Niki Bezzant checks out what makes a good breakfast
It's the time of year when I start to gravitate back towards a steamy bowl of porridge for breakfast. It has a comforting, nostalgic appeal, and is a filling and delicious way to start the day.
The array of cereals on our supermarket shelves has exploded in recent times. It's no longer just porridge, Weet-Bix and a few flaky things. Now there's a whole new category of fancy mueslis and "granola" (an American word for muesli, as far as I can tell). There are many, many health claims sprinkled across the packaging of these products. So what's good, what's bad and what's worth trying in the cereal aisle?
Let's start with good old oats. Porridge – plain, ordinary rolled oats – is still a great food. If super foods were really a thing, oats might qualify. They're a whole-grain, low-GI carbohydrate, meaning they help us feel fuller for longer. They're a source of protein and iron too. Oats are a good way to get fibre, which is great for the gut, including a particular type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which has been found to lower total cholesterol.
There are different types of oats worth noting. Wholegrain oats are the heavier, chewier ones that are toasted, rolled whole oat groats. These are less processed than rolled oats, so they're probably going to be more satisfying, although they also take more cooking.
Rolled oats are steamed and cut oats; this means they're quicker to cook (and can be used raw, as in muesli) and a bit quicker to digest.
Steel-cut oats have recently made an appearance on our shelves. Despite the name, these are the least processed of the oats; they're whole oat groats that have simply been chopped up. They need the most cooking, but offer great satiety.
If you're going to have porridge, the healthiest option is plain, unsweetened porridge. Add fruit for sweetness – I'm liking lightly cooked apple and feijoa at the moment – and yoghurt or milk for extra protein and calcium. A few nuts and seeds are a great addition, too.
Quick-cook sachets of oats are a convenient option, since you can throw one into your bag and make it in the microwave at work. But keep an eye on the added sugar. These can get quite sweet, depending on the ingredients and flavourings; choosing a plain one and adding your own fruit will allow you to control the sugar.
When it comes to fancy granola and mueslis, the variety is enormous, and so is the price range. I've seen "no-grain" and "paleo" mueslis for close to the $20 mark for a smallish bag. These are so expensive because of the ingredients, usually; they're mostly nuts and seeds. Some are delicious and highly nutritious. Look for ones with the lowest sugar content and watch out for sugar in disguise (see below).
I like to use these nut-based, expensive granolas as a kind of garnish; serve a sprinkle on top of a bowl of oats or yoghurt, rather than eating a bowl of them on their own.
Keep an eye on coconut in fancy cereals. Coconut flakes, pieces and coconut oil are common ingredients these days, but these can take the saturated fat content to sometimes less-than-ideal levels, as well as adding calories you might not want, depending on how much you're eating.
Also watch for sneaky sugars. Coconut nectar, coconut sugar, rice syrup, date syrup, maple syrup, honey – these are all just different types of sugar, and can make some cereals that appear super-healthy, actually super-sweet. Too much dried fruit is not ideal, either, for similar reasons.
If you're reading labels, check the "per 100g" column and go for cereals with less than 15g sugar. There are plenty of delicious options around with less than 10g, too.
When it comes to other cereals, it's a mixed bag. We want whole grains, and we want high fibre. How manufacturers achieve this varies. There's emerging evidence that whole grains that have been smooshed up, processed and put back together in the form of flakes or shapes – while they still meet the technical definition of a whole grain – are not as good for us as whole grains that are intact and require a bit of chewing.
Likewise, the fibre we get from whole ingredients like grains, nuts and seeds is probably more beneficial than the fibre from added fibre like inulin, chicory root and other ingredients. When in doubt, go for the whole food.