Cereal-Based Diet: How It Works, Benefits And Contraindications

Discover the different types of cereals and some example menus

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By Alex

cereal-based diet

Have you ever heard about the cereal-based diet? Let’s delve into this topic in this article.

Cereals should be a staple in every meal, serving as a crucial source of both physical and mental energy. Often, we tend to consume only bread, pasta, and occasionally rice, but there are numerous types of cereals. Each of them has its own nutritional characteristics, and this variety allows for a healthy and balanced diet.

What is the Cereal-Based Diet

First of all, cereals form the foundation of the Mediterranean diet, globally recognized as one of the healthiest. According to balanced nutrition guidelines, 55-60% of daily calories should come from cereals. They indeed constitute an excellent source of energy for the body.

Wheat, corn, rice, barley, spelt, oats, millet… There are numerous types of cereals. Some are rich in carbohydrates, while others also provide substantial amounts of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. Ideally, one should include a variety of cereals to diversify the diet in a healthy and balanced way. The cereal-based diet involves the alternating presence of all types of cereals.

Generally, cereals are recommended primarily for lunch, while protein-rich foods are preferred for dinner.

Types of Cereals

There are various species of cereals, all belonging to the grass family. Let’s explore them in more detail.

Rice

Highly versatile, rice is one of the most consumed cereals. It is suitable for individuals with gluten intolerance. There are various varieties of rice, each with its own nutritional characteristics.

White rice lacks fiber, as well as fats and proteins. On the other hand, whole grain rice is rich in several properties. In addition to having fewer calories and a high satiating power, it is also rich in fiber, antioxidants, proteins, B-group vitamins, phosphorus, and magnesium.

Generally, all rice varieties are rich in carbohydrates (80%), have few proteins (8%), and contain a low percentage of fats (0.4%).

Boiling rice can lead to nutrient loss. To retain its valuable nutrients, it is ideal to cook rice in a way that absorbs all the water, such as the classic risotto procedure.

On average, 100 grams of rice provide 358 calories.

Spelt

Rediscovered recently, spelt is the oldest cultivated cereal. Often added to soups and stews, it can also be used in salads or as a stand-alone dish instead of pasta or rice.

Low in fats and with a low glycemic index compared to most cereals, spelt provides approximately 335 calories per 100 grams, distributed as follows:

  • 67% carbohydrates
  • 15% proteins
  • 2.5% fats
  • 7% fiber

It is rich in B-group vitamins and also contains vitamins A, E, and C. In terms of minerals, it contains good quantities of phosphorus, calcium, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

Due to its properties, spelt aids digestion and helps combat constipation.

Barley

There are three types of barley:

  • Pearled: loses most of its properties due to the refining process.
  • Whole: dark in color, with a rather intense taste, and nutritionally the most complete type.
  • Hulled: a middle ground between the other two types, it has a good content of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Lately, in our country, barley consumption has been increasing. It is added to soups and stews, and it is also prepared like rice. 100 grams of barley provide approximately 320 calories, distributed as follows:

  • 71% carbohydrates
  • 10% proteins
  • 10% fiber
  • Less than 2% fats

Here are the main properties of barley:

  • Promotes regular bowel movements.
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Contains a significant amount of magnesium and silicon, useful for stimulating growth.
  • Aids milk production in breastfeeding mothers.

Oats

The main ingredient in muesli and granola, oats are a cereal rich in benefits. It is ideal for breakfast, providing slow-release energy and increasing the feeling of satiety.

Usually consumed in the form of flakes, to make porridge, or directly added to milk or yogurt. With oat flour, pancakes and excellent baked goods can be prepared.

100 grams of oats provide approximately 380 calories, distributed as follows:

  • 73% carbohydrates
  • 8% proteins
  • 7% fats, including some essential fats such as linoleic acid
  • 8% fiber

Corn

Corn is a widely used and versatile cereal. Boiled grains are sold in cans and are perfect additions to salads. Roasted corn cobs are popular outdoors, but this cereal can be used for baking bread and sweets too.

With approximately 362 calories per 100 grams, corn flour is composed almost entirely of carbohydrates (80%). Compared to other cereals, it contains fewer proteins (9%) and has 3% fats.

