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Not all breakfast cereals created equal

Breakfast is described as the most important meal of the day for good reason.

Breakfast is described as the most important meal of the day for good reason. Eating a healthy breakfast has been linked to a healthy weight and reduced weight gain over time, improved appetite control, and better intake of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fibre.

Unfortunately, almost 40 per cent of all Canadians skip breakfast, blaming a variety of reasons. Maybe you're short on time, you don't like breakfast foods, or you often decide to skip breakfast as a way to cut calories. Whatever the case may be, including even a small, balanced snack in the morning could increase your productivity in the day and help to avoid brain drain later on.

One of the most common, and convenient, breakfast foods available is cold cereal, but it can also be packed with added sugars and devoid of fibre while masquerading as a healthy choice. Dietitians of Canada has five tips to help you navigate the cereal aisle and choose a healthier breakfast option:

1. Choose whole grains. Pick cereals with a whole grain as the first ingredient. Look for the word "whole" before the name of a grain, such as "whole oats" or "whole grain whole wheat flour." Whole grains can help reduce your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

2. Look for high fibre. Check the nutrition facts panel and choose a cereal with at least four grams of fibre in every serving. Fibre can help to promote good digestion, better blood sugar control and lower blood cholesterol. Plus, it can help to keep you fuller for longer and avoid that mid-morning slump.

3. Check for less sodium. Again, check the nutrition facts panel and look for a cereal with less than 360 mg of sodium per serving. Breakfast cereals can be surprisingly high in sodium and taste is not always a good indicator of how salty a food is. Eating low sodium foods is one way to help lower your risk for high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease.

4. Go low on sugar. Take a look at ingredient labels and try to avoid products with added sugars. These ingredients can often appear hidden in the form of corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, honey, fruit juice concentrates and any kind of syrup. Since the nutrition facts panel does not differentiate between "added" sugars and those that are naturally occurring, such as from fruit, it's important to read through the ingredients. If a cereal isn't sweet enough for your taste, try adding your own sweetness in the form of fresh, frozen or dried fruit or add vanilla or cinnamon for extra flavour.

5. Pay attention to serving size. The information on the nutrition facts panel applies to the serving size listed at the top of the label. If you eat two cups of a low sodium cereal, but one serving equals one cup, you may be well-intentioned but actually eating a breakfast that is high in sodium. Since the size of most breakfast bowls can easily dwarf listed serving sizes, it might be worth keeping a measuring cup in your box of cereal to prevent over-pouring.

-- Kelsey Leckovic is a registered dietitian with Northern Health working in chronic disease management.