How to Build a Healthy Breakfast

July 20, 2009
Breakfast makers are looking beyond snap, crackle and pop to a functional future of simplicity, endurance and heart health.

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.”

Look To the Future

According to Maria Emmer-Aanes, director of marketing and communications for Nature’s Path, other healthy trends for the breakfast bowl of the future focus on ingredient availability, “especially of certified organic and non-GMO ingredients, as well as shelf-life and packaging efficiencies through biodegradable, non-GMO bioplastics and smaller packaging.”

As an example, she notes, “Our EnviroKidz EnviroPacz sales have exploded, so we have to ask, is it because we reduced sugar or is it because this pack size offers consumers two-and-a-half boxes of cereal in one bag, reducing packaging by 66 percent while offering a 15-percent reduction in price? We believe it's the latter.”

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.

Smythe, too, sees more flavor and functionality coming from natural sources such as yogurt and pomegranate, as well as from botanicals such as cardamom, allspice, ginger, mango and “exotic” tea powders.

Even among the “standby” grains, ingredient makers are innovating with the combo of health and simplicity in mind. While the company provides multiple specialty starches, specialty ingredients, functional fibers and whole grain ingredients for a wide array of cereal applications, one of the best examples of potential in this arena is National Starch’s Hi-Maize resistant starch, a highly functional form of starch from corn, which acts as fiber.

Research into resistant starch has shown it increases satiety not only through its fiberlike action but at a biochemical level in the body. It also has proven benefits for reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers, while improving blood-sugar balance. Better, resistant starch provides about 40 percent fewer calories than regular starches and can be substituted for 25 percent or more of regular flours in formulations.

Pass the Grains

Sorghum also is in position to play to its strengths in breakfast foods. As a sweetener, it’s an iron-rich replacement for stronger-tasting sweeteners such as molasses. But recall that it’s a grain, and as such it’s the recipient of a surge of research into greater use in cereals and baked goods.

“I’m pretty optimistic about seeing an increase in sorghum’s use in healthy food products,” says Jeff Dahlberg, research director for the National Sorghum Producers’ United Sorghum Checkoff Program (, Lubbock, Texas.

“Sorghum is gluten-free, and as we begin to better understand its starch and protein properties, you’ll see more uses for it in this particular market,” he says. “We are also excited about some of our specialty sorghums, which contain tannins that have excellent ORAC [antioxidant] values. We also have several groups working on products using bran from these specialty sorghums."[pullquote]

While Dahlberg recognizes the growth of whole grains as more research points to their importance in nutrition, he also sees the challenges the ingredients present to processors. “Obviously, getting products [such as sorghum flour] to taste like and react like they are refined flours will take more research, but I believe we are making excellent strides in addressing those issues. For instance, Twin Valley Mills LLC [Ruskin, Neb.] is producing sorghum flour, and Enjoy Life Foods LLC [Schiller Park, Ill.] is making a very nice cereal product using sorghum.”

Another leap forward for breakfast foods on the horizon is the use of nongrain ingredients as the fundamental component. “Lentils, peas, beans and chickpeas are candidates for future formulations,” explains Heather Maskus, manager of the Food Innovation Project for Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Pulse Canada ( “Pulses are high in fiber and protein, gluten free and contain a host of other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and other phytochemicals.”

Without Gluten

Even though only a few percent of the population has celiac disease — a severe allergy to the gluten protein found in wheat and some other grains — the category of gluten-free foods has shown solid growth in the past few years.

According to the market research group Packaged Facts, gluten-free product sales have grown at an average annual rate of 28 percent since 2004, and reached $1.56 billion in 2008. This strength is in spite of earlier difficulties in formulation that allowed products that were less than ideal to flood the gluten-free market.

“Most gluten-free baked goods didn’t quite match gluten-containing products, especially when it comes to texture and shelf life,” says Bob Allin, marketing director for National Starch Food Innovation (, Bridgewater, N.J. But the company has taken its grain-product technology and produced gluten-free ingredients from corn, tapioca and rice. With other ingredient companies and food processors also making headway in quality, growth in this category is expected to continue well into the next few years at least.

