Weet-Bix 25 g, Jungle Oats 125 g, ProNutro 45 g, Jungle Energy Crunch 65 g and Bokomo Instant Oats 125 g.

The minimum requirement of the nutrients that your child should get for breakfast is based on an internationally recognised nutrition standard, the Dietary Reference Index. Your children will also need more of certain food types as they grow older.

“Parents can give older children a bigger portion of breakfast cereal to ensure their dietary requirements are met,” Dr Parker says.

We analyse the nutritional value of various cereals.

KILOJOULES

Why is this important? Energy is measured in kilojoules (kJ). Growing children need a lot of energy as they are very active and take part in sport.

 How much does your child nee d for breakfast?

  • Boys 4-8 years: 2 194,8 kJ, Girls 4-8 years: 2 068,8 kJ
  • Boys 9-13 years: 2 871,6 kJ, Girls 9-13 years: 2 609,4 kJ
  • Boys 14-18 years: 3 971,4 kJ, Girls 14-18 years: 2 983,8 kJ

Winner: Instant Oats with 2 036,5 kJ

The Rest

  • Jungle Oats 1 879 kJ
  • Jungle Energy Crunch 1 126,3 kJ
  • ProNutro 924,1 kJ
  • Weet-Bix 511,8 kJ
  • Frosties 476 kJ
  • Rice Krispies 468 kJ
  • Corn Flakes: 459 kJ
  • All-Bran Flakes 443,3 kJ
  • Coco Pops 385,5 kJ

PROTEIN

Why is this important? Protein is needed to maintainmuscle mass by keeping yourbody’s cells in good health.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys and girls 4-8 years: 5,7 g
  • Boys and girls 9-13 years: 10,2 g
  • Boys 14-18 years: 15,6 g, Girls 14-18 years: 13,8 g

Winner: Jungle Oats with 16,3 g

The Rest*

  • Instant Oats 12,6 g
  • ProNutro 9,9 g
  • Jungle Energy Crunch 6,4 g
  • Weet-Bix 5 g
  • All-Bran Flakes 4,8 g
  • Corn Flakes 3,5 g
  • Rice Krispies 3,4 g
  • Coco Pops 2,8 g

SALT

Why is this important? Salt is vital for the functioning of the organs, the regulation of blood pressure levels and the maintenance of moisture levels in the body. But a too high concentration of salt can lead to problems such as high blood pressure and in extreme cases organ failure. A normal adult needs only about a quarter teaspoon of salt (500 mg) a day.

There are no clear guidelines for children but experts agree that you should add as little salt as possible as it’s present in almost all foods. Extra salt is also added to manufactured foods.

How much does your child need for breakfast? As little as possible

Winner : Jungle Oats with the least amount of salt: 12 mg

The Rest *

  • Jungle Energy Crunch38 mg
  • Weet-Bix 113,8 mg
  • Coco Pops 129,9 mg
  • Frosties 154,4 mg
  • ProNutro 173,7 mg
  • All-Bran Flakes 201,3 mg
  • Corn Flakes 204,6 mg
  • Rice Krispies 221,2 mg
  • Instant Oats 740,8 mg

SUGAR

Why is this important? Sugar is a carbohydrate and provides energy. But there is controversy about adding sugar to that which already comes in food. Some experts think the overuse of sugar causes overweight and hyperactivity in children. Sugar can also cause headaches and make children susceptible to allergies.

It’s naturally present in almost all food and you don’t need to add sugar to food. It’s accepted that adults don’t need more than five teaspoons of sugar added to their natural daily intake. Children don’t need any additional sugar. Frosties, Coco Pops and ProNutro have the highest sugar levels.

“ProNutro’s sugar is counter-balanced by a high fibre content,” Dr Parker says.

How much does your child need for breakfast? It’s better not to add sugarto food.

