The Cheerios Myth

Cheerios claims to be clinically proven to help lower cholesterol: as much as 10% in 1 month! As I don’t hate Cheerios — and they’re far faster to make in the morning than oatmeal — I thought it warranted investigation.

An April 2009 research study conducted by the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition (which is owned by General Mills, the maker of Cheerios) did indeed prove that eating 3 cups of Cheerios per day “as part of a reduced calorie diet low in fat” lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol about 10 percent in one month.

Pretty impressive.

Except it’s not, really.

What it is is marketing muscle. General Mills created a positioning for Cheerios and went after it — brilliantly.  It’s completely true that Cheerios as part of a healthy diet can lower cholesterol.  So, um, can apples and broccoli.

The real rub is this: to eat 3 cups of Cheerios per day would be a LOT for a Cheerio-lover, which I am not. And even if I were, 3 cups is 3 SERVINGS of Cheerios per day (!) to get to the 3 grams of soluble fiber that is behind all that cholesterol lowering. Three servings of cereal per day is not just a lot of food, it’s also a lot of calories (380 with 1 cup of skim milk, according to the Cheerios box).

Let’s compare that with a measly HALF-cup of oatmeal.  One-half cup (a very reasonable – some might even say small serving size) of Quaker Old Fashioned or Quick oatmeal delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber.  So to get to 3 grams of soluble fiber, all you need to do is eat 3/4 cup of oatmeal rather than 3 cups of Cheerios.

Oatmeal not your thing? That’s OK, there are other cold cereals that are better than Cheerios at delivering soluble fiber. In fact, the UMass Medical School published this very handy spreadsheet comparing breakfast cereals: How Does You Cereal Rate?

So yes, technically, Cheerios can help lower cholesterol. They’ve proved that and are marketing it well.  But there are other cereals (and other breakfast choices) that do it better…other choices that deliver more soluble fiber in a reasonable serving size.

As for me, since I don’t love cold cereal, I’m sticking with my daily 1/2 bagel with lox for breakfast. Alongside my bagel, all I have to do is chug down one and one-half glasses of Metamucil, since just 1 Tbsp of Metamucil delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber. Takes about, um, 30 seconds – versus what would feel like days for me to eat 3 cups of cold cereal.

Take THAT Cheerios.

And now I need to find that Metamucil bottle, since I seem to have stopped taking Metamucil this summer.  Gotta’ get back on that efficient lo-co bandwagon.

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Home Cholesterol Tests

Measuring progress toward a goal can be oh, so rewarding (or, um, not)… and I recently found myself wondering whether there was an easy, inexpensive way for me to track how things are going with my lowering-cholesterol-with-just-lifestyle-changes ‘program’ in between doctor visits.

It turns out there is: there are several home cholesterol tests available online and in retail stores – and a few of them are even FDA-approved.

Indeed, according to the FDA site, some of these home cholesterol tests are, “about as accurate as the test your doctor uses, but you must follow the directions carefully.” The directions have to do with fasting – which may not even be required if you’re measuring just total cholesterol, but is important for triglyceride measurement (for more info, see my Answers.com article, No More Fasting For A Cholesterol Test?). But following the directions carefully also involves instructions for how to (repeatedly and correctly) prick your finger and draw blood.

My interest is waning.  As in, I’m trying not to faint.  Because I am not good with blood. At all.

In a doctor’s office the cholesterol blood test draw is OK because I just look away.  But having to do it myself is a bit daunting. But on I must go – as results measurement trumps possible fainting. At least theoretically.

If you’d like to learn all about the multiple test kits available, read my article entitled Top Cholesterol Monitors for Your Budget, which was recently published on Answers.com.  But if you don’t want all the details (and I wouldn’t if I were you), do what I plan to do and check out one of two home cholesterol kits.

The first is the Check Up America Cholesterol Panel Kit. What I love about this kit is that it measures all four key cholesterol measures (total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides) and runs about $40 … so for $40 I can monitor how I’m doing without my doctor thinking I’ve lost my mind/I want to know too much, too often.  (Especially since I know that cholesterol levels don’t change very quickly, so the value of this is, um, negligible.)  That said, the only big downside to this kit is you have to mail in for results.

If you value instant results over the LDL cholesterol measure (and you shouldn’t, as LDL is the bad cholesterol and you should keep an eye on it), you can opt for the Accutech‘s CholesTrak HDL & Total Cholesterol Kit. It’s about $20 – a veritable bargain.  But again, you don’t get the important LDL measure – but you do get results in just 15 minutes.

So if you want to monitor your cholesterol in between doctor visits, these are two FDA-approved, relatively inexpensive ways to feed your results fetish.

Let’s just hope I don’t faint if I try it.

 

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Grilled Radicchio and Kielbasa

I’ve joked over time about grilling lettuce – I know people do it, but I have never tried it. Partly because I don’t know how. And partly because it just sounds odd.

But in my quest for all things kielbasa, I was reading the New York Times Dining section and came across a Melissa Clark recipe (and you know I love her recipes) for, of all things, Grilled Sausages and Radicchio.

Finally – here was someone I trust telling me how to grill lettuce…and adding sausage to it.  What could be better?

Grilled Radicchio and KielbasaIt even looked pretty – though not as lovely as Melissa Clark’s, but for the first time making it, I’d say it looked appetizing.

Instead of the sausage, I substituted my current – and continuing – obsession: the far lower fat Hillshire Farm Turkey Polska Kielbasa, but made the recipe as Ms. Clark described.  And it was both easy and delicious.

