kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

The healthiest cereals don’t change much. Cereal marketers’ pitches make it hard to know what to look for other than the basics like unsweetened whole grains or fruit and nut muesli. These have little or no added sugar.

Look for whole grains. The healthiest diets have more whole grains and fewer refined grains. If the box says “100% whole grains”, you can trust that is what you will find. But, if the claim is “18 grams of whole grain”, this isn’t the whole story. A manufacturer might also state that the cereal is “made with” whole grain. Look at the ingredients to know for sure what the other ingredients are. (More than likely refined rice.)

  • Wheat and Corn. If it doesn’t say “whole” or “whole grain” wheat or corn or flour, assume they are refined. The grain is refined if it says “degerminated”.
  • Rice. If the listed ingredient says brown, red or black rice, they are probably whole grain. If it just says “rice”, it is probably not.
  • Oats, sprouted grains, quinoa, sorghum. These grains are whole.

Pay attention to serving size. For less dense cereals, the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label is the fraction of a cup closest to 40 grams. For denser cereals, it is the fraction closest to 60 grams. That is why most servings range from 1/2 cup to 1 1/2 cups.

Minimize added sugar. Now that it is mandatory for cereal boxes to have a Nutrition Facts label, it is easier to check the “Added Sugars” line. This discloses the sugars that come from sweeteners like cane sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc. The “Total Sugars” line also includes the naturally occurring sugars in raisins, berries, or other dried fruit.

The percent Daily Value %(DV) for added sugar tells you how much of a day’s max (50 grams) you get in a serving. (50 grams seems high to me – shoot for 30.) 5 grams is about a teaspoon of added sugar per serving for lighter cereals, or 7 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) for heavier cereals.

Avoid cereals (anything) with Sucralose. Sucralose is a chlorinated sucrose derivative. This means it’s derived from sugar and contains chlorine. Making sucralose is a multistep process that involves replacing the three hydrogen-oxygen groups of sugar with chlorine atoms. The replacement with chlorine atoms intensifies the sweetness of sucralose. Originally, sucralose was found through the development of a new insecticide compound. It was never meant to be consumed.

Avoid cereals (anything) with Acesulfame potassium. One of the major issues surrounding Ace-K is that it contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. According to studies, headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer can all result from long-term exposure to methylene chloride. Ace-K is a calorie-free sweetener that is 200x sweeter than table sugar. Ace-K is used in many diet products, including sugar-free versions of Red Bull, Rockstar, Bang, and Monster. Ace-K is known for having a bitter aftertaste, which is why it is paired with other artificial sweeteners.

Avoid cereals (anything) with aspartame. Dozens of studies have linked aspartame – the world’s most widely used artificial sweetener – to serious health problems, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, seizures, stroke and dementia, as well as negative effects such as intestinal dysbiosis, mood disorders, headaches and migraines.

Avoid cereals (anything) with allulose. Allulose is a sugar that is poorly absorbed in the gut, so Nutrition Facts label don’t have to count it as sugar. In many people, it causes nausea, diarrhea, or abdominal pain. Allulose is often added to low-sugar bars, cookies and candies.

Focus on unprocessed fiber. The Nutrition Facts don’t say how much of a cereal’s Dietary fiber is intact, unprocessed fiber from whole grains, and how much is processed from added inulin, chicory root, or soluble corn fiber.

  • Inulin is a type of prebiotic. It’s not digested or absorbed in the stomach. It stays in the bowel and helps certain beneficial bacteria to grow. Inulin is a starchy substance found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including wheat, onions, bananas, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus.
  • Chicory is a plant. Its seeds, roots, and dried, above-ground parts are used to make medicine.
  • Soluble corn fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate that’s used in a variety of foods. In addition to providing sweetness, it is used to improve the texture and thickness of products.

Avoid fruit powder. To avoid having to admit to “Added Sugars”, a company might say “Sweetened with Fruit” instead. This way, they can claim “0” Added sugars. Fruit powders are processed, very sweet and high in calories.

Avoid fruit purée concentrate. Concentrate means some of the water in a puréed fruit has been removed. This concentrates the fruit’s sugar. Food companies use purée concentrates because labels don’t count their sugar as “added”. Add real fruit to your cereal and get real fiber and less sugar.