Summarizing the properties of corn:

  • Gluten-free
  • Contains vitamin B1 and folic acid
  • Rich in iron
  • Regulates sugar absorption
  • Helps maintain low levels of LDL cholesterol (the so-called “bad” cholesterol)
  • Yellow pigments protect against retinal aging

Wheat

Starting with wheat, it is undoubtedly the most widespread and consumed cereal in the world. There are two types of wheat:

  • Soft wheat, used to make bread and various baked goods.
  • Hard wheat, used in pasta production.

Through the milling process and the degree of refinement, various types of wheat flour are obtained.

  • Whole grain: wheat is ground with the outer husk.
  • Type 0: has a relatively small percentage of bran.
  • Types 1 and 2: contain more bran, proteins, and starch, though in smaller quantities than the whole grain version.
  • Type 00: completely devoid of bran, it is white and fine. This type of flour is derived from the milling of only the inner part of the seed, thus lacking fibers, vitamins, and minerals.

In general, all types of wheat flour consist of:

  • 70-80% carbohydrates
  • 10-12% proteins
  • 1-3% lipids
  • 3% fiber

Regarding caloric intake, on average, it’s around 350 calories per 100 grams. In whole wheat flour, the calories decrease slightly (about 3%), while fiber content increases significantly (8%).

Millet

Unfortunately less common and produced in Western countries, millet is an excellent cereal from a nutritional standpoint. Gluten-free, it provides 360 calories per 100 grams, distributed as follows:

  • 73% carbohydrates
  • 11% proteins
  • 4% lipids

Millet also contains “good” fats, such as omega-3 and omega-6, and essential amino acids of high biological value, including leucine (1.4 grams in 100 grams of product).

Quinoa

Quinoa is an herbaceous plant with nutritional characteristics similar to cereals.

Gluten-free and providing approximately 350 calories per 100 grams, distributed as follows:

  • 64% carbohydrates
  • 14% proteins
  • 6.1% lipids
  • 7% fiber

It is also rich in iron, calcium, and phosphorus. Quinoa’s standout feature is its high protein content. It is generally cooked like couscous, absorbing all the water, and then seasoned as desired with vegetables, meat, fish, or legumes.

Buckwheat

Like quinoa, buckwheat is not a cereal in the strict sense but an herbaceous plant. However, it has the same nutritional characteristics as cereals and, compared to most cereals, contains excellent quantities of proteins. This is why it is often referred to as a “pseudo-cereal.”

In 100 grams of buckwheat flour, we find 300 calories, distributed as follows:

  • 63% carbohydrates
  • 12% proteins
  • 3% lipids
  • 6 grams of fiber

Buckwheat is a high biological value food that contains numerous essential amino acids. Here are its main characteristics:

  • Gluten-free
  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Low glycemic index
  • Anti-aggregating properties that help blood remain fluid
  • Strong satiating power
  • Natural energizer
cereal-based diet
The world of cereals is truly vast and there is no shortage of alternatives to pasta.

What to Eat During the Cereal-Based Diet

In general, cereals should always be present at every main meal. For the body to function correctly, it requires the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vegetables.

The cereal-based diet involves consuming cereals at every meal, trying to vary the types of cereals as much as possible. Even those who want to lose a few extra pounds should never give up their daily quota of cereals but could reduce portions and use simple, low-fat condiments.

Benefits of the Cereal-Based Diet

First and foremost, cereals are our main source of complex carbohydrates. They provide the energy needed for our body. Let’s specifically look at the benefits that cereals bring:

  • Complex carbohydrates release energy slowly, maintaining stable blood sugar levels.
  • They contain 8 essential amino acids, crucial for the proper functioning of the entire system.
  • They help assimilate proteins.
  • Especially whole grains provide vitamins, particularly B-group vitamins, and also A and E.
  • Rich in minerals, such as zinc, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
  • Abundant in fiber (especially whole grains), essential for intestinal well-being and proper functioning, also aiding in feeling satiated.

For the nutrients they contain, cereals are also useful for:

  • Performing an important probiotic function.
  • Keeping blood sugar levels low, preventing glycemic spikes.
  • Naturally controlling cholesterol levels.
  • Preventing heart and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.
  • Controlling body weight and promoting weight and inch loss.

