How to Build a Healthy Breakfast

Breakfast makers are looking beyond snap, crackle and pop to a functional future of simplicity, endurance and heart health.

By David Feder, RD, Technical Editor

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We’re on the edge of a breakfast revolution, with the future of the AM repast being pulled in two directions.

“Two major issues are pulling breakfast R&D in seemingly opposite directions,” says Kent Spalding, director of marketing for Weetabix North America/Barbara's Bakery Inc. (, Petaluma, Calif. “There’s the push for increased functionality, making breakfast foods healthier than ever. But there also is a drive toward simplicity — fewer ingredients that are more pure, more organic and less processed.”Spalding, however, does not see these as opposing forces so much as merging forces. “You can have both,” he says. “I see a near future of functionality coming not from such things as nutraceutical add-ins but from more natural sources of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Instead of adding, say, vitamins for eye health to a cereal coating we’ll see pure berry powders incorporated into a flake batter at functional levels.”

“We see cereal continuing to segment into smaller markets in response to specific health and wellness concerns by consumers,” says Bernadette Wasdovitch, marketing communications manager for Briess Malt & Ingredients Co. (, Chilton, Wis. “But developing cereals for niche markets like athletes, mothers-to-be and celiacs will require formulating with a combination of ingredients that deliver both label claims and good taste.”

Label-smart consumers increasingly are seeking ingredients that are less processed, yet taste and look as good as the breakfast products they grew up on. “That creates a laundry list of formulating and processing challenges,” admits Wasdovitch. “For example, browning flaked cereal was once reserved for malt extract. Now, cereal manufacturers have discovered that several gluten-free natural sweeteners once reserved for bread or beer production do the job equally well.”

Taking Basics Beyond Basic

Experts at National Starch Food Innovation (, Bridgewater, N.J., have noted that “breakfast cereal has evolved from basic flakes and puffs into a range of products that provide an array of sizes, shapes, textures and, increasingly, customized nutrition for specific consumer life stages and health benefits.”

Statistical information provided by National Starch states that “sales of cereals with nutritional benefit claims, such as added fiber, heart health, satiety, formulated for men/women, increased by more than 13 percent in 2007 – double the growth of the cereal category as a whole.” 

Since grains are the usual building blocks, a lot will be happening on that front in the very near future. Coming in from the fringe will be new, better-for-you grains. “One trend we’ve been seeing over the past few years is major growth — despite the economy — in demand for cereals that use kamut khorasan wheat,” says Trevor Blyth, CEO of Kamut International Inc. (, Missoula, Mont. 

Exotic grains – such as quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff and sorghum – are working their way into many cereals, in part because they have no wheat gluten. Pictured is wheat cousin kamut, which is higher in protein than other wheats plus richer in trace minerals. PHOTO: KAMUT KHORASAN WHEAT

Kamut is a type of wheat that is higher in protein than other wheats plus richer in trace minerals, including the antioxidant mineral selenium. Blyth notes kamut khorasan wheat already is being used in the U.S. to produce many nationally and internationally distributed cereals such as Kamut Puffs and Kamut Flakes from Arrowhead Mills Inc., Boulder, Colo.; Erewhon-brand Kamut Flakes from U.S. Mills Inc., Needham, Mass.; and is included in half a dozen Nature’s Path Foods Inc. cereal products.

Richmond, B.C.-based Nature’s Path Foods Inc. ( has been instrumental in moving healthier, unique grains and ingredients from the edges to the mainstream. The company plans to make increased use of quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff and sorghum. It is no coincidence that most of these grains are gluten-free.

In addition to those old-fashioned grains, Nature’s Path also incorporates into many of its cereals superfruits and fruit peels for antioxidants. R&D director Bonnie Smythe also cites increased use of such natural, low-calorie sweeteners as stevia, erythritol, coconut sugar and agave.

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