Harvard Medical School says consumers should focus on the periphery of the grocery store, i.e. produce, protein (meat and fish), and the now array of ‘healthy’ plant based alternatives. But, let’s face it, it’s hard to avoid those center aisles forever. The colorful marketing and sugary allure of cereal was once the culprit of many a child’s disappearance. If Mom was looking for her kin, she had a better chance of finding her near a Kellogg’s box than a kale stalk.
As diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a myriad of cancers seem even more prevalent, are there any cereals to still enjoy without worrying about next month’s blood results? (For clarity, when talking of cereal, I am not referring to the new wave of organic, health conscious Whole Foods SKUs. I’m talking about the stuff of commercials past. From Tony the Tiger to Fred Flinstone. Get it? Got it. Grrrreattt!)
I acquired data published three years ago by former Kaggle data scientist Chris Crawford. The set has nearly one hundred thousand views and a 16% download per view ratio. It lists eighty different cereals and their nutrition facts per serving size (typically 8 oz, so for most of us multiply that by three), i.e. calories, protein, fat, fiber, sugar, carbs, etc.
But to which nutritional category should we lend our eyes? Sugar is scary and calories are to be counted so where to? For purposes of this article, I’m not going to drive to Battle Creek, Michigan and bang on Kellogg’s door, but I’d love their criteria for a ‘healthy’ cereal?
Before examining these rows, my favorites were drawn, predictions made. Cheerios are heart healthy right? It’s all over the box. What about Lucky Charms? Certainly, we’ve looked in worse places for pots of gold. Except what was revealed, according to least number of Calories, was lots of Bran and Puffed Rice. Yuck.
Instead, as a real person of source, I turned to the research of Dr. Michael Greger. He seemed like a pretty good soundboard, as he is the inventor of the site NutritionFacts.org as well as the author of The New York Times bestselling book, How Not To Die, which compiled years of studies and data on which foods kill and on which facts to focus.
According to Dr. Greger, it is Fiber. He is quick to mention the greatest source of dietary fiber is of course fruits and vegetables, but those from whole grains (the arena we are in, except we’re in the nose bleeds) is his major player in this discussion. Thus, he created the 5 to 1 Fiber Rule.
Carbs/Fiber < or equal to 5. And, don’t forget the IFERROR function as was a slew of Fiber totals of zero — not so Lucky Charms. Of the eighty cereals, nineteen (or 23.75 %) made the 5 to 1 cut. The results weren’t completely eye opening, however. Still, lots of Brans and Rice, but no Cheerios. They scored an 8.5. That yellow box just broke my heart.
What’s missing, however, is a blind study of three groups, those who ate a healthier alternative breakfast, those who ate within the 5 to 1, and those who ate above it. Perhaps a sixty or ninety day trial and resulting blood results could tell a story beyond these numbers.
Contrary to Dr Greger’s book, we are all going to die. And, he knows that. It’s multifaceted and an empty cereal box isn’t a sentence to a coffin, except maybe Count Chocula (they were a no fiber, no score), so if sticking around, stay salivating — just get smarter.
Dataset (CSV file): https://www.kaggle.com/crawford/80-cereals