If you’ve come to see me in clinic you will know only to well my obsession with starting the day with good quality fuel in our tanks! Maybe too little has been made lately of the old saying….

“Breakfast like a king, Lunch like a prince, Dinner like a pauper”

Evidence shows eating a proper breakfast is associated with alertness and better performance throughout the day. Consequently people who skip breakfast tend to have higher cholesterol, higher fat intake and weigh more than those who don’t. And if you skip the first meal of the day and the nutrients it can provide if you choose well, you often don’t compensate during the day.

Where once our grandparents breakfasted on something simple they cooked themselves, maybe porridge or bread – over the past 50 years our British breakfast has been transformed. Unlike our European counterparts, we have succumbed to the ultimate American marketing dream and today we choose from an array of convenient but mostly health poor puffed, flaked and sugared breakfast cereals. In fact in the UK we eat more processed cereal than anywhere else in the world, averaging 6.7kg per person a year!

Breakfast cereal is one of the biggest success stories of the modern food industry. Known as a ‘value-added’ product, it is the very act of processing, packaging and marketing a cheap commodity grain that changes what is simple into something that consumers feel they need. Adding value is at the heart of profit making and the rewards are easy to see.

A kilo of corn at current market rate costs around 15p. A kilo of Kelloggs cornflakes is nearer £15. That’s a 2000% difference!

Ironically one of the biggest costs from producing a successful breakfast cereal comes not from the ingredients, but from the marketing, a staggering 20-25% according to analysts JPMorgan. So next time you pop that packet of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in your basket, remember a quarter of what you’re paying for is actually going towards the manufacturer’s cost of persuading you to buy it!

So why do we eat so much cereal? The top reason appears to be we pay more because we feel we don’t have any time to make anything else. A bowl of cereal requires no kitchen, no skills, just a bowl, some milk and a spoon! But people also choose it as a supposedly healthier option, hoping to reduce the risk of heart disease or manage hunger and control weight.

Contrary to what many may think, processed cereal is not the healthiest start to the day and the high salt, high sugar and high fat may not be what you expect in your cereal bowl. This is where clever marketing comes in. A recent Which report showed that whereas you may not be surprised by the fact Kellogg’s Frosties topped the sweet league with 37% sugar, there were also some high-sugar cereals, such as Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Flakes and Special K, marketed as ‘healthy’ that scored nearly as highly.

But what of the vitamins and minerals these products claim to contain?
Much of the health benefits come from fortification, rather than micronutrients from the raw ingredients. What was there is stripped away during processing. It’s this added nutritional value that has helped shape cereal into the success story it is. You can charge more the vitamins and fibre you have to add back in, than for what was there naturally in the first place.

Further reading if this surprises you and you want to read more – ‘Eat Your Heart Out. Why the food business is bad for the planet and your health’ by Felicity Lawrence.

So what’s a good alternative? If cereal really is your thing, try saving money and having a far more nutritious start to the day with your own version. I’m a big advocate of making home made muesli which means you can include more of the things you like and be sure you’re getting a good balance of nutrients. This is less a recipe and more an ensemble! The nuts and seeds give a nice crunch and add protein which will make balance your blood sugar, with the fruit adding chewiness and sweetness.

Choose a combination of any of the following
6 cups of a base- Rolled oats / gluten free oats/ flaked buckwheat / rye flakes
1 cup of nuts – almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts
1 cup of seeds – pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, flax
half a cup of dried fruit- apricot, sultanas, unsweetened cranberries
half a cup of flaked coconut OPTIONAL

Store in an airtight container. Serve with a milk- try unsweetened almond milk or Kara coconut milk as a nice alternative to diary – a dollop of live yoghurt, a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a handful of mixed berries. Frozen berries are fine – they’re usually cheaper than fresh at this time of year and contain more nutrients as they are frozen close to picking.

You can also try Bircher Muesli. The original recipe was served by Dr Bircher-Benner in Zurich for his patients in the 1890s, but you can vary the ingredients as you like and include different nuts, seeds or dried fruit. This requires minimum effort, takes a few minutes to prepare the night before and takes approximately 15 seconds to serve in the morning!

Try this recipe
2 cups of organic rolled oats. You can use gluten free oats if you prefer.
1 grated green apple
1 cup of organic live plain Greek yoghurt
half a cup of almonds
juice from 1 orange or from 1 lemon
half a teaspoon of cinnamon
quarter a teaspoon of nutmeg
One cup of water or apple juice

Combine all the ingredients and put in fridge to soak overnight. Serve as it is or with a tasty topping. Ideas are a small handful of mixed berries, a chopped banana, a sliced pear or stewed plums. It keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days and can be taken to work in a Tupperware.

Now don’t get me started on cereal bars…..!!