You are what you eat

The latest threat to a healthy breakfast has arrived in the form of Nabisco belVita Breakfast biscuits.

I wasn't sure where I would find them in the supermarket - with breakfast cereals, snack bars or biscuits? In Countdown Hawera, there were two flavours available in the biscuits aisle - Fruit & Fibre and Honey & Nut with Choc Chips. They were on special at $2.99 for a box (six packs of four biscuits), but the usual price is $3.99.

The taste testers were members of my family and my workmates, and there was a common theme to their responses to these products - "Biscuits for breakfast? Instead of cereal?"

Let's take a look at what's in them.

Cereals, about one-third of which are wholegrain, feature as the first ingredients in both flavours of belVita - off to a reasonable start.

In the Honey & Nut flavour, next up are sugar, vegetable oils (type not specified), chocolate chips, hazelnuts, honey, raising agents (500 & 503), flavours (unspecified), salt, food acid (330) and emulsifier (soy lecithin).

The Fruit & Fibre ingredient list is similar. But there are nearly twice as many oat flakes (18 per cent compared with 10 per cent) and more ingredients - dried fig pieces, inulin (a naturally occurring carbohydrate found in some fruits and vegetables), puffed rice, malted wheat flour, whey powder and skim milk powder.

It's tricky to tally all the ingredients with all the brackets and percentages listed, but it's certainly more than in a bowl of porridge with milk and a bit of sugar on top!

The reason I was keen to taste test both flavours was because, when I checked the nutrition information panel, I was surprised by the difference between the Fruit & Fibre and Honey & Nut with Choc Chips. Usually, when different varieties of the same product are compared, they are quite similar.

Both have energy contents of around 950 kilojoules - about the same as four wheat biscuits with milk or a very large plate of porridge with milk and sugar.

The fat contents at 17 per cent and 15 per cent are higher than recommended (less than 10 per cent). Compare this with the four wheat biscuits or porridge with low-fat milk at less than 4 per cent.

Sugar content is also high, at 26 per cent for the Honey & Nut flavour and 23 per cent for Fruit & Fibre, but these are biscuits after all! The sweetness was very noticeable in the Honey & Nut flavour - too sweet for my taste.

In terms of fibre, the Fruit & Fibre variety has a good content, meeting our dietitians' recommendation of more than 6 per cent with 6.6g per 100 grams. The Honey & Nut flavour comes in at about half that, with 3.5g per 100g.

Sodium was higher than I expected in the Honey & Nut flavour, at 355 milligrams per 100g, but this is on a par with wheat biscuits, or porridge made with added salt. The sodium content of the Fruit & Fibre belVita was low at 152mg.

So, my conclusion? Before purchasing belVita Breakfast biscuits I had thought they might be a convenient choice for people on the run to munch on the way to work or after a gym session. But they are rather thin and small and have a high energy content when compared with breakfast staples like wheat biscuits or porridge. It would be quite easy to eat four of these biscuits and not feel as though you had eaten a decent breakfast at all.

They may make a suitable snack for people trying to increase their energy intakes, such as the frail elderly, those recovering from serious illnesses or very active athletes.

As a breakfast replacement, they don't even come close for me, my family members and workmates. Biscuits for breakfast just doesn't seem right. We traditionalists will stick to cereal with low-fat milk and a little sugar and wholegrain toast for better taste, satiety and nutrition.

Prepared by Sara Knowles, a NZ registered dietitian.

Taranaki Daily News