April 6, 2010

Wheaties Fuel: Is More Fiber in Your Cereal Worth that Much More Sugar?

Wheaties Fuel is a newly formulated breakfast cereal recipe from Wheaties, "co-created with a team of today's elite champions including Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols, Kevin Garnett...designed for the active individual." While the attempt at reformulating an old classic is noble - it's probably unnecessary.

From a nutritional standpoint, there are more than two times as many calories in the new version and double the carbohydrate in an identical 3/4 cup serving size. The fiber has been bumped up from 3 grams in the original to 5 grams per serving in the Fuel version - but while the original Wheaties recipe has "Whole Grain Wheat" as its primary - and only - source of fiber, Wheaties Fuel's extra fiber comes from whole grain wheat and oats but with a good deal of added (fake?), isolated fiber, including:
  • Corn bran
  • Maltodextrin
  • Wheat bran
In addition to the inclusion of isolated fiber - whose health benefits are relatively unknown - another downside to this reformulated recipe is the need to increase sugars from 4 grams per serving in the original recipe to 14 grams of sugar in the Fuel in order to make all of that fiber palatable. This makes a formerly simple, whole grain, low sugar cereal that any dietitian would recommend into a high calorie, high sugar option that isn't as nutritionally attractive. 

The increase in sugar in the new recipe translates to approximately 45 extra calories from sugar alone in the Fuel version...meaning HALF of the "added carbohydrate" (intended to benefit athletes) in the new recipe is just from refined sugars. 

While it is true that athletes should have a greater percentage of their calories derived from carbohydrate when compared to the non-athletic population, nutrition professionals recommend that those calories come from complex carbohydrates - foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and dried peas and beans. Unfortunately, half of the the Wheaties Fuel's extra carbohydrates come from simple sugars like table sugar, brown sugar syrup and corn syrup solids. 

An athlete looking to incorporate a healthful breakfast cereal into his or her meal plan would be better served to have a bowl of the Original Wheaties with skim or 1% milk and a medium-sized banana. The banana added with the Original Wheaties gives you the equivalent amount of calories and carbohydrate as the Fuel brand - but without the added refined sugar and even more fiber.

If you want to learn more about Wheaties Fuel - the manufacturers have posted a number of entertaining webisodes on YouTube featuring some of the athletes "involved" in the creation of Wheaties Fuel.