Cereal-Based Diet: Example Menu

Now that we’ve seen all the benefits of cereals, let’s find out what to eat during various meals of the day.

Breakfast

Unsweetened tea or coffee and then, and choose one between the following alternatives:

  • A glass of partially skimmed milk + 30 grams of whole grain rusks
  • Low-fat yogurt + 30 grams of oat flakes

Lunch

Pick one (and alternate as much as possible):

  • Millet salad with shrimp and arugula, dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + 200 grams of seasonal fresh fruit
  • Quinoa salad with grilled chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, and lamb’s lettuce, all dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + a fruit salad with fresh fruit
  • Salad with kamut pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + orange and grapefruit juice
  • Barley salad + 2 hard-boiled eggs + carrots, arugula, and zucchini, dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + 200 grams of seasonal fresh fruit
  • Barley salad with grilled zucchini, peppers, and eggplants, all dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + 200 grams of fresh fruit
  • Brown rice + a can of natural tuna + grilled zucchini. 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil as a dressing and a mixed berries salad

Dinner

Pick one (and alternate as much as possible):

  • Beef ham with arugula and Grana cheese shavings, dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + a corn bun
  • Grilled steak + a mixed salad dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and lemon + rice cakes
  • Steamed salmon + fennel with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + kamut grissini
  • Steamed sole + steamed cauliflower dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil + whole grain bread
  • Raw ham without visible fat + grilled vegetables seasoned with extra virgin olive oil + a corn bun
  • Hake fillets with tomato sauce + a mixed salad dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and lemon + whole grain bread
  • Grilled chicken breast + cabbage salad dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and lemon + whole grain crackers

Snacks

In mid-morning and mid-afternoon, sip a smoothie with seasonal fruits and vegetables. For example:

  • 2 carrots, 4 celery stalks, and 2 tablespoons of fennel herbal tea
  • 200 grams of raspberries and wild strawberries with lemon juice
  • 2 carrots, half a beetroot, and mint leaves

Contraindications

Like any food, excessive consumption of cereals can have negative effects.

  • Excessive amounts lead to sugar accumulation, creating a condition of hypercholesterolemia.
  • Too much fiber can cause bloating, abdominal swelling, and cramps due to excessive intestinal mobility.
  • Refined cereals (especially wheat) result in the loss of some important nutrients.

In practice, we can conclude that our body needs every type of nutrient but in the right measure.

In other words, it is not truly healthy to base one’s diet on a single type of food, such as a fruit-based diet, legume-based diet, vegetable-based diet, lemon-based diet, or milk-based diet. It is necessary to integrate all nutritional values through a healthy and balanced diet.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Cereal-Based Diet

We will conclude this article by addressing some of the questions that are most commonly asked on the topic of grains.

What are the best grains for weight loss?

According to a scientific study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, barley and oats are particularly helpful in staying fit and regulating weight.

Which grains do not cause weight gain?

In general, all grains (especially whole grains) are rich in beneficial properties. Barley, spelt, rice, and millet are nutritious and do not cause weight gain.

What is the healthiest grain?

Without a doubt, oats. Among all grains, it is the richest in nutrients (13% protein).

Which cereals are recommended for weight loss at breakfast?

For the first meal of the day, we recommend consuming whole grains, which are higher in fiber. Additionally, it’s advisable to choose natural cereals without added sugars. To benefit from various properties and avoid boredom, you can vary your breakfasts by alternating various types of cereals: muesli, corn flakes, oats, puffed rice, always paired with milk or yogurt.

How much cereal should be eaten for weight loss?

If you want to lose weight, the recommended daily portion of pasta, rice, etc., is 60 grams. Generally, 2-3 portions of bread (50 grams) are also allowed, equivalent to a small sandwich, a packet of crackers, or 3 slices of crispbread. However, remember that to lose weight, a healthy and active lifestyle, with regular exercise, is essential.

Which grains can be used as a substitute for pasta?

Barley, spelt, rice… all make excellent alternatives to pasta carbohydrates.

Similarly, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth, to be precise, are pseudo-cereals—plants that are not part of the traditional cereal family but produce edible seeds with nutritional characteristics similar to cereals.

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