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From breakfast cereal to fitness cookies to freezer meals, current trends are forcing food companies to produce high-protein, low-carbohydrate and dietary-friendly products that promise to taste like the “real” thing, but with an amped-up nutrition facts panel. Everything from pancake mixes to loaves of bread to mac and cheese now promises to deliver a familiar, delicious taste but better-for-you ingredients. One of the most common right now is cereal. But are these breakfast foods really as good as they seem?
Glance at their packaging, and you might think so! But before you buy into the flashy marketing and pay the high price for these trendy cereals, let’s dig a little deeper to see if they’re worth all of their hype.
A closer look at these cereals’ cost for nutrition
First things first, I’m not anti-cereal. In fact, if you read my article on why I let my kids eat Lucky Charms, you know I’m an all-foods-fit nutritionist. I believe there’s a place in a balanced diet for an abundance of plants and whole foods alongside convenience items like whole grain cereal.
With that said, I’m also a firm believer that you don’t have to spend your hard-earned dollar on high-priced processed foods. While affordable for some, the majority of Americans can’t swing the $1.95 a bowl (not including the milk of your choice added!) for boutique brands like Magic Spoon and have them shipped to your doorstep.
Though larger companies like Kashi have started to produce their own Keto Friendly Kashi Go line of high-protein, low-carbohydrate, and low-sugar cereals, the cost is still on average $1.20 a bowl (without milk added), putting it almost $0.80 higher than a serving of Cheerios.
To give you another health professional’s insight, I reached out to Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Ehsani shared, “As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’m not a huge fan of products that are highly processed such as cereals with lots of added protein and/or fiber, as it’s not really necessary. You can get protein from high-quality whole food sources such as eggs, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, fish, chicken and beef.”
Ehsani went on to add, “When choosing cereals, I usually recommend anything that contains whole grains, which high-protein, low-carb cereals do not contain. High protein cereals may also be more expensive than other products like plain rolled or quick oats for example. A barrel of oats may only cost you about $4 and provide you with 30 servings, while a box of high-protein, low-carb cereal may be closer to $10 and only provide you with 5 to 6 servings. A barrel of oats also contains whole grains, dietary fiber, protein and contains naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.”
Yay or nay: Should you try these trendy cereals?
While I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t spend your money on, I will say personally, from a taste perspective, these hot new cereals take some adjustment to get used to (especially if you’re used to a whole grain oat type of cereal). Would I personally buy them? No. Would I recommend them to a client? Likely not, but maybe!
Because of the way in which these cereals are made (with added protein and usually fiber to increase the satiety factor after consumption), they may be an easy and convenient option for someone looking to quickly nourish their body when eating a full, balanced meal is hard to accomplish.
With that said, these products aren’t for everyone and may cause stomach irritation depending on the type of low- to no-calorie sugars and fibers added.
Ehsani agreed, noting, “These products are fine to include when on the go, traveling or when you have limited access to other foods. A high-protein cereal can be paired with a piece of fruit like an apple or banana while on the road. You could use the high-protein cereal and mix it with some nuts and dried fruit for a grab-and-go trail mix snack to carry along with you, too.”
However, she also recommends proceeding with caution if you have a sensitive stomach as well for, “they may cause gastrointestinal distress and discomfort due to the added fiber and sugar sources.”
Ehsani brought up another important point: Any products labeled as high-protein, low-carb may sound great to diabetics who need to be cautious and mindful of their carbohydrate intake. However, she recommends those with diabetes use these products with caution, especially if a product says it has zero sugar; it may still have a decent amount of carbs. Plus, she notes, just snacking on low-carb, high-protein foods as a diabetic may also be risky, as your blood sugar may drop too low too.
So, the moral of the story is this, as Ehsani shares: “Eat in moderation and when in doubt turn to eat whole foods first. You can always work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to create a healthy eating plan that fits your unique needs and preferences.”
Affordable, nutrient-dense options that are better than trendy cereals
If you’re open to thinking outside the box (pun intended!), Ehsani recommends reaching for one of these affordable, nutrient-dense breakfasts to fuel your body with the blend of macronutrients it needs.
- Oatmeal (like this Chia Oatmeal with Coconut and Cherries)
- Eggs (like this Eggs Benedict Salad)
- Smoothies (like this Blueberry Smoothie)
If you’re looking for health-conscious meals that work with your preferred eating approach – whether that’s low-carb, high-protein, low-sugar or any other diet – it can still be convenient and easy. Before you reach for trendy cereals, try whipping up easy recipes in batches so you can grab them and go all week long!