1. When purchasing a breakfast cereal, what should I look for on the label?
Loaded question! The front of cereal packaging typically displays trending words geared to attract consumers seeking to make a healthy choice. Words like natural, organic, non-GMO, fiber, whole grain, gluten-free, protein, heart-healthy, sprouted, cane sugar, or an excellent source of _______ get our attention. We grab it and put it in our shopping cart. However, the ingredient list and nutritional profile on the back of the same package does not always reflect a health-wise option.
I recommend looking at the sugar content first. Cold cereals are usually low in fat unless it's granola, which I address in the next paragraph. To get a visual, 4 grams of granulated sugar equals one teaspoon. This is a great hack to gauge how much sugar you are consuming. Not everyone knows what a gram even looks like, but we can visualize a teaspoon. For example, if you find a cereal that has 8 grams of sugar per serving (which is usually about 3/4 - 1 cup), ask yourself if you would serve yourself two teaspoons of sugar. And many of us are pouring at least two servings of cereal into a bowl, bringing it to 16 grams - 4 teaspoons. Ask yourself how it will make you feel? How will this affect your energy or mood…and your health?
Look for brands that have no more than 5 grams of sugar per serving. You can add something naturally sweet like fruit, raisins, dates or cinnamon to your cereal. After sugar, look for brands without preservatives and made with whole grains. Arrowhead Mills, Barbaras and Nature's Path are great choices. When shopping for granolas, don't be fooled that it is the healthiest cereal choice, as granola can be exceptionally high in sugar, even more than the boxed cereals, and because the grains are baked in oil, fat too. It's worth it to learn an oil-free homemade granola. Another excellent option is Overnight Oats using raw oats.
Hot cereals like oatmeal or porridges come packaged and flavored too. It's easy to buy plain oats in the cereal or bulk section at your grocery store. You can add cinnamon, vanilla, maple syrup, fruits, seeds, and nuts to build a very nutritious bowl of oats without the added sugars or flavors in the packaged hot cereal products.
2. What is the best plant-based milk to add to cereal?
Almond, oat, hazelnut, cashew, soy, or hemp milk are all great options. I recommend choosing the plain, unsweetened, or unsweetened vanilla. These products are also sold with added sugars, flavors, and thickeners, so take a look at the ingredients. Look for carrageenan free (carrageenan is a thickener used in some plant milks made from an edible red seaweed). It has been linked to stomach ailments. You can easily make nut milk at home. Check out my Hazelnut Cacao Milk featured in VegNews!
3. Do plant-based milks increase the nutritional value of breakfast cereal?
Hemp milk provides both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and protein. Soy milk adds about 9 grams of protein per cup, and almond milk boosts calcium too. Some plant milks come fortified with Vitamin D and B12, both recommended supplements for vegans.
4. Are there any snack ideas for vegan cereal lovers?
Making a homemade granola bar is a great cereal lover's snack. These are perfect for on the go or for travel. You can also make a trail mix with puffed grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. Adding cooked, cooled oatmeal to a smoothie is great for boosting your smoothie with fiber and protein. If you are making overnight oats, you can also pull some of those soaked oats for a smoothie.