Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coming Out of the Cupboard

One the stranger eating habits I’ve developed over the last few years is a taste for healthy cereal. I always liked Cheerios growing up and once I had enough teeth to actually chew it I grew to love Grape-Nuts. I’ve had Shredded Wheat fazes and Wheaties fazes and Corn Flakes fazes. And up until now these cravings for actual nutrition were punctuated by massive binges on the sweet stuff, Luck Charms, Cap’n Crunch both with and without Crunch berries, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch being my chief sugar cereal vices.

But now I don’t feel the pangs, the itchy cravings, the gnawing desire to chow down on these waxy, sugary, marshmallow studded treats. I mean, I’d happily polish off a box or two were they presented to me, but when I’m in the cereal aisle I tend to pass by the brightly colored boxes, emblazoned with cartoon animals and punctuated only by exclamation points, and head towards the area where the floor is heavily scarred by un-tennis-balled walker legs and reeks of Polident and prune juice. That baron wasteland where the fiber is high, taste is low, and texture is somewhere between gravel and wet sawdust; a terrible, emotionally scarring place I swore to never visit.

Or so I thought. A few years ago I started tempering my sugary cereal intake with the healthy stuff. If I ate a bowl of Grape-Nuts there was a bowl of Froot Loops waiting for me, like a morning dessert course. When the Wheat Chex were gone I could dive into a milky, chocolaty bowl of Coco Puffs. It seemed reasonable and assuaged the very small voice in my head that was always clamoring on about how bad these cereals might actually be. But after a while I realized that I was less hungry later on when I ate more healthy cereal and less sugar frosted heaven. A brief scan of almost any health and diet rules will confirm that foods high I dietary fiber are more filling.

Spinning off from that point I began skimming the Kashi and Fiber One and All-Bran boxes, furtively at first, while shopping. A feel of near embarrassment washed over me on those first trips to that musty, old portion of the cereal aisle. Like I was harboring some long hidden secret that was waiting to burst out. Something called out to me from those boxes. Was it the lure of the most fiber? Perhaps the promise of a healthier heart? A desire to explore that which I most despise? Whatever the reason I had to do it. I had to come out of the cupboard.

I am a healthy cereal fan and I’m not afraid to admit it.

It started with granolas and Grape-Nuts, but after comparing nutritional information on those boxes with others in their neighborhoods, I soon realized that I could be doing so much better. My first real foray into this not-even-remotely deviant lifestyle was a box of General Mills’ Original Fiber One. With an extremely low calorie count (60), 0 grams of sugar, and high fiber content (14 grams/57%) per ½ cup serving, surly this had to be one of the least appealing foodstuffs in the world. Surprise, surprise it’s not. In fact it’s actually quite good. With a firm, crunchy texture and subtle sweetness without sugar, Fiber One is an enjoyable bowl in the morning. It’s not going to win the most exciting cereal of the year award anytime soon, a good, strong wheaty flavor is about all it as to offer, but contrary to popular opinion this cereal is infinitely better than the box it comes in.

No, that dubious distinction goes to Kellogg’s All-Bran, the epitome of bad tasting, unappealing health cereal. Where Fiber One resembles those crispy lo-mein noodles that accompany Chinese soups, All-Bran looks like a mix of twigs and dried bugs. It has a bland, sodden taste I’m sure is similar to chewing on raw stalks of wheat. And it becomes soggy almost instantly when milk of any origin is added. And nutritionally it doesn’t quite stack up. All-Bran matches Fiber One’s 60 calorie count, but contains 6 grams of sugar, compared to none, and only 10 grams (40%) dietary fiber. An all around loser and surely root of all jokes made at the expense of other healthy cereals.

But, the All-Bran line isn’t without a saving grace. Last week when my neighborhood grocery store was out of that wonderful manna, Fiber One, I discovered All-Bran’s Bran Buds. Crispy little bits of bran, All-Bran’s Buds have an interesting texture and appearance that rests somewhere between Rice-Krispies and Grape-Nuts. Not as naturally sweet as Fiber One, but flavorful enough to leave patriarch All-Bran in the dust, Bran Buds became a welcome substitute; especially when I considered the 13 grams (51%) of fiber and 70 calories per serving.

As good as some of these twigs and buds are, there’s a lack of variety in both flavor and texture after a few boxes of these breakfast goodies. The ever changing stock of Kashi cereals in the aisle always seemed appealing, despite their hippie overtones, so I compared some side panels and began the taste tests. My first choice was Kashi Vive in the Toasted Graham and Vanilla flavor. With a calorie count in the low hundreds, a fiber content around 10 grams, the promise of “probiotics for healthy digestion,” and the possibility of some outside flavoring I was willing to give it a shot. Vive is comprised of three components: Fiber One-like bran sticks, broad flakes, and little Kix-esque bits. The whole mélange has a pleasing toasty taste, though little discernable vanilla, and stays pleasantly toothsome in milk. A wholly enjoyable bowl and I’m sure a good bridge ceral between the regular world and the healthy… were it not for the fact that it was recently discontinued by Kashi. Boo-urns.

With Kashi Vive seemingly gone forever I had to branch out. Kashi offers so many options that surely one must satisfy mouth and stomach in a similar fashion. But what? Kashi’s GOLEAN seems to be a popular choice as it takes up a good portion of shelf space and seems to be one of their more heavily advertised products. The GOLEAN Crunch with toasted bits of graham, wheaty puffs, and bran twigs is a lightly sweet, crunchy mix, with my only complaint aimed at the toasted graham bits which become soggy very quickly and are so small that they become lost in the mix of the other components. I’ve also been experimenting with Kasha’s Good Friends cereal in its original formulation as I try to abstain from raisins. A similar ménage of cereal bits and pieces Good Friends combines granola clusters, flakes, and those wheaty puffs that come to mine whenever I hear the word “Kashi.” While Good Friends loses to GOLEAN in the taste department, it kills in the texture field by remaining crisp throughout the bowl; even the flakes.

While all cereals I’ve sampled so far have been mostly excellent, if I were forced to rank them, which, let’s face it, I love to do, the standings would look something like this:

1. General Mill’s Original Fiber One
2. Kasha’s Vive (R.I.P.)
3. Kasha’s Original Good Friends
4. Kellogg’s All-Bran Bran Buds
5. Kasha’s GOLEAN Crunch
And, at a very distant 6:
Kellogg’s Original All-Bran

Where once I was ashamed to admit my secret longings for hippie-dippie, twig-n-berry healthy cereal I now embrace this love whole heartedly. Not because it makes me healthier or somehow better than other cereal enthusiasts, but because it’s just fucking delicious and right.

I’m here. I’m regular. Get used to it.


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