Cereals have always been a significant part of our diet. They are consumed throughout the world in different forms, like rice, chapati, oatmeal, bread, etc.
Have you ever wondered and explored the difference between them and what makes them so nutritious?
This review will discuss different cereals and whole grains, their nutritional values, and impressive health claims.
What are Cereals?
Cereals belong to the Gramineae grass family and are edible seeds or grains. They are considered staple foods in many countries.
Whole grains are packed with nutrients like dietary fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. Refined forms of these grains usually lose these nutrients during processing making them an empty carb-rich food.
Different Types of Cereals
It is one of the most popularly consumed cereal grains globally. Wheat is primarily composed of carbs.
Unrefined whole wheat also contains dietary fiber, protein, healthy fats, and micronutrients like folate, manganese, selenium, and phosphorus. Therefore, to enjoy its health benefits, one must prefer taking whole wheat-based products over refined ones.
Wheat bran and germ possess rich antioxidant properties because of plant compounds like ferulic acid, lutein, and lignans.
Wheat comprises a protein called gluten; hence not recommended for people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and allergy.
This super healthy gluten-free cereal is highly nutritious and packed with several minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Soluble dietary fiber, beta-glucans, and antioxidants called avenanthramides account for the major health benefits of oats.
Oats are available in various forms and flavours like steel-cut, instant oats, etc. One can relish them by adding them to porridges, muffins, cookies, and other baked goods.
Rice is the staple food in many countries like India, Japan, and China. It is mainly composed of carbs with little protein and negligible fat.
Thousands of rice varieties exist with difference in shape, colour, and size, but white and brown rice are most commonly consumed. Both are favourable for our health when taken as a part of a balanced meal.
Whole grain corn or maize is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Corn is mainly enjoyed as sweet corn or popcorn. However, refined form is prevalent in packaged foods like tortilla chips, cornflour, and corn oil.
Maize is considered good for eye health as it has two carotenoids – lutein and zeaxanthin. Additionally, it is a good source of nutrients like manganese, phosphorus, zinc, copper, potassium, vitamin B5, and B6.
Hence, a moderate intake of corn or maize may prove beneficial for our health.
This pseudocereal has recently gained popularity among superfood grains.
Quinoa has high protein and fiber content as compared to many other grains. It is gluten-free and high in vitamins and minerals like folate, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
Quinoa may prove an intelligent carb choice, especially if you aim to lose weight.
Rye is a powerhouse of antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals, and vitamins. It is consumed in many forms like rye seeds, sprouted rye, and rye flour.
Rye grains are good for heart health as their high soluble fiber content promotes healthy cholesterol levels and reduces bile secretion.
If you are a fan of bread, you can replace refined flour bread with rye bread. Rye is not suggested for people on gluten-free diets.
Barley is a gluten-containing whole grain packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds.
Barley has been shown to benefit our blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Its high soluble fiber content keeps our gut healthy by reducing inflammation and promoting the growth of gut-friendly bacteria.
It is available in many forms like flour, grits, and flakes. If you enjoy barley, try consuming it in sprouted or soaked form, as it helps reduce the anti-nutrient level and enhances barley nutrient absorption.
Millets are small and round whole grains known for their high protein, antioxidants, and fiber content. Common millets widely consumed globally are pear millet, Kodo millet, barnyard millet, and finger (ragi) millet.
Millets are healthy and can be a part of gluten-free diets as well. They have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and lower the risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Like barley, millets should also be preferred in soaked or sprouted form to reap maximum benefits.
Sorghum may not be a widely consumed cereal, but it is power-packed with nutrients. It comes in various forms and colours like white, orange, tan, red, black, and brown.
Sorghum is gluten-free and a rich source of magnesium and various antioxidants. It can help reduce inflammation, manage weight, relieve constipation and stabilize blood lipid and sugar levels. One can cook it like rice or quinoa or use it in a flour form.
This pseudocereal is high in carbs with decent dietary fiber, making it suitable for our gut health.
This grain is not associated with wheat and is gluten-free despite its name. Manganese, copper, iron, phosphorus, and magnesium are some minerals present in buckwheat.
Buckwheat is safe for people with diabetes due to its low glycemic index. Though it does not cause any adverse effects, people with buckwheat allergy must refrain from consuming it.
Types of Breakfast Cereals
- Muesli: It contains a mixture of different grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.
