Best breakfast for Health - The Latest Evidence

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By Leigh Reeve AdvAPD - Director, Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum

Australians are getting confusing messages about what makes a healthy breakfast. The media, fads and trends are all telling Australians to avoid grain foods and carbohydrates, including core foods like breakfast cereals. There’s also been plenty of misinformation linking breakfast cereals with overweight and high intakes of salt and sugar.

But the current evidence tells a different story.

A recent secondary analysis of data from the ABS 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey1 showed that breakfast cereal eaters were slimmer and had better diets. The results were the same regardless of whether Australians ate ready-to-eat cereals, muesli or oats and whether the cereals were minimally pre-sweetened (less than 15g total sugars/100g) or pre-sweetened (15g total sugars/100g or more). 

The study showed that:

  • Adults who ate cereal for breakfast were more likely to be a healthy weight and had lower waist circumferences than people who ate other breakfasts.
  • Breakfast cereals made significant contributions to nutrient intakes for children and adults, providing protein (8% of intakes), fibre (18%/22% of intakes respectively), iron (33%/36%), folate (26/25%) and calcium 10%. 
  • Children and adults who ate breakfast cereals for breakfast, had higher daily nutrient intakes including higher calcium, iron, fibre, folate and magnesium; they were more likely to meet their nutrient requirements than those who ate other breakfasts.
  • People who ate breakfast cereal had lower sodium intakes over the day; their daily intake of total sugars was 10% higher, but this could easily have come from the naturally occurring sugars in the extra milk and the fruit added to the breakfast meal. 

There’s strong evidence that breakfast cereal is a healthy breakfast choice, but there’s also good evidence that it helps prevent chronic disease.

Spanning more than 230 papers over 30 years, The Benefits of Breakfast Cereal Consumption: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base2 is the most thorough summary of the substantial evidence base for the health impacts of breakfast cereals. 

The research shows that:
  • Body Weight: Regularly eating breakfast cereal is associated with a 12 per cent lower risk of becoming overweight or obese and a lower BMI – compared to breakfast skippers and other breakfast eaters. 
  • Diabetes: Eating wholegrain and high-fibre bran-based breakfast cereal every day is associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of developing type II diabetes. 
  • Cardiovascular disease: Regularly eating wholegrain and high-fibre bran-based breakfast cereal is associated with a 20 to 28 per cent reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease. 
  • Bowel health: Eating high-fibre, wheat-based breakfast cereals helps to prevent constipation and improves bowel function, increasing regularity by at least 25 per cent. 

We can be confident of the health benefits of eating breakfast cereal, so it’s a great concern that too many Australians are missing out.

In 2011-12, according to the 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey3 only 33% of men and 24% of women met the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines4 recommended number of serves of grain foods for their age.

  

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council

Amongst women 19-50 years only 8.5% ate the recommended serves of grain food a day.

More recently, the 2014 GLNC Consumption and Attitudinal Study5 found that core grain food intakes had dropped by almost one third (29%) since 2011. 

It’s not good news but we know what to do.

In a nutshell, the current evidence supports the regular consumption of breakfast cereals. It can help ensure an adequate nutrient intake and may reduce the risks of being overweight, or developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes. 

Since breakfast cereals are relatively inexpensive, nutrient-dense and convenient foods, they can be confidently recommended as part of a healthy balanced diet to all Australians.

References

1. Nutrition Research Australia, Breakfast and Breakfast Cereal Consumption Among Australians – A secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, Sydney, February 2016 and Physical Activity Survey, Sydney, February 2016
2. Williams PG. The Benefits of Breakfast Cereal Consumption: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal. 2014;5(5):636S-73S
3. Australian Bureau Of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Consumption of Food Groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011-12. ABS Cat No.4364.0.55.012. Canberra: Australian Bureau Of Statistics; 2016.
4. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines 2013. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council. 2013.
5. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC). 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished. 2014.