A good day depends on stable blood-sugar so what you eat before work, sport or just life is really important. Although introduced only very recently, most people now start the day with a bowl of cereal. When I looked into snack bars in March, I noticed the cheery image cereal companies use to entice us to eat ultra-processed, recreational food first thing in the morning. Here’s one of Dr Unwin’s award-winning diagrams showing how badly even the blander types affect your blood-sugar.
(Similar pictures for other foods are available on the Public Health Collaboration website.)
The lined up spoons of sugar do not represent sugar added as an ingredient or even carbohydrate content; they show what happens to your blood compared to eating that much sugar. Note that the serving size is 30g (except for porridge) so if you have more than that, the effects will be greater. Anything frosted or with flavouring like honey is going to be even worse. None of these include any sugar you might put on top.
Dr David Unwin has been leading the UK in offering his diabetic patients dietary advice coupled with tailored medication. He has saved his practice £10,000s and some patients are in complete remission. He realised that added sugar in food isn’t the only problem. Our bodies quickly break down processed starches into simple sugars so he coined the phrase ‘soon to be sugar’. In terms of your blood levels, that means the difference between a slice of bread and some glucose is about 15 minutes in your stomach. All of us can benefit from reducing these foods (diabetics need to consult their doctors to keep their medication matched to their intake).
The Boxed Bunch
Most of the boxed cereals are made of the same things – processed grains, sugar, flavourings and added vitamins and minerals (not all in a highly bio-available form). Of those shown here, Corn Flakes and Coco Pops have the worst effect on blood sugar. A quick rise in blood sugar will be followed by insulin production leading to a crash. Peaks and troughs spell disaster; it’s no good getting weak and shaky after only a couple of hours.
Shredded Wheat prides itself on being made only with whole wheat. It’s true that it doesn’t have any added sugar or chemicals. You’d think that makes it a good bet but it’s still highly processed ‘soon to be sugar’. The diagram shows 4.8 teaspoons of sugar equivalent for 30g. One Shredded Wheat weighs 22g which is equivalent to 3.6 tsp so a typical breakfast of two is equivalent to 7.3 tsp.
Some people I know swear by Bran Flakes. They do have the most fibre and, close to Special K, a relatively lower impact. But at 4 or 5 tsp of sugar equivalent, that’s still a lot.
Many people find that they get hungry before 10am after a box-cereal breakfast. I used to and gave it up 15 years ago.
Muesli can OK but check the ingredients or make your own. Dried fruit is a concentrated source of sugar to watch out for. Granola is generally worse as it have been sweetened. Also it’s sometimes cooked in vegetable oil which is an added problem.
The best I found was Rollagranola which you can buy on line here. Or again, you can make your own using coconut oil, proper oats, lots of nuts and seeds and no sugar or a little drizzle of maple syrup.
Here are a couple of granola recipes from Cookie and Kate and Libby at Ditch the Carbs. (You’ll have to ignore the many ads but there are excellent videos and explanations of why breakfast cereals are so terrible for our health.)
Breakfast of Champions
To keep feeling good throughout the day, experiment eating food in a more natural state and include protein and fat rather than eating carbohydrate on its own. I encourage people to eat some fresh plants with each meal too.
Many people find they fare well on porridge. Natural oats release more slowly than the processed sachets and they are far cheaper. You can replace some of the oats with protein and fat as Joe Wicks does using ground flax seed, chia seeds, desiccated coconut and almond milk, topped with natural yoghurt. You could use ordinary milk, coconut milk or a dollop of cream and add some berries.
Now that it’s summer, try Jon Gabriel’s light but satisfying plain yoghurt mixed with nuts, seeds, protein powder and fruit.
Eggs are very nutritious and versatile for breakfast. You can have them boiled, fried, poached, or as an omelette. Most people used to ‘Go to work on an egg’. Even as recently as the 1950, half the working population had a cooked breakfast.
Go continental with boiled eggs, avocado, ham and cheese. Save time by hard boiling your eggs the night before. Or dip avocado or buttered, wholemeal toast ‘soldiers’ in soft-boiled eggs.
Smoothies are quick to make and easy to consume. Base them on coconut milk, avocado, ground almonds, flax, spinach, whey powder, natural oats etc. Add just a little fruit for sweetness eg ¼ apple, 1” banana or a spoonful of berries. Beware high-sugar, bought smoothies and most of the recipes on the internet which have too much fruit.
Fry-ups can sustain you for ages. Choose from bacon, egg, black pudding, sausage, mushroom, tomato (hold the beans and hash browns) or do the Aussie thing – steak and egg – perhaps with wilted spinach.
For a change, go fishy with a tin of mackerel plus half a pear and some seeds or indulge in smoked salmon, delicious with scrambled eggs on toast and courgette.
Top tip – Ditch the cereal and eat a good breakfast to keep your blood sugar stable.
PS- Here’s a BBC documentary about the beginning and growth to world domination of the cereal industry. It explains how we ended up in our current mess with millions of people damaging their health, every morning, thinking it’s a good thing to do.
And by the way, it’s the breakfast cereal business that told us we don’t have time to cook and paved the way for the whole processed food industry. Make your health a priority and you’ll find you do have time to eat well.