- Granola: The ingredients of granola are almost similar to muesli. The only distinction is that they are baked and may contain some sweeteners like sugar or honey.
- Bran Cereal: They usually contain wheat bran flakes. One can take bran cereal with milk or add it to smoothies or yogurt to increase the dietary fiber content of the diet healthily and effectively.
- Cornflakes: This breakfast cereal contains flattened flakes of corn or maize. It may contain sugar, malt, or salt added as flavour enhancers.
- Wheat Flakes: These are made by flattening whole wheat with bran, making them more fiber-rich.
- Oat Cereal: Another popular healthy breakfast cereal loaded with nutrients. Oat cereal comes in various forms like oat flakes, groats, instant oats, and steel-cut oats.
- Fortified Cereals: They contain whole grains fortified with nutrients that are not naturally present in the ingredients present, like vitamin D, A, folate, and iron. It is done to enhance the nutritional value and minimize deficiency risk.
Nutritional Value of Cereals (per 100 gms)
|NAME OF CEREAL/ MILLET||ENERGY (kcal)||PROTEINS (g)||CARBS (g)||FATS (g)|
Source: ICMR Nutritive Value of Indian Foods
Health Benefits of Cereals
- Rich in Nutrients
Whole-grain cereals contain a higher content of essential nutrients like B-vitamins, iron, selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, etc., than refined ones 2 .
One must prefer breakfast cereals, pasta, or bread made with whole-grain ingredients to enjoy the dual benefit of taste and health.
- Energy Dense
Whole-grain cereals are an abundant source of energy3 . The best part is that whole-grain cereals contain complex carbs and dietary fiber, making them suitable for our digestive and gut health. The high fiber promotes energy supply for a longer duration and prevents instant insulin spikes.
- Healthy Heart Functioning
Whole grain cereals contain heart health-boosting nutrients like folic acid, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, and E.
They have been shown to reduce the risk of heart failure, which was revealed in a study conducted in 1999. Researchers found that people including whole grain cereals in their diet are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases1 .
- Support Weight Loss
Whole grain cereals can help you with weight loss and weight management. They are one of the primary sources of complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Studies also support that whole-grain intake is inversely associated with BMI and improved body composition and waist to hip ratio5 .
- Reduce Diabetes Risk
The presence of dietary fiber, magnesium, antioxidants, and certain plant compound content makes whole grains excellent for people with diabetes. Meeting daily carbohydrate requirements by including whole grains in the diet is a perfect approach to keeping blood sugar levels in control, preventing sudden glucose spikes, and improving glucose metabolism6 .
- Promote Healthy Digestion
Whole grains provide the gastrointestinal tract with more fiber, thus helping maintain gastrointestinal function. Various components in whole grain cereals act synergistically to help improve bowel function, protect against gastrointestinal cancers and inflammation, strengthen barrier function, and provide immune support.
Are There Any Side Effects of Cereals?
Whole grain cereals are incredibly healthy, yet a few checkpoints must be considered while including them in the regular diet.
- Cereals are packed with carbohydrates; therefore, one must avoid overconsumption as it can lead to excess calorie intake and obesity.
- If you are fond of breakfast cereals, read the ingredient list and nutrition facts carefully. Check the sugar and sodium content, sweeteners, and preservatives added. Prefer the ones made with whole ingredients without artificial ingredients, and watch the portion size.
- People with celiac disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and gluten-free diets should avoid wheat, rye, triticale, and barley-based products.
Top 5 Healthy Cereal Brands Available in India
- Kellogg’s Muesli 0% added sugar
- Quaker Oats 100% Natural Wholegrain
- Baggry’s Muesli No Added Sugar
- Whole Truth Foods Breakfast Muesli – Nuts, Fruits & Seeds
- YogaBar Steel Cut Oats
Tasty and Healthy Toppings for Your Breakfast Cereals
- Nut butter like peanut butter and almond butter
- Nuts and Seeds
- Dried Fruits
- Fresh fruits like bananas, berries, pomegranates, apples, etc.
- Cocoa powder
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What is the difference between cereals and pulses?
Cereals are the edible components of grains, and they belong to the grass family. In comparison, pulses belong to the leguminous family and are edible seeds of the plant. Cereals are high in carbs, whereas pulses are rich in proteins, amino acids, and micronutrients.
