Cereal Eaters Get More Nutrients, More Fiber, Less Fat, Research Shows

April 07, 1997

No. 232


CHAPEL HILL -- People who regularly start each day eating a bowl of cold breakfast cereal tend to consume more fiber and calcium -- but less fat -- than people who breakfast on other foods, according to a new study.

The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the first of its kind, found the benefits of cereal eating in both U.S. whites and blacks. Benefits were less evident among Hispanics because their traditional breakfast foods already contain fiber and certain other nutrients.

Drs. Anna Maria Siega-Riz and Barry Popkin, research assistant professor of nutrition and professor of nutrition, respectively, at UNC-CH's schools of public health and medicine, will present the findings Tuesday (April 8) at the Experimental Biology 1997 scientific meeting in New Orleans.

"Nutritionists have understood and preached for many years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day so that's fairly well known by now," said Siega-Riz, principal investigator. "Less well-known are the benefits of eating particular foods at breakfast."

Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals from 1989 to 1991, the UNC-CH researchers studied morning food consumption for three successive days among 10,191 people. In analyzing 27,000 meals, they found subjects ate an average of just over two breakfasts during the three days.

Investigators found people who ate breakfasts without ready-to-eat cereal had higher intakes of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and lower intakes of energy, fiber and nutrients. People who ate cereals also were significantly more likely to consume other nutritious foods such as fruit juices and other citrus fruits at the same time.

On any given day, cereals -- the most often-chosen solid food -- were eaten about 30 percent of the time.

"People who did not eat cereal were more likely to consume soft drinks, high-fat breads such as sweet rolls, donuts, eggs and low-fiber fruits," Siega-Riz said. "When we looked at different ethnic groups, we found Hispanics, who did not each much cereal, did get fiber and minerals like calcium and iron in such foods as refried beans and tortillas."

Whites and blacks who did not eat much cereal often ate such foods as grits, pork sausages, biscuits and country ham, all notoriously high in fat, she said.

"Food patterns that include ready-to-eat cereals at breakfast can help people achieve a high-fiber, low-fat diet, which earlier studies have shown to be important in preventing leading diseases like heart disease and some types of cancer," Siega-Riz said.

A related study by UNC-CH nutrition doctoral student Terri Carson found little difference in breakfast habits between males and females, but age and ethnic origin were important. People over age 50 and children between ages 5 and 10 tended to eat breakfast more often than did older children and young adults and consume a healthier group of nutrients.

Kellogg, the cereal manufacturer, supported the UNC-CH dietary trends research.

Note: Siega-Riz and Popkin can be reached at (919) 962-8410 and 966-1732, respectively, after the meeting. During the meeting, they can be reached through the FASEB press room either at the Ernest Morial Convention Center at (504) 582-3000 or the Hilton Riverside Hotel at (504) 561-0500 in New Orleans. Siega-Riz will stay at the Double Tree Hotel, (504) 581-1300.

Contact: David Williamson

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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