Why Wheaties Isn't Healthy, and What You Can Do About It

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Until my senior year of college, I started every day with a big bowl of cereal and 2% milk.

And I didn’t just use any old cereal.

I went for the stuff that turned my leftover milk into a sweet and gooey ambrosia of sugary soup. Peanut Butter Captain Crunch was the usual choice, and Cocoa Pebbles were not far behind. Apple Jacks was another favorite, and sometimes I used apple juice concentrate instead of milk for my Apple Jacks, just to amplify the sweet apple taste just a little bit more.

By the time I finished a breakfast like this, I was ready to conquer the world!

For about 30 minutes…

…after which, I crashed – usually during a class or a meeting.

But even if you consider yourself a healthy progressive who is way beyond the realm of eating cereal from boxes with cartoon characters on the front, you need to be aware of serious issues with what many perceive to be “healthy” cereal.

In other words, you may need to face up to the fact that Wheaties is not the best “Breakfast of Champions”.

Especially the “wheat” part of Wheaties. Allow me to explain.

Most wheat that we eat today is just a product of genetic research.

Not only is this modern wheat far genetically far removed from what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago, and thus far more capable of causing inflammation in our gut, but certain components of wheat cause it to raise blood sugar higher than nearly any other carbohydrate you can eat.

But the issue with grains in breakfast cereal goes beyond wheat’s capability to cause digestive inflammation or to massively spike your blood sugar levels. Even if you don’t have something like Celiac disease or gluten intolerance, the gluten in wheat-based cereals may not be the hottest food ingredient for you to be starting your day with.

Undiagnosed gluten sensitivity runs rampant, and 99% of people who are gluten insensitive don’t even know it (even though it is easily tested with a GI Panel http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#gipanel)

A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten, including osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and nearly every autoimmune disease.

Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological issues, such as migraines, epilepsy, nerve damage, autism, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

So why not just go gluten-free?

At the risk of turning this into a complete breakfast cereal bashing post, I want to also make sure you’re aware that just because a cereal is gluten-free and wheat-free does not necessarily healthy.

In Podcast #157 (http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/08/episode-157-the-death-of-gat…), I talk about the issue with gluten-free cereals, and basically what I mentioned was that popular gluten-free cereals.

Not only are gluten-free foods primarily made with corn starch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch, which are the only foods capable of spiking your blood sugar levels even higher than wheat, but they typically have added sugars as well.

Here are the ingredients of some popular gluten-free “healthy” cereals:

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies gluten free cereal is brown rice and sugar. That’s it. No protein, no fat, just pure sugar.

Chex Gluten-Free Rice Chex is also just rice and sugar, but they’ve also added molasses.

Nature’s Path Organic (insert sounds of angelic choir here) is Organic Brown Rice, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice and Organic Molasses.

And “granola” as a cereal alternative is not much better.

Basically, granola is also primarily sugar, but with added vegetable oils and nuts, typically roasted and very high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.

For example, Kirkland’s Organic Ancient Grains Granola is “made with love” and comprised of oats, cane sugar, spelt, soy oil, wheat, almonds, insulin, quinoa, amaranth, rice starch, sea salt, molasses and cinnamon.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to roll out of bed in the morning, stumble to the fridge, and eat a lonely, boiled egg (with a pinch of salt if you’re feeling adventurous).

As a matter of fact, breakfast is actually my favorite food of the day, and the meal I enjoy the most. Later in this post, I’ll tell you exactly what I eat for breakfast every morning – but first, allow me to share with you three simple criteria for creating a healthy breakfast that will make Wheaties taste like an old shoelace.

Healthy Breakfast Criteria #1: Choose a carbohydrate that is unrefined and unprocessed. If you’re trying to control your blood sugar levels, lose weight, or avoid gluten (read the last post to learn why this may be a good idea for you), then choose a carbohydrate that is not wheat-based.

Options for breakfast carbs include:

  • Fruit
  • Yogurt (plain yogurt still contains milk sugars, you can add fresh fruit to it, which is better than choosing the overly sweetened flavored yogurt)
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Raw Oats
  • Waffle or Pancake Mix (we use this gluten-free version)
  • Sweet Potatoes or Yams
  • Gluten-free cereal (I’ll give some options later in this post)

I’m a big fan of including carbohydrates with breakfast because your metabolism is typically higher in the morning (due to cortisol release from sunlight) and your liver’s storage carbohydrate stores are empty, allowing you to refill your storage carbohydrate without having carbs converted into fat. Many people also exercise in the morning, which means that your body will be less likely to have fluctuating blood sugar and insulin levels from a post-workout, carbohydrate rich breakfast.

However, there are times you would want to leave carbohydrates out of breakfast, including A) you are on a low carb diet (see my book about low carb diets here (http://www.lowcarbtriathlete.com/); B) you ate too much the night before; and C) you plan on eating a high carb meal later in the day.

Healthy Breakfast Criteria #2: Add protein to increase blood levels of amino acids. A constant stream of amino acids surging through your body in the morning will leave you in a better mood, and if you’re an active individual, an increased ability to repair any muscle fibers that are beat up from your training.

In the The 4 Hour Body Book (http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/01/the-4-hour-body-book-review-…), Tim Ferriss recommends high amounts of protein (somewhere around 30 grams) in the morning for fat loss. While this certainly has no research behind it, there is evidence to suggest in this protein dosing study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21795443) that when it comes to lean muscle adding or maintenance, it is better to have lots of protein all at once than to split it into smaller portions.

