Wendyl Wants to Know: Oaty breakfast nourishes body and mind

By Wendyl Nissen

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Every week, Wendyl Nissentakes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

Nestle Milo Oats. Photo / Supplied
Nestle Milo Oats. Photo / Supplied

Nestle Milo Oats
$4.99 for 300g or 10 sachets.

Not many families wake up to a bowl of steaming hot porridge any more. It used to be a staple food for many New Zealanders as it was cheap, highly nutritious and filled children's tummies up on a cold morning.

With ready-to-eat cereals now readily available it is a lot easier to simply pour it out of the box and add milk.

Yet research shows that many processed cereals are high in sugar and have artificial colourings and flavourings children don't need.

Porridge is just oats and water with some fruit, nuts or sweetness added. Instant oats have been around for a while but combining oats with Milo seems like a great idea to get Kiwi kids eating a more nutritional offering, which takes only 90 seconds in the microwave or a few minutes on the stove top.

But first let's take a look at what is in it before we get too excited.

Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first):

Wholegrain Rolled Oats (67.4pc)
This high percentage means that this product is mostly rolled oats, which is terrific news.

Oats are not only rich in protein, minerals and soluble fibre, but they also have many health benefits such as low GI, which means they are digested slowly and provide energy at a steady rate for longer.

That is great for busy, active kids.

Oats are also very good for the gut because they form a gel-like substance which encourages beneficial gut bacteria.

So they are very soothing for people with digestive disorders and a good dietary choice after antibiotic treatment.

They are also high in soluble fibre which helps reduce cholesterol. This is so well proven that the US Food and Drug Administration allows oat-containing foods to make claims for their cholesterol-lowering abilities.

But perhaps the best evidence that oats are important for our children to eat is a study which showed that children who had instant oats like these for breakfast had better spatial memory (which means being able to remember geographical details like the interior of your house), better short-term memory and better listening attention than children who ate ready-to-eat cereal or no breakfast at all . (Oats are also wonderful for soothing skin inflammation if you throw a handful in the bath).

Sugar
Most instant oat sachets on the market are very, very sweet. Porridge made from scratch has no sweetness and traditionally you add honey or brown sugar to your taste. (Older Scottish people would add salt instead).

These sachets don't taste as sweet as others I've tried but when mixed with 125ml of milk there is still 14.4g of sugar a serving, which is nearly three teaspoons.

So you have to wonder if that reverses the low GI benefits of the oats as sugar is high GI and quickly digested, causing peaks of energy rather than slow-burning oats.

I tried mixing these sachets with just water, which gives one and a half teaspoons of sugar and they didn't taste too bad, so that is an option if you are concerned.

Skimmed Milk Powder
As this is third on the list of ingredients it means there is quite a bit in here, so if you opt not to mix with milk (as above) you're still getting some benefits of milk with this added ingredient.

Wheat flour
This is ordinary old flour, as you would use in baking.

Cocoa powder
Cocoa powder is such a common ingredient in baking yet few people know what it is. Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans which actually have some great health benefits. Cocoa is high in fibre, protein and minerals.

Flavour
I'm never happy to see this word on a label which was looking so promising. This will be a substance made out of chemicals to taste like chocolate or perhaps vanilla. We don't know, which is annoying. It is also frustrating that a natural flavour couldn't be used.

Malted Wheat Flour
This is wheat which has been malted by sprouting the wheat grain and then drying it. It breaks down the protein in the grain and produces sugars. I'm presuming this is in here for taste.

Formulated Supplementary Food Base
Milo (0.5pc) - containing gluten, milk and soy. I've looked into Milo before and found that it had a very high sugar load, coming in at nearly half. The addition of Milo in here is very small at 0.5pc which is 0.15g a serve.

Emulsifier 471
This is mono and triglycerides which are used in processed foods to stop the oil separating out of the water. They can be naturally derived or made synthetically.

Salt
We all add a little salt when making porridge, and so does this product.

"The Milo team guarantees that every serving of our breakfast cereal is made with at least 8g of wholegrain"
This addition confuses me. The packaging clearly states "Wholegrain Goodness" and "Wholegrain Oats" and by my calculations the percentage of wholegrain oats listed in the ingredients label equates to about 20g a serving, yet this guarantee says every serving has "at least 8g of wholegrain".

The oats in the packet look like chopped up wholegrain oats, but perhaps there are some more refined grains in there too to help this cook quickly in the microwave.

My recommendations
I see this as a great transition product to get kids who may be used to a diet of high-sugar, processed cereal to try the taste and texture of oats, which are a very healthy option.

By the time they've gone through a packet of these, they may just like a bowl of real porridge with some fresh banana and honey mixed in, which is a less sweet option than this product and better for them.

It also means your child sets off on a cold winter's morning (which is just around the corner) with a warm breakfast in their stomach, which is a nice old-fashioned thing to do, and the effect of the oats on their memory and listening skills might be good, too.

Highlights

* Three teaspoons of sugar in every serving if made with milk, but with water only one and a half teaspoons.

* 20g of oats in every serve, which is a great option for good nutrition and oats have proven benefits for your child's memory and listening skills.

* A great transition food to get your child interested in eating porridge on a winter's morning.

Do you have a food product you would like to feature in Wendyl Wants to Know?
Email Wendyl with suggestions. Unfortunately Wendyl cannot correspond with readers.

- NZ Herald

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