Winner:  Weet-Bix with the least amount of sugar: 0,8 g

The Rest*

  • Corn Flakes 1 g
  • Rice Krispies 1,5 g
  • All-Bran Flakes 2,8 g
  • Frosties 4,4 g
  • Coco Pops 5,4 g
  • ProNutro 6,5 g

FIBRE

Why is this important? Fibre helps digestion and sees to it that impurities are removed from the body. A good breakfast helps kickstart the digestive system. “We are seeing more children suffering from constipation as they are not eating enough fibre,” Ivison says.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys and girls 4-8 years: 7,5 g
  • Boys 9-13 years: 9,3 g, Girls 9-13 years: 7,8 g
  • Boys 14-18 years: 11,4 g, Girls 14-18 years: 7,8 g

Winner: Jungle Oats with 13,5 g

The Rest

  • Instant Oats 9,6 g
  • ProNutro 8,4 g
  • Jungle Energy Crunch 4,9 g
  • All-Bran Flakes 4,5 g
  • Weet-Bix 2,8 g
  • Corn Flakes 0,6 g
  • Frosties 0,4 g
  • Coco Pops 0,3 g
  • Rice Krispies 0,2 g

Carbohydrates

Why is this important? Carbohydrates include fats and starch and help keep blood sugar levels constant. “If a child’s blood sugar levels are low they will battle to concentrate,” Ivison says.

How much does your child need for breakfast? For all age groups and both sexes: 39 g.

Winner: Bokomo Instant Oats with 83,9 g

The Rest

  • Jungle Oats 71,6 g
  • Jungle Energy Crunch 45,2 g
  • Weet-Bix 19,6 g
  • ProNutro 32,5 g
  • Rice Krispies 19,5 g
  • Corn Flakes 19,0 g
  • Frosties 17,4 g
  • All-Bran Flakes 15,6 g
  • Coco Pops 15,3 g

IRON

Why is it important? Iron is vital in helping to move oxygen through the body. It’s also needed to keep cells healthy.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys 4-8 years: 3,2 mg, Girls 4-8 years: 3 mg
  • Boys 9-13 years: 4 mg, Girls 9-13 years: 2,4 mg
  • Boys 14-18 years: 3,3 mg, Girls 14-18 years: 4,5 mg

Winner: Instant Oats with 50 mg

The Rest *

  • Jungle Oats 5 mg
  • ProNutro 4,2 mg
  • All-Bran Flakes 1,8 mg
  • Corn Flakes, Frosties and Rice Krispies 1,4 mg
  • Coco Pops 1,1 mg
  • Weet-Bix 3,5 mg

Vitamin A (retinol)

Why is this important? Vitamin A helps to keep the eyes and immune system healthy.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys 4-8 years: 120 μg (microgram), Girls 4-8 years: 180 μg
  • Boys 9-13 years: 180 μg, Girls 9-13 years: 180 μg
  • Boys 14-18 years: 270 μg, Girls 14-18 years: 210 μg

 Winner: Instant Oats with 3 579,8 μg

The Rest*

  • ProNutro 322,2 μg
  • Corn Flakes 117,5 μg
  • All-Bran Flakes 142,5 μg
  • Rice Krispies and Frosties 117,5 μg
  • Coco Pops 92,5 μg
  • Weet-Bix 17,5 μg
  • Jungle Oats 8,4 μg

Vitamin C

Why is this important? Vitamin C helps fight against colds. It also keeps the skin and connective tissue healthy.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys and girls 4-8 years: 7,5 mg
  • Boys and girls 9-13 years: 13,5 g
  • Boys 14-18 years: 22,5 mg, Girls 14-18 years: 19,5 mg

Winner: ProNutro with 32,4 mg

The Rest *

  • All-Bran Flakes 7,5 mg
  • Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies and Frosties 6 mg
  • Coco Pops 4,5 mg

CALCIUM

Why is this important? The body needs calcium to build healthy bones and teeth.

How much does your child need for breakfast?

  • Boys and girls 4-8 years: 240 mg
  • Boys and girls 9-18 years: 390 mg

Winner: ProNutro with 339,9 mg

The Rest*

  • Jungle Oats 90,2 mg
  • Instant Oats 33,9 mg

* Some cereals excluded as the specific values are not indicated on the packaging.

What is best?

From a nutritionist’s perspective it is important that a breakfast cereal contains energy, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, carbohydrates, iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals.

According to the nutrition levels measured in our survey, Jungle Oats and Instant Oats were the most nutritious. Instant Oats had the highest carbohydrate, vitamin A and iron levels but also had the most salt.

Jungle Oats had the highest protein and fibre levels, the second highest calcium and carbohydrate levels and the lowest salt content. It had the lowest vitamin A level, though, and we did not calculate a vitamin C value as it was not noted on the packaging.

(By Stephanie Niewoudt  for YOU Pulse. This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS magazine, Spring 2009. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.)

Read more:

Kickstart your day with breakfast
12 interesting breakfast facts

 
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