Here are some breakfast protein options:

  • Eggs (we pick ours up from a local farm – look for a “CSA” http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ in your area as it will get you the highest quality eggs at best prices)
  • Ground turkey or beef patties or sausages
  • Whey protein (I use organic, cold-pressed Mt. Capra Double Bonded Whey http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#doublebonded)
  • Rice/pea protein mix (I use LivingProtein http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#livingprotein)
  • Yogurt (yes, you can kill two birds with one stone on this one, satisfying carb and protein needs)
  • Mix of a nut and a grain (i.e. quinoa with almond butter)
  • Amino acid capsules (useful if you’re in a rush and only have time to grab a piece of fruit for breakfast)

Healthy Breakfast Criteria #3: Include healthy fats. These will satiate your appetites, and give your body what it needs for cell membranes, hormones, and normal metabolic activity. Steer clear of hydrogenated and processed peanut butters, cream cheeses, or margarines, and instead choose fats like:

  • Coconut milk
  • Avocado
  • Eggs (yes, eat the yolk – you could fill an entire book with the health properties of egg yolk)
  • Nut butter, seeds and nuts
  • Butter or ghee
  • Yogurt (make that three birds you can take out with this, especially if you choose a yummy version like whole fat Greek Yogurt)
  • Oils (accomplished by adding Udo’s Oil http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/01/episode-127-why-saturated-fa… , extra virgin olive oil, etc.)

So how could you incorporate these three criteria – healthy carb + protein + fat – together into a healthy breakfast?

Here are five breakfast options that will leave you full of energy, and satiated until lunch. Incidentally, the first breakfast is typically what I eat each morning. Because this is such a complete meal, I have breakfast between 8 and 9am, and then usually do not eat again until lunch at 1:30 or 2pm.

Healthy Breakfast Option #1: Hot Cereal – 1⁄2-1 cup cooked quinoa or oatmeal with 2-3 heaping scoops protein powder (recommend Mt. Capra Double Bonded Whey or LivingProtein), 2-3 tablespoons coconut milk or whole yogurt, 1-2 tablespoon almond butter, 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1 sliced banana or handful or raisins or berries.

Optional: substitute Cocochia snack mix http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#cocochia for the fruit. If you’re trying to lose fat, leave out the fruit, and if you’re going gluten-free, make sure you choose gluten-free oats. Finally, if you’re trying to lose fat, try to do your workouts on an empty stomach before breakfast.

Healthy Breakfast Option #2: Cold Cereal: Yes, I know I villified cold cereal in my last post, but there are brands out there that are decent. I recently discovered“Choo-It” http://choo-it.ca/ on a trip to Canada. They ship anywhere for a decent price and have a really impressive and nutrition packed gluten-free cold cereal that goes way beyond “rice and sugar”.

You can easily make your own cold cereal. Get some quinoa, easily soak it and sprout it http://www.quinoatips.com/how-to-sprout-quinoa-new-method/, then serve it with chopped walnuts, a drizzle of honey, cinnamon and coconut milk.

Healthy Breakfast Option #3: Yogurt Parfait – mix 1-1.5 cups whole Greek yogurt with 1-2 handfuls Brazil nuts, 1-2 heaping scoops protein powder, 1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 sliced banana or handful or raisins or berries.

Optional: substitute Cocochia snack mix http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#cocochia for the fruit. If you find that your stomach is dairy sensitive, try using taking 2 digestive enzymes directly before you eat, which can often completely eliminate dairy issues (link to Caprazymes http://www.pacificfit.net/supplements.php#caprazymes).

Healthy Breakfast Option #4: Eggs – Fry or scramble 3-4 free range, omega-3 enriched eggs in coconut oil and add tomato slices, spinach, 1⁄2-1 avocado, and handful feta cheese. Serve in sprouted whole grain wrap, with sprouted whole grain toast, or with a baked, boiled or fried sweet potato or yam.

Healthy Breakfast Option #5: Green Smoothie – In this Green Smoothie video, http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2010/08/how-to-make-a-green-smoothie… hosted by my wife, you’ll learn how to easily make a green smoothie with a blender and fresh ingredients.

If you found this healthy breakfast article helpful, you may also want to check out this article about the 3 Steps To Making A Healthy Lunch http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/09/3-simple-steps-to-creating-a…, in which I teach you how to design the perfect lunch, and also give you five healthy lunch ideas.

Ben Greenfield is recognized as one of the top fitness, triathlon, nutrition and metabolism experts in the nation. In 2008, he was voted as the Personal Trainer of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), an internationally recognized and respected certifying agency for fitness professionals. Ben hosts the highly popular fitness, nutrition and wellness website at http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com, which features a free blog, wellness podcast, and fitness product reviews from Ben. Pacific Elite Fitness (http://www.pacificfit.net) is an online portal where Ben coaches a wide range of triathletes and assists people from all over the world with personal training for nutrition, fat loss, muscle toning, and general fitness. Ben also oversees the physiology and biomechanics laboratory at Champions Sports Medicine (http://www.champsportsmed.com) which offers metabolic-based weight loss, bicycle fitting, running gait analysis, swim stroke analysis, VO2 max testing, blood lactate testing, resting metabolic rate analysis, and other cutting-edge procedures for weight loss and human performance. Ben holds bacheler's and master's degrees in exercise physiology and biomechanics, and is a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning coach, sports nutritionist, and bike fitter.

Website: http://www.pacificfit.net

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