Previous technical hurdles for use of pulse flours in cereals have been overcome. According to Maskus, recent advances in cereal flaking roll-equipment -- which improved flake consistency for innovative ingredients such as ancient grains -- is applicable to pulses, easing their incorporation into flaked cereals.

Agricultural processing giant ADM (, Decatur, Ill., has taken notice of the untapped functional, flavor and applications values of bean flours for breakfast concepts. The company rolled out its VegeFull brand of bean powders at this year’s IFT show, featuring it in a breakfast bar to great success. The company also presented a line of natural dry sweeteners, such as its Sweet ’n’ Neat dry honey powder. Other natural dry sweetener offerings by ADM include dry molasses and dry malt extract for similar applications.

Sweeter Future

Speaking of natural low-calorie sweeteners, the approval last year of stevia as an ingredient for foods and beverages opened the door to helping solve one of the biggest problems in cereals. “Although at Nature's Path, we’ve made a deliberate effort to bring our EnviroKids cereals down from 12g of sugar to 8g [per serving], we’d love to go to 6g,” says Maria Emmer-Aanes, director of marketing and communications. “But while consumers talk less sweet, they buy on taste — and unfortunately their taste buds are trained to want the sweetness.” 

The stevia extract rebaudioside-A is poised to play a role in keeping cereals sweet while reducing their calories. PHOTO: PURE CIRCLE

Any breakfast food manufacturer can provide a list of failures based on the reduced sugar paradigm. But sweeteners such as stevia, which is 300 times sweeter than table sugar, allow a natural replacement for a majority of calories from sugar without compromise on taste, thanks to attention to purity paid by today’s stevia makers.
“Every major cereal company is looking for technology to reduce sugar levels and ‘empty’ calories from their product, especially products targeted to children,” confirms Sidd Purkayastha, director of technical development for PureCircle USA (, Chicago.

The main challenges of replacing sugar with high-intensity sweeteners, according to Purkayastha, are providing a similar sweetness profile as sugar in cold and hot cereals, with no unfavorable aftertaste; maintaining texture in dry form and in milk; and maintaining the same “bowl life” — the length of time cereal stays crispy and crunchy in milk.

“Companies are apprehensive about using artificial high-intensity sweeteners to reduce sugar in kids’ cereal,” says Purkayastha. “But [rebaudioside-A], being a natural high-intensity sweetener, provides the new ingredient technology to reduce 25-40 percent of the sugar in cereal formulations.”

Natural Nutraceuticals

Although the move toward greater simplicity might lead to fewer ingredients in formulations, it won’t change breakfast’s status as the most important meal of the day. “Ready-to-eat cereals are a perfect vehicle to address nutrient inadequacies in America,” states Michael McBurney head of scientific affairs for DSM Nutritionals Inc., Parsippany, N.J.

In addition to deficiencies in the average American diet of such nutrients as vitamin E, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, B6, zinc and folate, some populations are seeing a surprising resurgence of vitamin D deficiency.

To the vitamin and mineral needs are added specific health benefits sought by consumers. McBurney  cites specific benefits and their ingredient solutions, such as visual performance (lutein and zeaxanthin, for which DSM provides its marigold-derived FloraGlo); bone health and muscle strength (vitamin D3, vitamin K, calcium, and the soy-protein isoflavone genestein (available in DSM’s GeniVida); cardiovascular health and endothelial function via polfyunsaturated fatty acids (ROPUFA), B vitamins including folic acid, antioxidants such as vitamin A and carotenoids, green tea extract (such as DSM’s EGCG product, TeaVigo) and resveratrol (ResVida).
After years off adding things to make our morning meal healthier, manufacturers are focusing on sources for ingredients that help build healthier breakfast. But more than this, they see a future of even more elemental changes concerning how they’ll formulate the basic recipes.

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