By Professor Peter Williams, Honorary Professorial Fellow at University of Wollongong and Adjunct Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Canberra
Breakfast cereal eaters are more likely to have a healthier diet and to weigh less, and are less likely to suffer from certain diseases. That is the key finding of a systematic literature review of more than 230 papers over 30 years, which I undertook on behalf of the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum and was recently published in the international peer-reviewed journal, Advances in Nutrition.
The findings of the review are significant – not only for the strength of the evidence – but because of the important role breakfast cereals play in delivering the health benefits of grain foods to Australian diets. According to the recent Australian Health Survey, around 43 per cent of Australians ate breakfast cereal, including ready-to-eat cereal (RTEC) and hot porridge, on the day of the survey.
It was clear from the research that regular breakfast cereal eaters have more nutritious diets, which are higher in vitamins and minerals and have a greater likelihood of meeting recommended nutrient intakes. Adults and children who eat breakfast cereal regularly also have higher wholegrain consumption each day.
The benefit of eating breakfast cereal for weight management was one of the strongest findings in the review. Regularly eating breakfast cereal is associated with a lower body mass index and a 12 per cent lower risk of being overweight or obese in both adults and children.
The review also found that high-fibre and wholegrain breakfast cereals help to improve bowel function, prevent constipation, and may lower the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Key findings in this area include:
- Breakfast cereals high in soluble fibre (such as oat, barley or psyllium) help lower total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
- Regularly eating wholegrain and high-fibre breakfast cereal is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (by 24 per cent) and cardiovascular disease (by 20-28 per cent).
- Breakfast cereal plays an important role in bowel health, with evidence that high-fibre, wheat-based breakfast cereals help prevent constipation and improve bowel function.
Importantly, the review clarified questions about the contribution breakfast cereals make to sodium and total sugars intakes in the overall diet.
According to the research base, breakfast cereal eaters do not have higher sodium intakes than non-breakfast cereal eaters and there is no difference in their overall daily energy intake, total sugars intake or risk of overweight or obesity, whether children consume pre-sweetened breakfast cereals or other breakfast cereals.
The review is the first time the evidence relating to breakfast cereal and its impact on healthy diets, body weight, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and bowel health has been systematically assessed using the stringent National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) criteria.
As a result of the systematic review, 21 graded summary evidence statements were established and in several instances, the evidence statements are as strong as or even stronger than that for fruit and vegetable consumption.
For more information, including a full summary report and link to the open access journal paper, visit http://www.cereal4brekkie.com.au/new-science/