Recently, I have noticed a spate of adverts which suggest that eating a bowlful of cereal in the morning can help kids’ concentration. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently received several complaints about one such advert claiming that ‘Studies show a breakfast like Shreddies helps give kids the mental energy they need to stay involved at school’. Shreddies’ manufacturer, Cereal Partners UK, were only able to offer one small study which tested the effects of its cereal in this respect. The ASA adjudged that the advert made potentially misleading claims for the supposed brain boosting effects of Shreddies on children’s performance in the classroom, and duly wrapped its manufacturer across the knuckles by banning the advert in its original form.
In their defence, Cereal Partners UK cited other evidence which appeared to support the notion that eating Shreddies for breakfast can help kids’ concentration. However, most of these studies compared the effects of eating some sort of breakfast with eating nothing at all. Because breakfast eating will help refuel the brain after the overnight fast, it comes as no surprise that consuming something rather than nothing in the morning turns out to be better where concentration is concerned. However, I have considerable reservations about the oft-touted notion that kids’ cereals are the healthiest fare with which to start the day.
One major downside to most breakfast cereals is the fact that they give relatively brisk and substantial release of sugar into the bloodstream. Such sugar surges will tend to cause excesses of the sugar-lowering hormone insulin, which may drive blood sugar levels to subnormal levels later one. In my experience, such a stalling of sugar delivery to the brain may precipitate problems such as poor concentration, and undesirable changes in mood and behaviour in the late morning. And in the long term, gluts of insulin in the system will predispose young bodies to both weight gain and type 2 diabetes. The heavily salted nature of many breakfast cereals is another reason for them to be left on the supermarket shelf.
Whilst I am a hearty advocate of some form of breakfast, I do think it makes sense that this comes in the form of something truly wholesome that will also gives a relatively slow and sustained release of sugar into the bloodstream. An unsweetened oat-based muesli containing highly nutritious foods such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit will tend to fit the bill in this respect.
However, not all children are happy to eat much in the morning, and may therefore do better on a liquid start to the day in the form of a smoothie. Nutrient-packed berries such as strawberries, raspberries or blueberries make ideal ingredients here. The addition of natural yoghurt to a fruit-based smoothie may improve its texture and flavour, and will also help to ensure this drink gives a sustained release of sugar to the brain throughout the morning. Nutritious, slow-sugar releasing breakfasts would be my choice for giving kids a head start in the morning.