The FDA has rules for claims about heart disease or lowering cholesterol, but they are lax. A cereal can claim that it “may reduce the risk of heart disease” simply because it is low in saturated fat and cholesterol – like nearly ALL cereals. The same applies if the cereal has enough soluble fiber from oats to help lower blood cholesterol levels – BUT you have to eat two to four servings a day.

The FDA hasn’t set an added-sugar limit on foods that make these claims. Cereal companies  (ex: Honey Nut Cereal) add about 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.

Ignore cereal vitamin claims. Cereals that claim they add “100% Daily Value of Vitamins and Minerals” do not actually include all essential vitamins. You are better off looking for a daily multi-vitamin-mineral pill.

For more protein with your cereal, add soy yogurt or a protein-rich plant milk with a tablespoon or two of almond silvers, a sprinkle of ground flaxseed, chopped walnuts, pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Most cereals that claim to have “MORE REAL ALMONDS” have more sugar than nuts. Kellogg adds no more than three almonds per cup.

The best way to know what you are sitting down to at breakfast, is to make your own granola. Try today’s recipe for homemade granola with cherries and almonds.

Chicory Root

Fresh chicory root is composed of 68% inulin by dry weight. Chicory inulin is not digestible and can be used to replace dietary fat or sugar in some processed and functional foods.  Chicory root is also commonly used in the preparation of a bitter, caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Inulin is a type of fiber known as a fructan or fructooligosaccharide, a carbohydrate made from a short chain of fructose molecules that your body doesn’t digest. It acts as a prebiotic, meaning that it feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. These helpful bacteria play a role in reducing inflammation, fighting harmful bacteria, and improving mineral absorption.

One-half cup of 1-inch pieces of raw chicory root provides:

  • Calories: 32
  • Fat: 0.1g
  • Sodium: 22.5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 7.9g
  • Fiber: 0.7g
  • Sugars: 3.9g
  • Protein: 0.6g
  • Potassium: 130mg
  • Calcium: 18.4mg
  • Phosphorus: 27.4mg
  • Folate: 10.4mc

Chicory root has one of the highest fiber contents of vegetables, accounting for almost 90% of its weight when dried.

Most people are more likely to consume chicory root (inulin) in processed foods as an added fiber. Because it can add to the feeling of satiety, common foods like protein powders, low-sugar cereals, and snack-replacement bars frequently contain chicory.

Studies suggest that inulin can relieve constipation. A 4-week study in 44 adults with constipation found that taking 12 grams of chicory inulin per day helped soften stool and significantly increased bowel movement frequency, compared with taking a placebo.

In a study in 16 people with low stool frequency, taking a daily dose of 10 grams of chicory inulin increased the number of bowel movements from 4 to 5 per week, on average.

Chicory root fiber may boost blood sugar control, especially in people with diabetes. This may be due to its inulin, which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria involved in carbohydrate metabolism, which breaks down carbs into sugars, and sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that helps absorb sugar from the blood.

Chicory root fiber contains the compounds chicoric and chlorogenic acids, which have been shown to increase muscle sensitivity to insulin in rodent studies.

A 2-month study in 49 women with type 2 diabetes found that taking 10 grams of inulin per day led to significant decreases in blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1c, a measurement of average blood sugar, compared with taking a placebo. The inulin used in this study is known as high-performance inulin and often added to baked goods and drinks as a sugar substitute. It has a slightly different chemical composition than other types of inulin.

One 2015 study tested the effects of chicory root extract on blood sugar and fat metabolism. Study authors concluded that, while chicory had no effect on fat metabolism, it could delay or prevent the early onset of diabetes.

A 2016 study also found that chicory, along with providing glucose and calcium stability, may reduce blood pressure, and aid in healthy liver function. This study’s subjects were all female, so more research is needed to learn whether it provides the same effects for males.

Some studies have connected chicory root with inhibiting different types of cancer. Research that found that chicory helps kill breast cancer cells. Another study linked inulin with the prevention of colon cancer.

People sometimes use chicory topically for swelling, inflammation, and osteoarthritis. An industry-funded study demonstrated that taking a chicory supplement may play a role in the management of osteoarthritis.

