We are so worried about our bowels. A quick walk through a supermarket cereal aisle — keeping your eyes up high on the “adult” shelves — offers a glimpse of endless products promising more blissful movements with just one bowlful.
This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Packaged cereal had a health-focused following beginning in the late 1800s. And when oat bran became the high-fiber darling of the 1980s, “Saturday Night Live” featured Phil Hartman sitting atop a pyramid of cereal bowls, advertising the parody Colon Blow cereal.
These days, we have more packaged cereals than ever to promote efficient elimination, including one called Poop Like A Champion, which was created in 2016 to give customers “the ‘poo-phoric’ experience of having great, strain-free poops every day, providing a judgment-free space in which people can address their constipation issues,” said Patsy Gannon, certified digestive health specialist and head of the company’s product development.
But why are we so concerned about eating cereal that will make us poop? According to Maeve Webster, president of the food industry consultancy Menu Matters, digestive health is becoming an even more significant issue for consumers. “As more studies come out confirming the central — literally and figuratively — role of the digestive system, I think we can see a growing number of products that focus exclusively on these issues or tie these issues into products that are functionally focused,” she told HuffPost, noting an increased awareness of the role gut health plays in “energy, sleep, metabolism, weight loss and even beauty.”
The average American eats only 15 grams of fiber a day, well below the Food and Drug Administration recommendation of at least 28 grams. In fact, 95% of American adults and children aren’t getting enough fiber. As scientists worry about “closing the fiber consumption gap,” many of us probably could use a bowl of Colon Blow right about now. Studies indicate that 16% of all Americans and 33.5% of adults over 60 suffer from chronic constipation.
Why is fiber such a big deal at breakfast?
Our intentions tend to be pure in the morning (even if our guts are unpleasantly clamped down), so it makes sense that many people arrive at the first meal of the day with a “health over pleasure” mentality. But does it really help to ingest a lot of fiber at breakfast?
Registered dietitian Marissa Meshulam told HuffPost that a breakfast with “a good amount of fiber, as well as protein and fat,” helps manage hunger and energy through the day.
“There’s no one magic food, but if you enjoy breakfast cereal, it’s a great place to add a fibrous punch to your day,” added registered dietitian nutritionist Chelsey Amer, adding that doing so can help you hit the daily recommendation for fiber.
“Breakfast is a nice time of day to be consistent about your food choices,” RDN Sharon Palmer said. “Many people get elimination benefits by including it in the morning meal.”
But while it’s good to start off with a fiber-filled morning, RDN Amy Gorin told HuffPost: “You need to aim for a happy medium. You don’t want to overload at one meal and then eat very little or no fiber at the next meal, as your tummy wouldn’t be so happy with that. So it’s best to get a moderate amount each time, to build up to the recommended amount.”
What to look for on the shelf
“Look for a cereal that contains both kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble,” Gannon said. “Each fiber has a job, and when the two are combined, it takes pooping to the next level. Look for ingredients like oats or psyllium, which contain both kinds of fiber.” She recommends trying a gluten-free option if you’ve experienced bloating from fiber.
Amer suggested looking for a cereal with fewer than 5 grams of added sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. RDN Vicki Shanta Retelny suggested looking for “whole grains” as an ingredient on the cereals’ nutrition facts panel. Meshulam encouraged fiber-seekers to look for expanded ingredient lists that include things like wheat bran, flaxseeds, chia, chickpeas, oat bran, cassava root, pea protein and beans.
If you’re following a keto, paleo or other low-carb diet, it’s a good idea to seek out low net carb, high-fiber cereals, since those diets restrict high-fiber ingredients like grains, legumes and fruit. “Low-fiber diets can cause short- and long-term health problems such as diarrhea, diverticulitis, colon cancer and gut dysbiosis,” Gannon said. “You’ll need to find other foods to make sure you hit your fiber target.”
Add-ons for even more fiber
If you’re wanting to up your fiber game even more, consider adding some toppings. First stop: flax. “Ground flaxseeds, with about 2 grams of fiber per tablespoon, allow the body to absorb the nutrients more readily than by eating the whole flaxseeds, which are harder to digest and may pass through the digestive system whole,” RDN Jerlyn Jones told HuffPost. “Adding a tablespoon of psyllium husk powder to your breakfast cereal is another simple option to increase the amount of fiber, since it has a whopping 7 grams of fiber per serving.”
“Nuts are always great, and almonds are the highest-fiber nut,” RDN Toby Smithson said. She also suggested chia seeds, flaxseeds, diced pears or berries. Amer is a big fan of berries, noting they are some of the highest-fiber fruits. Gorin is a fan of one specific berry topping: wild, not cultivated, blueberries. “Adding a big scoop of these high-fiber, brain-helping berries is a great way to start the day. Per cup, these blue gems provide an incredible 6 grams of health-helping fiber. That’s actually 72% more than the amount that cultivated blueberries provide,” she said.
Gorin also offered up cinnamon as a smart sprinkle. “It may be a surprising ingredient, but I love to recommend it both as a natural sweetener and as a way to add fiber to your meal,” she said. “Just one teaspoon of cinnamon contains more than a gram of fiber. Ceylon cinnamon has a milder and more delicate flavor, so you might want to try sprinkling that on your cereal. Plus, it’s bursting with health-helping antioxidants.”
Meshulam recommended That’s It Crunchables for cereal topping: “They’re dried apple and pumpkin seeds, which provide an awesome mix of protein, fat and fiber. You can make what I call ‘adult cereal’ by taking a good high-fiber, low-sugar choice and bulking it up with more fats, proteins and fiber from natural sources.”
It’s important to drink plenty of water with your breakfast
Finally, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind if you plan to add more fiber: slow pace, maximum hydration. “Add fiber gradually to avoid gastrointestinal distress,” Retelny said, noting the importance of drinking plenty of water with it.
Gannon also advocated for hydration. “A common mistake people make is to eat a large serving of fiber cereal, but not to drink enough water. The fiber will absorb whatever moisture is in your system and your stool will become dry, causing a literal logjam in your colon. We recommend at least eight glasses of water a day, and you should have one to two glasses with your cereal.”
Top picks for high-fiber cereals
In no particular order ...
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