How to balance a breakfast

 

I was a kid in the 90s, so there are a few truths I’ve held to be self-evident:

1. Disney Afternoon was the bomb.

2. It is legitimate to sometimes call things the bomb.

3. Cinnamon Toast Crunch is part of balanced breakfast.

While the first two statements hold up completely under modern scrutiny, the third is a little shaky. Let’s dissect it.

PART I. 🤔 WHAT IS CINNAMON TOAST CRUNCH? 🤔

Cinnamon Toast Crunch is a breakfast cereal made primarily from wheat and rice flour, sugar, and preservatives.

A serving size is 3/4 cup. That translates to about the amount you can fit in your cupped, grubby hand.

And in that serving, you’ll receive 130 calories, composed of 1g protein, 3g fat, 25g carb, and the warm hug of nostalgia.

PART II. 👧🏾 WHAT IS A BALANCED BREAKFAST? 👦🏿

It’s a marketing term intended to indemnify General Mills of any liability from the effects of consuming half a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in your underwear for 8-10 years of childhood.

PART III. 👨‍👨‍👧‍👧 WHAT IS A BALANCED BREAKFAST, RELOADED 👩‍👩‍👧

Breakfast cereal commercials depict a balanced breakfast as a mystifying, full-table spread of cereal, toast, fruit, oatmeal, and a pitcher (?) of orange juice. If you grew up with a breakfast spread anywhere near this extravagant, bless your poor mum for getting that ready every morning.

PART IV. 🤤 WHAT IS A BALANCED BREAKFAST, REVOLUTIONS 🤤

Let’s redefine the term in a manner that is actually a helpful guide toward our goals. “Balanced” in this context could mean “calorically balanced” between proteins, carbs, and fats - in a roughly 33/33/33 split. That’s a plenty legit way to break your fast, depending on your goals.

Why add protein and fat? Both serve countless critical functions in your body, but their most important role in your morning might be satiety: keeping you feeling full, longer. Both nutrients slow your digestion and turn up hormones that stave off mid-day rage-hunger.

PART V. 🙉  LET’S MATH 🙊

Here’s a math.

1g of carb contains 4 calories.

1g of protein contains 4 calories.

1g of fat contains 9 calories.

We know that Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 25g carb, 3g fat, 1g protein. How many grams of protein and fat do you need to balance your carbs?

Pencils down:

You need 24g protein and 8g fat.

PART VI. 😕  ..WHAT? 😕

Until you begin tracking your foods in MyFitnessPal (highly recommended, if only for a few weeks), you won't think about foods in grams of macronutrient. Don’t sweat it. Use your hands.

A palm-sized portion of protein is roughly 15-25 grams, depending on the size of your hand. A thumb-sized portion of fat is roughly 6-10 grams, depending on the size of your thumb.

So add 1-2 palms of lean protein and 1 thumb of fat; or 1-2 palms of fatty protein. We can explore sources of proteins, fats, and carbs in the future, but you have a good sense of what these are:

- egg whites (protein) and avocado (fat), OR

- 0% greek yogurt (protein) and a thumb of almond butter (fat), OR

- a rib-eye steak

You know, some steak with your Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Balanced doesn’t mean basic.  

PART VII. 👍🏽  YES, BUT 🍑

Back to the question at hand - can Cinnamon Toast Crunch be part of a balanced breakfast?

Yes,

But,

In order to do so, you’ll want to add a couple palm-sized portions of protein, and maybe a little fat.

And feel free to add a little milk to your cereal too. You’re not a savage.

PART VIII. 🍑 BUT, BUT 🍑

“But isn’t breakfast cereal packed with sugar and therefore bad for me?”

When it comes to eating, let go of the terms “good” and “bad”. Instead, focus on “helpful" and “unhelpful” in relation to your goals.

PART IX. 😐  MY WHAT NOW? 😬

We all have different goals and priorities around our bodies, performance, and health - and those goals will change over time. You may prioritize lowering your amount of body fat for the next six months, or you might have a goal of hitting a new record in your 5k time.

From an energy standpoint, a serving of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a banana contain close to the same amount of calories. At a molecular level, the sugar in breakfast cereal (sucrose) isn’t different than the sugar you’ll find in an banana (fructose and glucose). But breakfast cereal contains less water and fiber than a banana, which means it will likely fill you up less. Bananas also contain a glut of vitamins and minerals in more bioavailable (digestible and absorbable) form than cereal.

In terms of losing body fat, these differences are negligible because calorie balance has more influence than nutrient composition. If your goal is improving athletic performance or health markers, then the story is more complicated.

PART X. 🙂 MY IDEAL IS NOT YOUR IDEAL 🙃

As a nutrition educator, it’s tempting to conflate “what works for me” with “what works.”

Here’s the part where I confess: I have no interest in eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch anymore.  

Nor would I recommend it to most people asking me for breakfast advice. I’d rather eat something a little more filling, a little fresher, with a higher density of nutrients.

But what works for me isn’t what works for you. And the fact is, the decent diet that you follow will always be more effective than the “ideal” diet that you fall away from. If eating breakfast cereal is important to your sanity, then it can absolutely be included in the context of physique or performance goals.  

So, before you go ham on them sugar squares:

  • Start with determining your goals: do you want to change weight? Perform better? Feel stronger?

  • Understand your foods not as “good” or “bad”, but helpful or unhelpful 👏🏽 in 👏🏽 the 👏🏽 context 👏🏽 of 👏🏽 your 👏🏽 goals. For example, calorie balance rules weight change, while nutrient composition and density strongly affect how you feel and perform.

  • The source of your carbs matters - but may not impact your specific goals.

  • Balancing proteins, fats, and carbs is often a helpful strategy in reducing cravings and achieving lasting success.

Whether you break hearts, dance, bad, or fast:

Break well, my friends.

(Pictured: “Cinnamon Toast Crunch is part of a balanced breakfast” vs. Cinnamon Toast Crunch, part of a balanced breakfast)