Chicory root fiber is easy to add to your diet. It’s increasingly common to see chicory root processed for its inulin, which is used to increase fiber content in processed foods or used as a sugar or fat substitute due to its gelling properties and slightly sweet flavor. It can be used in home cooking as well. Some specialty shops and grocery stores carry the whole root, which is often boiled and eaten as a vegetable.

Chicory root allergy is rare, with only about 20 cases reported in the last century, and most of these cases involving people who work with chicory and inhale it.

If you are allergic to birch pollen, you may have a reaction to chicory. This is referred to as oral allergy syndrome and occurs when proteins in a fruit or vegetable are similar to those found in pollen.

In the United States, inulin has attained Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status by the FDA. This means that chicory is likely safe when consumed in amounts typically present in foods. Some people may experience symptoms including flatulence, belching, abdominal pains, intestinal sounds, and bloating when eaten in excess.

Research has also not yet established the safety of chicory during pregnancy, so people who are pregnant may want to avoid consuming this vegetable or talk with their healthcare practitioner first.

The inulin that’s used in packaged foods or supplements is sometimes chemically altered to make it sweeter. If inulin has not been modified, it’s usually referred to as “native inulin”. Studies suggest that native inulin may be better tolerated and lead to fewer episodes of gas and bloating than other types.

10 grams of inulin per day is a standard dose for studies but no official recommended dosage for chicory root fiber has been established. If you want to take it as a supplement, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider beforehand.

How to Buy

Chicory root in its whole form is not commonly found in U.S. supermarkets. However, you are likely to find salad chicory (endive) in the produce sections of many grocery stores. Endive and its cousins – radicchio, frisée, and escarole – are bitter greens that are referred to as chicories.

Two chicory root varieties grown to be used as coffee substitutes are Brunswick and Magdeburg.

How to Store

To keep ground chicory fresh, store it in an airtight container, much the same way you would ground coffee. Salad chicory should be stored wrapped in a tea towel in the refrigerator, where it will last for about a week or so.

If you do find chicory roots, they should be stored in a cold, humid location, where they will last for several months.

How to Cook

When consumed as a food, chicory roots can be boiled and the leaves (endive), buds, and roots can be eaten like a vegetable.

You can roast the root or buy roasted ground chicory root to use in coffee or alone as a coffee substitute. To make it, add 2 tablespoons of ground chicory root for every 1 cup of water in your coffeemaker.

Chicory root has an earthy or woody taste somewhat similar to coffee and contains no caffeine.

Homemade Granola with Cherries and Almonds

Sarah McMinn/ My Darling Vegan

16 Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 cups gluten-free oats
  • 1 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
  • ½ cup flaxseeds, ground
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp. coconut oil, melted
  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 cups dried cherries or dried apricots, raisins, cranberries

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 300F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a bowl combine oats, coconut, ground flaxseeds, and salt. In a separate bowl combine melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.
  • Slowly pour wet ingredients over the oat mixture, mixing while adding, until the dry and wet ingredients are fully mixed together. You may need to use your hands to ensure the oats are evenly hydrated. Mix in almonds and walnuts and spread evenly over both baking trays, pressing the granola tightly together.
  • Bake for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through. Do not mix the granola! Remove from oven and let sit for at least 30 minutes.
  • Gently break apart the granola into large chunks. Once it’s cool completely, stir in the cherries (or fruit of choice)
  • Eat immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Serving and Storing – Once your granola has cooled, it can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

  1. Make sure the wet and dry ingredients are well mixed. The oats should be evenly and fully hydrated.
  2. Pack the granola tightly on the baking sheet. It’s okay if the granola doesn’t fill the baking sheet but try and prevent empty spaces between the oats.
  3. Don’t over-handle the granola when baking. Turn the tray halfway through the baking so that the granola evenly bakes but do not mix.
  4. Let the granola cool at least 30 minutes (60 is better) before gently breaking into large chunks.

Variations – There are endless variations of homemade granola. Nearly anything can be added for a different granola recipe every time. Here are a few of my favorite combinations. Add:

  • Chocolate chunks for a Chocolate Cherry Granola
  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or chia seeds. Omit the cherries for a Seedy Nut Granola
  • Ginger and nutmeg. Swap out cherries for dried pear for a Ginger Pear Granola
  • Ginger and cinnamon as well as 2 tablespoons of molasses. Swap cherries for cranberries for a festive Gingerbread Granola

Resources

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