" Eat a bowl of cereal for each of the two meals out of three in a day for 6 weeks and lose 2 kg body weight" This is the new commercial being aired recently in the electronic media by a reputed manufacturer of break fast cereals all across India. Of course this is not an empty claim confined to only India and same is being touted in UK also by one of the scientific groups based on their 'study'. International media had picked up this story flashing it extensively across most of the news networks during the last few days. One wonders whether losing weight is as simple as leaving the favorite foods for six weeks and eating the delicious breakfast cereals available in the market. If true there will not be any adherents to more demanding Atkins Diet or other diet based weight losing programs.
The above mentioned study was reported to have been carried out by 'experts' in a University in UK using 41 subjects for 6 weeks. They compared the cereal eating group's weight dynamics with another group not eating the cereal. The subjects ate two bowls of cereal for break fast and lunch but were allowed to eat whatever they wanted for dinner to achieve the miracle!. There are several questions that need to be addressed before taking these results without 'a pinch of salt'. The bowl size is not mentioned but probably it is one serving size of about 4 ounce or about 120 g. What about the type of cereal that can accomplish the task? Will the frosted corn flakes will do the same magic as the plain one? What about Rice Krispies, Coco Puff etc? The two bowls of cereals with 4 ounce of milk (3% fat) can provide about 1000 kC energy. That means the dinner will have to provide the remaining1000 kC of energy and balance nutrients. What about snacking between the servings? Forbidden? Any clinical data regarding the various health parameters of the subjects before and after the study? If really the subjects have reduced their body weights as claimed, could it be due to caloric deficit in the food regime? Answers for these troubling questions will have to come from those who splashed the news across the world as a breath taking finding.
The energy content in break fast cereals varies between 265 kC and 410 kC per serving of 100g while the protein content on an average is about 7%-9%. Dietary fiber is practically nil except in case of special products containing bran fractions. Is it practical to expect a wholesome diet under such a regime as suggested by the UK group? In one of the recent surveys of 275 cereal products in global markets, it was found that more than 75% had sugars as high as 15 g per 100 g, 20% had salt content above 1.5 g per 100g while 7% contained saturated fat beyond 5 g per 100g. Nine out of ten products targeted at children were high sugar products. With these types of products on the super market shelves what will be the choice of a consumer looking for the most suitable cereal for weight control?
If one eats toasted bread slices equivalent to a bowl of cereals in the morning and repeat the same for lunch also, will it work? Or Idli, Dosa, Noodles or any other foods providing same food value can ensure weight loss to the same extent? According to another study from the same University, there is an association between slim people and cereal consumption during break fast, though they are not sure about the scientific basis for such a claim! It is not clear whether the satiety and appetite factors were considered by the protagonists of cereal products. Else where in the world studies are focusing on the possibility of increasing satiety and depressing appetite by incorporating alginates, guar gum etc in cereals and baked foods to prolong the feeling of fullness and consequently reduced food intake. Life style changes in diet should not be accepted unless there is scientific confirmation about the advantages and disadvantages of taking such a recourse.
Treating diet in a holistic way can only help to evolve safe foods for weight control and any restrictive dieting must keep in mind the impact it will have on many critically essential nutrients needed for sound health.