Jacked Check – An occasional series fact checking the world of bro science
Claim: A bowl of cereal is the nutritional equivalent of a bowl of ice cream.
Conclusion: Carbohydrates from grains have limited nutrient value, and like all carbohydrates (except fiber), they are eventually broken down into glucose. In addition, the lactose found in bowls of cereal and ice cream is a simple sugar equivalent to table sugar.
My wife told me recently she was craving a bowl of cereal, and I told her she might as well have a bowl of ice cream. She told me I was exaggerating … but was I?
When I was younger, I remember coming home from the gym in the morning, pouring myself three or four bowls of whole grain cereal with skim milk, and thinking I was doing myself a favor. Switching my breakfast from cereal to eggs (and then to no breakfast at all) has probably been the most profound change I’ve made to my health.
I think it’s well understood that sweet-tasting cereals marketed at kids are like Halloween in a bowl. But what about adult brands like Cheerios and Grape Nuts?
At the grocery store today, I took a picture of the nutrition panel on a box of Cheerios, Grape Nuts, and Bran Flakes. In the dessert aisle I photographed the back of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream—the preferred treat of my wife and four-year old.
Carbohydrates are sugar. They are a type of sugar molecule, and the body eventually breaks down all carbohydrates, with the exception of fiber, into glucose. For the results below, I’ve subtracted out the fiber in the cereals so that we’re comparing net carbs to net carbs. I’m also using the nutrition values for cereal with milk—just like ice cream.
Real-world serving size is also a consideration whether you’re measuring the nutrition of cereal or ice cream. However, in this case, we’ll take the food companies at their word and compare serving sizes as labeled by the marketing department, I mean the in-house dietitians, and let everyone lie equally no questions asked.
One argument for why carbohydrate-rich foods—those with fiber—are different from table sugar is because they also contain other nutrients like B vitamins. Well let me tell you: So do the eggs in ice cream.
A serving of Cheerios clocked in at 31g net carbs, with total sugar of 8g. Bran flakes came out essentially the same. A serving of Grape Nuts supplies 46g net carbs and 11g of total sugar. A serving of Grape Nuts is considered 58g, while Cheerios and Bran Flakes say a serving is about 40g, so that may be the difference. A serving of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough contains … 42g of total carbs and 33g of total sugar.
Unless someone can make a compelling argument for why carbs—or at least carbs from grains—should be treated differently than added sugar, I’m calling this a tie.