What the Heck is the Cereal Diet and Does it Work?

Simply replace two meals a day with milk cereal and drop pounds. Sounds a little sketchy and too good to be true. This strange diet has been around for a long time and has regained popularity. This surge in popularity may be partly because the diet can produce a short term weight loss due to the addition of fiber and whole grains to the diet. However, is this kind of diet sustainable and healthy? Let’s take a closer look.

It all started when…

The cereal diet gained its legs with the popularity of the “Special K Challenge.” Marketed as a healthy food, Special K cereal has been promoted as a cereal that can help you lose weight. Some of the boxes even have instructions for the two-week cereal challenge printed on them. At this time, however, Kellogg’s (Special K’s parent company), does not promote this challenge or the cereal diet.

How does it work?

On the cereal diet, you replace your breakfast and lunch with one serving of whole-grain cereal and skim or low-fat milk. Dinner should be low in calories and include lean protein, whole grains, fruit, and veggies totaling no more than 450 calories. Examples include a mixed salad topped with grilled chicken and fresh fruit or brown rice with salam on steamed mixed vegetables. Two hundred-calorie healthy snacks are also permitted. The diet also specifies that the cereal of choice should be low in sugar (which is a good thing), and made from whole grains such as Special K, Total or Corn Flakes.

Strict adherence to this diet means you are consuming 1,200 – 1,500 calories per day. This alone generally results in weight loss for most people. For many people, adherence beyond two weeks is difficult. Many people follow this diet for a few days; however, any longer may result in very low calories and protein, which can produce undesirable food cravings.

But, does the cereal diet work?

First, it is essential to point out that sustainable weight loss requires whole body balance and the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Short term diets that require caloric deprivation are not the answer for long term success, whether you are eating grapefruit or cereal.

As mentioned earlier, the cereal diet can cause initial weight loss due to caloric restriction.  One study of 24 adults on the 2-week “Special K Challenge” lost both fat mass and overall weight by slashing 600 calories off of their daily intake. It is important to note that this study was sponsored by Kellog’s – the makers of Special K. It is not unreasonable to think that the results may have been slightly biased.

More fiber and whole grains are a good thing

Eating whole-grain cereal and fiber is a good thing. According to research, a higher, whole-grain diet is associated with better health and increased longevity. Fiber is excellent for digestion and can help with weight management. 

Keep in mind that you can also increase your intake of more nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and fruits, and get the same results.

Keep these things in mind

It is possible, depending on your food choices, that the cereal diet could be high in sugar. Dietary sugars have been positively linked to an increase in several serious health conditions and should be limited to no more than 5% of your total caloric intake.

Cereal can be tricky when it comes to sugar. Even if your cereal does not taste particularly sweet, it can be loaded with added sugar. In addition, both cereal and milk are high in carbs which break down into sugar. This can make weight loss more difficult for some and also have a negative impact on blood sugars. If you want to give the Cereal Diet a try, be sure to stick to low sugar cereal and consider using a non-dairy milk alternative like almond milk with fewer carbs.

Protein and healthy fat are necessary for overall health and wellness

Unless you pay particular attention, the Cereal Diet can be very low in calories, protein, and healthy fat. The body needs all of these to function correctly. Protein is essential to help build and maintain healthy muscles, tissues, and enzymes and can help keep you full for longer. 

The Cereal Diet is low in healthy fat and is promoted as a low fat diet. However, healthy fat is necessary for health. Although fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbs, it is vital for wellbeing and can even help you lose and manage your weight. Contrary to what you might think, healthy saturated fat does not clog arteries.

Sustainability is always best

Again, the big issue here is long term sustainability and health. The most sustainable plans may include a decrease in calories, but this is over some time – not a drastic cut. The reality is, a limited diet that is very low in calories can make health and weight loss more difficult in the long run. When you don’t have enough food, levels of leptin (a hormone that tells your body when you have eaten enough), drops.  Decreased levels of leptin can cause a rise in hunger and cravings. In addition, a sudden decrease in calories means that your body has to compensate by lowering the metabolic rate, burning fewer calories – which is counterintuitive to weight loss.

If you are in search of health and sustainable weight loss, it is best to stay away from short term diets that are missing vital nutrients and opt for a more balanced diet instead. Concentrate on whole foods, plenty of leafy greens and other veggies, and lots of water. Avoid sugar, fast, and packaged foods, and make exercise a daily activity.

Go ahead and enjoy some high fiber, low sugar cereal with whole fat milk or non-milk alternatives like coconut or almond milk for a snack. However, for long term success, a varied and balanced diet is always best!

-The Alternative Daily

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