Above: Summer oatmeal with walnuts and seasonal fruit – blueberries and peaches
I was a cereal lover.
I ate cereal for breakfast every morning because it was the fastest and “healthiest” food I thought I could eat.
When I was in college, I ate cereal for snacks instead of chips
because cereal has less fat and calories than chips.
At the same time, I couldn’t figure out why I could eat a whole box of cereal (if I let myself) and still be hungry. After all, an entire box of even the healthiest cereals can contain more than a day’s worth of calories for most people.
I felt I should’ve been more satisfied after eating all those calories. Fast forward to now and I can tell you that the number of calories you eat doesn’t directly relate to how full you’ll get, or how long you’ll be satisfied after eating them. In fact, there’s a much better way to get satisfaction from food – read on.
One morning before going to work I ran out of cereal.
Since there wasn’t anything else in the house to eat for breakfast, I resorted to oatmeal. I searched and found the old-fashioned box that I had tucked away in the back of my cupboard for emergencies. (It lasts forever, in case you didn’t notice).
I don’t have time to fiddle in the kitchen in the mornings.
To my pleasant surprise I found a microwave recipe on the back of the Quaker Oats container. I put the water and oats in a bowl and microwaved it for 1 minute and 30 seconds and voila – it was finished!
No cooking. No pots. No mess.
I put fruit and nuts on top for flavor, and added whatever milk I was drinking at the time.
Above: Winter oatmeal with walnuts, apples and cinnamon
It was a hail Mary of a breakfast. It was delicious, and it was miraculous.
I didn’t feel faint with hunger by noon, which was my daily norm. When I got home for lunch at 2 pm after leaving the house at 7:30 am, I even had the wherewithal to prepare a healthy lunch.
What’s the magic?
The magic, my friends, is in 1.) the fiber and 2.) the combination of whole foods.
Let me explain.
1. Old-fashioned style oats have their fiber in-tact.
They’re not processed like the grains you’ll find in most boxed cereals.
Whole fiber is made up of complex carbohydrates – so complex that they can’t be broken down by digestion. In addition fiber absorbs water while it passes through your system, which makes you feel full (1).
So, fiber fills you up and doesn’t contribute to your total calorie count for the day.
How much cooler can it get?
But wait, there’s more –
Whole grain oats are well-known for their soluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water, expands, and turns into gel in your digestive system. Because of it’s gel properties, soluble fiber will:
- Help you feel fuller longer, because it slows the movement of food through your intestinal tract.
- Help you to be fueled longer because it slows the absorption of nutrients into your blood.
- Help control your blood sugar because the movement of carbohydrates into your blood is slowed.
- Help lower your blood cholesterol, and triglycerides because it attracts bile and pulls it out of your intestine, causing your liver to need to pull cholesterol from your blood in order to make more bile (2).
Along with whole grain oats, other foods containing significant amounts of soluble fiber are: barley, beans, lentils, peas,nuts, seeds, and some fruits and vegetables.
Even though a whole grain oatmeal breakfast is high in carbohydrate, it won’t ramp up your blood sugar level.
Rather it’ll give a nice slow release of sugar into the blood, which will help you to feel satisfied and last longer until your next meal.
I had this oatmeal combination before going on a long bike ride one day. Wow – did I have stamina on that ride.
Above: Summer oatmeal with walnuts and peaches.
2.) A meal balanced with carbohydrate, protein and fat will be the most satisfying and have the best staying power through the day.
Therefore, eating only oatmeal without the added ingredients mentioned here, may not have the same lasting effect.
There are both short-term and long-term fuels in this breakfast combination: fruit is the fastest burning fuel (with the natural, simple sugar, fructose) and will help to get you revved up in the morning. Oatmeal will provide longer lasting fuel (as stated above). The fat in nuts is the slowest burning fuel and, with the support of the other nutrients, it can help to stave off your hunger for even longer.
Even though oatmeal and nuts have some protein, you may want to try a hard boiled egg on the side if you need more.
Most boxed cereals are made with refined grains.
A ground (milled) grain digests faster. Since the fiber has been broken down, and sometimes even taken out of the grain, the carbohydrate will absorb faster into your blood stream. Your blood sugar rises faster, and then the fuel quickly disappears. You can be left with huge hunger after only a couple of hours.
Need a gluten free breakfast?
Oats are naturally gluten-free. However, some oat products can be processed in the same factory as wheat, which could bring small gluten particles into the mix. To be safe, simply look for the gluten-free label on your oats.
If you want to get away from boxed cereals in general,
any whole grain will do. Not all grains have the same amount of soluble fiber as oats, but you will feel much differently after having a real, whole-grain breakfast vs. a boxed cereal breakfast.
Above: Buckwheat, Apples and Walnuts
I rarely have cereal in my house anymore.
If I do, it is the box that sits in the back of my cupboard in case of emergencies.
I never get bored of this breakfast because there are so many ways to change it up.
A small number of my clients find they do better with meat, chicken, or fish protein as part of their balanced, morning meal.
Their breakfast looks much like what you’d eat for a well-rounded lunch or a small dinner. You need to test out different breakfast styles to see what suits your needs.
What is your go-to breakfast and is it serving you well?
Let’s converse in the comments.
References and additional reading:
1.) American Heart Association: Whole Grains and Fiber http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyDietGoals/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UCM_303249_Article.jsp
2.) Nutrition Today. Evidence-Based Approach to Fiber Supplements and Clinically Meaningful Health Benefits, Part I. Volume 50, Number 2, March/April 2015.
3.) Medline Plus: Dietary Fiber http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/dietaryfiber.html
Thank you for this great information. For years I have been eating boxed cereal and thought it was a healthy way to eat. The oatmeal is not only as quick but is more filling and offers many more nutrition benefits. Thank you for including the pictures – they capture how fresh and good it looks with all of the fresh fruit and nuts. Gerry
Hey there, Gerry!! So nice of you to comment here. You and me both thought boxed cereal was healthy! Here’s to many more days of healthy, yummy mornings!
Hello, i’m french and i used to eat toasts with salted butter and marmelade or preserve with a cup of kumsi tea (st petersbourg) and a bit of milk. Then, i had no time to prepare that and bought corn flakes with no added sugar… But i learnt corn was not enough for the body and i chose to eat this :
rice and whole wheat flakes, no sugar added, and i add myself dry cranberries and nuts, with milk. Sometimes i add bananas or apple instead of the cranberries, and i also drink cappuccino with chocolate (in powder, i know thta’s not good ^^) or tea..
I’d like to get a healthy breakfast because i know we eat too much sugar in life, there is sugar everywhere, and fat.. I’d like to stay healthy because i have no motivation to do regular sport…
Thanks for adding the picture, Bulu. You’re doing a great job on your way to eating healthier! Choosing cereal without added sugar is really a great step. If you’d like to take it to the next level, I’d suggest you try a real, whole grain and see how you do with it. The boxed cereal, even though it has no sugar, is still processed and will absorb quickly. It will not provide you with the long term energy, or the other benefits that a whole grain will provide.