The lady in the supermarket handed me a sample of a chocolate-flavored cereal and as I walked along munching it, I thought, “This is really good. I could eat this right out of the box as is!”
Dry cereals really haven’t been around very long. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg ( yes, he of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Raisin Bran, etc.) made the first ready-to-eat flaked cereal in 1894.
It all started when Kellogg prescribed Zwieback(super-hard) toast for an elderly lady, who sequentially broke her false teeth from attempting to eat it. She then demanded $10 in damages.
Acting upon an idea that came to him in a dream, (The doctor fell asleep thinking about how to introduce more of his cereals to his patients without any further tooth damage.) Dr. Kellogg boiled some wheat until it was soft, then used a doughnut-rolling machine, rolling the wheat mixture into a thin film, scraped the flakes off with a knife, and then baked them in the oven. That was the first of the modern-day breakfast cereal; Dr. Kellogg later went on to invent 60 more.
Since then, there have been countless refinements of this method used. Cereal has been shredded, shot from guns, toasted, puffed, dressed up with fruit, nuts, and/or marshmallows, and sweetened (And it’s much more expensive, of course.)
Cereal is the favorite breakfast (This word actually means to “break the fast”, referring to the late evening to very early morning hours, when one normally wouldn’t be eating. But times have changed; often, “having breakfast”is at the whim of your schedule!) of many Americans and is often eaten for dinner or as a snack. Many a childhood memory has involved cereal eating. You often gulped down some cereal (usually with orange juice) before walking to school or taking the school bus.
During weekends, holidays, and summers, one could leisurely sit and relax, bowl in hand, and enjoy the Saturday cartoons, holiday specials, or summer shows while chomping away to your heart’s content. Cereal never filled you up (by noon you were ravenous with hunger!), but it was always fun to contemplate the unique shapes, textures, colors, tastes, and sometimes, sounds (You can actually hear Rice Krispies “snap, crackle, and pop”) of whatever brand you were eating.
As you get older, your concerns run more to “how much fiber is in this?” Cereal does contain some fiber and is enriched with vitamins and minerals. And it has hardly any fat, except for granola. But many cereals are a poor value for the money. (When you were a kid, it didn’t matter, did it?) Several of its ingredients, such as sugar, salt, grains, and vitamins are fairly cheap in themselves; consumers are paying for gimmicks and advertising. And some cereals have given children a sugar dependency (which can lead to obesity and other health issues).
For those who need or wish to limit their sugar or sodium intake, two classic cereals contain neither-Nabisco Shredded Wheat and Quaker Puffed Wheat. Another cereal, Cherrios, is light on sugar content, but has a high sodium level (nearly 300 mg per serving).
Cereals made from whole grains will contain trace minerals that are not added when they are fortified. Look for the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” (they will have more fiber). Wheat flour isn’t the same as the former two nutritionally; some of the fiber and nutrients have been refined out. Overall, fiber is an important part of the diet at any age.
Read the side of the box carefully when selecting cereals. For example, the phrase “all natural” has no nutritional meaning. “No cholesterol” is often advertising for products that are already cholesterol-free by their nature.
By law, ingredients must be listed in the order of their quantity in the product. A grain is usually listed first, but sugar is nearly always second and may also be present in other forms, such as honey, corn syrups, or anything ending in “ose.”
Don’t choose a cereal just because it contains all of the recommended daily servings of minerals and vitamins.
You don’t need to consume your daily serving allowance at one sitting; strive for eating a well-balanced diet throughout the day. (And take multi-vitamins.)