2. Are breakfast cereals healthy?
Breakfast cereals containing whole grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits without any added sugar and artificial additives are a super healthy option to start your day.
3. Which is the healthiest breakfast cereal?
One can choose from a wide variety of healthy breakfast cereal options available in the market free from artificial colour, added sugar, and any harmful contaminants.
4. Does cereal make you gain weight?
Cereals are high in calories and, if consumed more than the required amount, can result in weight gain.
5. How much cereal is healthy to eat per day?
An adult can consume 35-40 grams of cereal per day depending upon everyday needs.
6. Are cereals safe for gluten intolerant people?
Packaged cereals containing gluten-free grains are safe for gluten-intolerant people. However, it is always better to read the warnings and allergen info mentioned on the pack before buying.
7. Are there any gluten-free cereals?
Some super-healthy gluten-free cereals are quinoa, jowar, oats, bajra, buckwheat, corn, brown rice, teff, and amaranth.
8. Are cereals good for health?
Whole grain cereals are good for our health and have been shown to help manage blood glucose and cholesterol levels, reduce cancer risk and promote overall well-being.
9. Which is the best cereal for weight loss?
People aiming to lose weight can opt for oats, whole wheat flakes, bran cereal, and muesli without added sugar.
10. What is the best cereal of all time?
Many good breakfast cereals are available in the market containing whole grains without any unwanted fillers.
11. Is it healthy to mix cereal for breakfast?
Yes, one can enjoy a mix of different cereals for breakfast and top them with fresh fruits, nuts, and seeds to enhance their nutritional value.
12. Why do healthy cereals have more calories than unhealthy cereals?
Unhealthy cereals usually have high sugar content and fillers making them calorie-rich. In contrast, healthy breakfast cereals focus on dietary fiber and other health-boosting nutrients.
13. Is having cereals with milk in breakfast a healthy option?
One can enjoy cereals with milk or yogurt. But if you are not a fan of dairy, you can replace milk with water, almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, and vegan yogurt.
14. Is eating cereals in the morning as breakfast good for health?
There is no harm in starting your day with a bowl of healthy breakfast cereal. It should not be highly processed and should not contain refined grains and added sugar.
- 1Liu, S., Stampfer, M. J., Hu, F. B., Giovannucci, E., Rimm, E., Manson, J. E., Hennekens, C. H., & Willett, W. C. (1999). Whole-grain consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: results from the Nurses’ Health Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(3), 412–419. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/70.3.412
- Baniwal, P., Mehra, R., Kumar, N., Sharma, S., & Kumar, S. (2021). Cereals: Functional constituents and its health benefits. The Pharma Innovation, 10(2), 343–349. https://doi.org/10.22271/tpi.2021.v10.i2e.5681
- Smith, C. E., & Tucker, K. L. (2011). Health benefits of cereal fibre: a review of clinical trials. Nutrition Research Reviews, 24(1), 118–131. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0954422411000023
- Djoussé, L., & Gaziano, J. M. (2007). Breakfast Cereals and Risk of Heart Failure in the Physicians’ Health Study I. Archives of Internal Medicine, 167(19), 2080. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.167.19.2080
- 5Maki, K. C., Palacios, O. M., Koecher, K., Sawicki, C. M., Livingston, K. A., Bell, M., Nelson Cortes, H., & McKeown, N. M. (2019). The Relationship between Whole Grain Intake and Body Weight: Results of Meta-Analyses of Observational Studies and Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 11(6), 1245. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061245
- 6Hu, Y., Ding, M., Sampson, L., Willett, W. C., Manson, J. E., Wang, M., Rosner, B., Hu, F. B., & Sun, Q. (2020). Intake of whole-grain foods and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective cohort studies. BMJ, m2206. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2206
- Wu, W. C., Inui, A., & Chen, C. Y. (2020). Weight loss induced by a whole grain-rich diet is through a gut microbiota-independent mechanism. World Journal of Diabetes, 11(2), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.4239/wjd.v11.i2.26
- della Pepa, G., Vetrani, C., Vitale, M., & Riccardi, G. (2018). Wholegrain Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Evidence from Epidemiological and Intervention Studies. Nutrients, 10(9), 1288. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10091288
- Călinoiu, L. F., & Vodnar, D. C. (2018). Whole Grains and Phenolic Acids: A Review on Bioactivity, Functionality, Health Benefits and Bioavailability. Nutrients, 10(11), 1615. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10111615