Kashi has become synonymous with health in the eyes of many Americans. The California-based company was acquired by Kellogg's in 2000 and is now a juggernaut in the natural food market. One of their biggest sellers? The Kashi GOLEAN line of breakfast cereals. Although these cereals certainly enjoy an aura of nutritiousness, are they actually healthy? Let's take a closer look.
There are seven different varieties of Kashi GOLEAN cereal currently on the market. Let's start by taking a look at Kashi GOLEAN Honey Almond Flax Crunch, which is currently the company's top-seller on Amazon. A 2/3 cup serving contains:
- 200 calories
- 5 grams of fat
- .5 grams saturated fat
- 0mg cholesterol
- 140mg sodium
- 330mg potassium
- 35 grams total carbohydrate
- 8 grams dietary fiber
- 12 grams sugar
- 9 grams protein
It also contains a modest amount of calcium (2% the RDV) and iron (8% the RDV). Many of the other Kashi GOLEAN varieties have similar nutrition facts.
A couple positives immediately jump out. Two are the high fiber and high protein content of the cereal. If sugar is the thing many Americans eat too much of, fiber could be the main thing they eat too little of. According to the National Institutes of Health, teens and adults should eat between 20 and 38 grams of fiber each day, and men need more fiber than women. But the average American eats only 10 to 15 grams of fiber daily.
Fiber helps break down foods for easier digestion, maintains good bowel health, lowers cholesterol levels and helps you feel fuller longer. High-fiber diets have been linked to positive outcomes such as a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. In the short term, eating a cereal high in fiber keeps you fuller for longer and helps you avoid crashing. In the long term, it reduces your risk of many major diseases and supports good bowel health. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that consuming more dietary fiber was linked to a lowered risk of death from any cause over a nine-year period. Participants who consumed the most fiber (roughly 25-30 grams per day) were 22% less likely to die than those who consumed the least fiber (10-13 grams per day).
Protein is also a critical nutrient for humans and athletes. High-quality protein provides the amino acids muscles need to repair and rebuild, allowing you to recover from exercise and get stronger over time. The body can also use protein as a source of energy. Like fiber, snacks high in protein also help you feel more satiated. Recommendations for daily protein vary and depend on a variety of factors, but a good baseline for athletes is the National Strength and Conditioning Association's recommendation of 1.5 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
Along with the fiber and protein content, the amount of whole grains per serving is plastered on the front of every GOLEAN box. The GOLEAN Honey Almond Flax Crunch contains 13 grams of whole grains per serving. According to the Whole Grains Council, the average American eats less than one serving of whole grains a day (one serving is equivalent to 16 grams). That's a shame, because whole grains are one of the healthiest foods humans can eat.
"Whole grains are regularly on the plates of some of the longest-lived, healthiest populations on the planet. These same populations have extremely low rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer and dementia. Whole grains are consistently linked to lower rates of chronic diseases, and they're some of the densest sources of nutrients you can get," says Ryan Andrews, RD and a coach at Precision Nutrition. The Whole Grain Council recommends eating at least three to five servings of whole grains a day.
Here's the thing though—most breakfast cereals contain a significant amount of whole grains. Sure, GOLEAN varieties contain between 8-16 grams of whole grain per serving. But Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese's Puffs cereal also contain 12 and 11 grams per serving, respectively. Compared to an option like Post's Grape-Nuts or Kashi's 7 Whole Grain Nuggets, which contain 52 and 56 grams of whole grain per serving, respectively, GOLEAN's amount isn't all that impressive.
This leads me to perhaps my biggest critique of Kashi GOLEAN cereal—the sugar content. For each variety, you'll find that dried cane syrup and/or brown rice syrup are major ingredients. These might sound better than sugar, but the truth is they're essentially the same thing. Outside of Kashi GOLEAN Original Cereal, the other six varieties in the GOLEAN brand contain between 9-13 grams of sugar per serving. Kashi GOLEAN Crunch, for example, contains 13 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup serving. Reese's Puffs Cereal contains 9 grams of sugar per 3/4 cup serving.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume less than 100 calories of added sugar per day (about 24 grams) and men less than 150 calories per day (about 36 grams). The average American overshoots those targets by a mile, consuming about 88 grams (equivalent to 22 teaspoons) per day. Diets high in added sugar have been linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and even cancer. While Kashi doesn't disclose how much of the sugar in the GOLEAN cereals is added sugar, we can surmise that it's the majority of the amount.
Cereals high in sugar are especially concerning because most people eat well beyond the recommended serving size. There's a reason we named breakfast cereal as one of our six foods with wildly unrealistic serving sizes. Several varieties of Kashi GOLEAN recommend a 3/4 cup serving, as do many other cereals, but have you ever taken the time to actually measure your cereal out? Probably not—you eyeball it just like everyone else. And it's really hard not to over-pour cereal when you eyeball it. A recent study showed that the average American eats 30 percent more cereal than the standard serving size, and 10 percent of Americans eat more than 2-1/2 times the standard serving size.
With the word "lean" being right in the name, I'd argue Kashi markets the GOLEAN cereals as a healthy option. But many of them pack a similar amount of sugar per 3/4 serving as Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. A 2013 report from Credit Suisse estimated that Americans collectively spend $1 trillion annually to address health issues that are "closely tied to the excess consumption of sugar."
However, as previously iterated, Kashi GOLEAN cereals are packed with fiber and protein, boasting 6-13 and 9-12 grams per serving, respectively. Many of them contain significant amounts of potassium and healthy fats, as well. They're undoubtedly a better option than most colorful kids breakfast cereals due to that fact as well as their ingredients. But the significant amount of sugar should not be overlooked. If you're someone who's trying to limit your consumption of added sugar and you choose GOLEAN, you'll need to be vigilant about the serving size and understand the fact your breakfast is a significant source of added sugar. If you do go with GOLEAN, the "Original" variety is probably your smartest option. It contains the least sugar per serving of any GOLEAN cereal (8 grams), but major amounts of protein and fiber.
Photo Credit: Kashi.com
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