When I make it again, I’ll use less radicchio, but this is a healthy, quick, delicious recipe worth trying. And if your kid (or guests) don’t go for the grilled radicchio, they can always pop that Turkey Polska Kielbasa on a plate or bun and enjoy it in the more traditional manner!

 

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Turkey Kielbasa vs Hot Dogs vs Hamburgers

With my recent Turkey Polska Kielbasa obsession still going strong (see post: A Stealth Lo-Co BBQ Choice), I thought it wise to get more info about all this kielbasa I’m eating. Specifically: is it a better BBQ choice than a hot dog or hamburger?

And the answer is a resounding YES.

Here’s how Hillshire Farm’s Turkey Polska Kielbasa stacks up lo-co wise with those other BBQ staples: hot dogs and hamburgers.  All data is for the protein only — no condiments, no buns.  Just the meat.  (And yes, sadly, I am now once again singing the hysterical Hillshire Farm ‘Go Meat’ TV commercial lyrics. Probably will be all day. Sigh.)

This chart compares relatively lo-co choices for the three categories: kielbasa, hot dogs and burgers. What’s detailed in this chart is one serving of HF’s Turkey Polska Kielbasa, one Hebrew National’s Reduced Fat Hot Dog and one 90% lean hamburger. So all three are lower-fat choices already (but not the lowest – I can’t stomach the 97% fat-free hot dogs, though those stats are even lower). One serving here means just 1 hot dog, or 1 regular sized burger (no bun):

[table id=6 /]

 

Source: This nutritional info is from each company’s website; the generic burger info is from a combination of nutritiondata.self.com and a USDA site.

So if you are throwing a BBQ, toss on a turkey kielbasa along with those hot dogs and hamburgers (low fat, of course).  Dip your bun-less kielbasa in the condiments you love, and you’ll be eating fewer calories than a reduced fat hot dog or lean burger (not even including the bun – which IMHO are totally required for dogs and burgers!)

But even better: by choosing a serving of turkey kielbasa, you’ll ingest just 5 grams of fat (1.5 grams of saturated fat) versus the bunless hotdog or hamburger, which deliver 9 grams of fat and 3.5-4 grams of saturated fat.

Great flavor and far less fat – now that’s what I call lo-co.

That said, all three options in this chart are high in both dietary cholesterol and sodium, so best to keep the turkey kielbasa as a BBQ event rather than a very frequent meal.

And if you’d like to feel even better about your choice, check out this chart which compares the ‘full fat’ versions of kielbasa, burgers and hot dogs; you’ll see it really is worth it to go lo-co for a BBQ.

 

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A Stealth Lo-Co BBQ Choice

This July 4th, I was pondering a BBQ grilling menu.  Yes, of course, grilling fish alongside the hot dogs and hamburgers is the correct lo-co option, but I eat a lot of grilled fish – and I think even my friends are bored of my tasty but predictable fish entrees.

Luckily, a totally NOT lo-co lunch at the house of my bacon-loving friend Chris a few weeks ago fueled my recent kielbasa obsession.  There we were, discussing what to eat for an impromptu lunch, when she opened her fridge and said, “I could grill some kielbasa.”

Really?  People have kielbasa just hanging around?  And fire up the grill for lunch? I thought this was amazing.

“Sure,” I said, ignoring the fact that in Chris’s hands was a full-fat beef kielbasa by singing the lyrics from the Hillshire Farm “Go Meat” TV commercial.  Chris was unfamiliar with this hysterical TV spot, so I sang it to her (repeats not included):

Gooooooo meeeeaaat!
I said a beef hot links
I said a beef hot links
I said a brat, beef kielbasa, hot smoked sausage, cheddarwurst!
When I say Hillshire, you say Farm!
Hillshire!
Farm!
GO MEAT!”

I hadn’t eaten kielbasa in years – decades even. Dipped in dijon and served with a half-avocado with some red wine vinaigrette pooled in the middle (another tasty dish I’d never seen done), it was absolutely delicious.  And pretty easy to make.  Though truth be told I’d never fire up the grill in the day – well, because I don’t ever fire up the grill – but this could be a very easy and delicious dinner that even my son would eat (minus the avocado).

But.  Um.  Totally not lo-co.

Turkey-Polska-KielbasaThat said, I looked for it in the grocery store anyway, figuring I’d work it in for dinner sporadically and try to eat particularly well at lunch on those days.  And was so very pleased to discover Hillshire Farm’s “Turkey Polska Kielbasa.”  And I later learned, while researching for this post, that there is another lo-co choice: “Lite Kielbasa” though I have an aversion to items labeled ‘lite.’

So I started buying Turkey Polska Kielbasa (it’s fun to say, no?) and my husband grills it up about once a week and we have it with a salad: it’s a new lo-co, tasty and easy dish for a weeknight.

Is it as good as the full fat version I gobbled at Chris’s house?  Nope.  But it is quite tasty. And a ton less fat: the full fat version as 16 grams of fat (5 saturated fat grams – the very bad kind) versus just 5 grams of fat (just 1.5 of sat fat) for the turkey kielbasa.

I just load up more mustard and barely notice the difference.

So if you’re planning a BBQ and want a lo-co choice that no one will realize is lo-co, grill up some Turkey Polska Kielbasa alongside those dogs.  In my next post I’ll detail the nutritional value of Kielbasa vs Hot Dogs vs Hamburgers — but if you’re not a numbers nerd, just know that Turkey Polska Kielbasa is a great lo-co BBQ choice. And probably, no one will have any idea it’s lo-co.

Side note: all processed meats are high in dietary cholesterol (35 and 30mg, respectively) but at least the turkey kielbasa has a lot less saturated fat, so as long as you’re not eating it daily, it’s a decent choice.

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