When it comes to the health of Australians, fat was once firmly thought to be public enemy number one. However, in recent years, research has pointed to sugar being the real source of blame when it comes to both obesity and heart disease.
As a country in the midst of a crisis where almost two in three of its inhabitants are overweight or obese, a focus on the role sugar plays in the diet of everyday Australians isn't just important, it's absolutely necessary. And so far, the results have been alarming, with the food industry even being likened to big tobacco when it comes to the debate over whether sugar causes obesity.
However, the resulting sugar freak-out may have seen some foods unnecessarily thrown under the bus, and according to a new report Bowled Over at Breakfast, cereal is of them.
Most Australians (62 percent) ate minimally pre-sweetened breakfast cereals -- 63 percent of adults and 60 percent of children.
The new research was led by Director of Nutrition Research Australia's Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore, commissioned by the Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum and presented at the Dietitians Association of Australia's national conference last week.
It found the 41 percent of Aussie adults and 45 percent of kids that ate breakfast cereal had:
- the same daily energy intake (kilojoules) as those who ate other breakfasts
- significantly higher intakes of iron, calcium, fibre, folate and magnesium
- lower sodium intake, and
- were more likely to meet daily nutrient needs, particularly for fibre and calcium, which they were 37 percent more likely to meet, and both of which Australians need to get more.
In short, those we were eating breakfast cereals were finding it easier to hit their nutrient targets across the day, and (importantly) they weren't consuming more kilojoules or putting on extra weight in the process.
"I guess from my perspective, what I find is really interesting is there are quite a lot of nutrients coming from breakfast cereal, and this in turn is translating to nutrients across the day," Fayet-Moore told The Huffington Post Australia.
"This means there is a greater likelihood for people to reach their nutrient targets, especially for fibre. They are also getting the advantages of those key micro nutrients which are added to cereal, such as folate or iron."
Another point worth making is those who weren't having cereal weren't necessarily making super-healthy choices in its stead, and were in fact, missing out on those nutritional benefits as a result.
"Instead of cereal, we found people were mainly having bread with coffee and margarine," Fayet-Moore said. "So we are comparing to what people are actually doing, and finding that cereal is resulting in greater nutrients."
So why has cereal previously been given such a bad rap?
Fayet-Moore says it could be due to the fact many of the studies released in Australia are actually conducted in America, which, in dietary terms, is "very, very different to Australia."
"The sugar content [in American cereals] tends to be a lot higher," Fayet-Moore said. "And in a US study from 2011, it showed most American kids were having these higher sugar cereals.
"On top of that, food supply in Australia has changed quite dramatically over the years, so while 20 years ago people may have been eating cereals that were really high in salt and high in sugar, consumer habits have changed.
"What we actually found was that most Australians (62 percent) ate minimally pre-sweetened breakfast cereals -- 63 percent of adults and 60 percent of children."
It's important we make evidence-based choices. We can't ignore the fact [breakfast cereal] is proving to be nutritious.
In short, Fayet-Moore is of the opinion cereal-lovers can relax, and if we are going to point the finger at our dietary shortfalls as a country, there are certainly better places to start.
"I think it's an important message to translate to Australian population -- that those who were choosing [breakfast cereal] had a higher level of nutrient intake and they weren't putting on weight as a result," Fayet-Moore said.
"Across the board, one third of our energy is coming from food that isn't nutritious. So why are we picking on a nutritious food which is being shown to have no difference in a person's overall energy intake?
"It's important we make evidence-based choices. We can't ignore the fact [breakfast cereal] is proving to be nutritious.
"Let's work on working on discretionary foods instead. I'd be more inclined to assess what I'm having for morning tea or my alcohol intake, to be honest. That's something Australians tend to overlook. Every stubbie of beer is like a can of soft drink... let's take a look at that instead."
Keen to know more about the health benefits of cereal? Check out our breakfast cereal breakdown for the best and worst options available in Aussie supermarkets.