We regularly see media stories highlighting the need to reduce salt in our diets.
The main health concern with higher sodium intakes is an increased risk of hypertension or high blood pressure, a condition that already impacts one in three Australian adults.1 People who are overweight or obese, and those with diabetes or high blood pressure seem to be more sensitive to sodium.2
Effective dietary approaches to lower blood pressure look beyond just salt/sodium and consider potassium intakes,3 as well as recommending healthy eating patterns with high intakes of fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy and nuts, among other dietary factors.4
In fact a new study, published this week in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found that regardless of the levels of sodium intake, low potassium intake was associated with increased risk of high blood pressure.5
Results from this cross-sectional study of more than 24,000 adults showed the greatest risk of high blood pressure was among those with high sodium and low potassium intakes.
Looking specifically at the recommended healthy eating patterns for hypertension, to me, starting the day with a meal including breakfast cereal, fruit and milk ticks lots of boxes.
In fact, the best available evidence tells us that breakfast cereal consumption is not associated with an increased risk of hypertension and consumption of whole grain breakfast cereal is actually associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.6
Science supports that regular breakfast cereal eaters may actually enjoy a range of benefits associated with reducing the risk of high blood pressure, including:6
- lower risk of overweight or weight gain, (higher weight increases the risk of high blood pressure and salt sensitivity2),
- lower risk of diabetes (diabetes increases salt sensitivity2),
- sodium intakes that are no different to non-cereal eaters,
- higher whole grain consumption,
- higher vitamin and mineral intakes, and healthier diets overall.
Ironically breakfast cereals are sometimes on the list of foods to avoid in media stories on reducing salt intake, or low sodium options are recommended.
The reality is most breakfast cereals are moderate or low in sodium.7 More than 90% of the category (ready-to-eat, muesli and oats) provide ≤400mg/100g. Nearly 60% are low sodium at ≤ 120mg/100g. For ready-to-eat breakfast cereals alone, more than 80% of products are ≤400mg/100g. (More information click here)
Breakfast cereals make a greater contribution to potassium intakes (3.6% per capita) than to sodium intakes (2.3% per capita).8 For many of us, extra potassium is also gained from the fruit we add on top of cereal – especially bananas!
So why do we keep hearing breakfast cereal incorrectly mentioned as a significant source of sodium for Australians? It may be a case of mistaken identity. When it comes to nutrition surveys, the standard methodology uses the term ‘cereal’ to describe a wide variety of foods including grains, foods based on grains and flour, and foods than have grain as their main component.
So while the ‘cereal’ survey categories include breakfast cereals, they also include grains like rice and quinoa; flour; bread and rolls; pasta and noodles; biscuits, cakes and pastries; pies, burgers, pizza, nachos and sushi; sandwiches and filled bread rolls and more.
It’s easy to see why these categories can contribute a significant amount of the sodium – they encompass a huge number of very diverse foods that form a large part of what we eat!
The reality is when it comes to watching salt intakes and reducing your risk of hypertension, breakfast cereals remain a great breakfast choice.
Breakfast cereals are quick, delicious and good value, and they are associated with better nutrition and better health. What breakfast do you recommend for good health and better blood pressure?
- National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Canberra: NHMRC; 2006. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/sodium
- World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases – Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. Geneva; 2003; page 90. Available at: http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/who_trs_916.pdf Accessed 29 June 2015.
- Ndanko R, Tapsell L, Charlton K. Identifying the effects of dietary patterns on blood pressure: A systematic review. Nutrition&Dietetics 2015:72 (Suppl. 1):32.
- Noh H, Park S, Lee H, Oh H, Paek Y, Song H et al. Association between high blood pressure and intakes of sodium and potassium among Korean adults: Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007-2012. http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672%2815%2900532-8/abstract
- Williams PG. The Benefits of Breakfast Cereal Consumption: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Base. Adv Nutr 2014; 5:636S-673S. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/5/5/636S.full
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC). GLNC 2014 Grains and Legumes Product Audit. Unpublished: 2014.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results – Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Canberra: ABS; 2014. http://www.ausstats.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/subscriber.nsf/0/4683FD7315DFDFDBCA257D080014F9E0/$File/australian%20health%20survey%20nutrition%20first%20results%20-%20food%20and%20nutrients,%202011-12.pdf