A restaurant that serves nothing but cereal? It may sound like a scheme from a Seinfeld episode, but the concept is now a reality -- a cereality, that is. Diners at the Cereality Cereal Bar and Cafe in Philadelphia can feast on their favorite flakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As if ordering a sundae at an ice cream parlor, patrons choose from more than 30 brand-name cereals and a multitude of tempting toppings, including fruit, nuts, cookies, and candy. Pajama-clad "cereologists" prepare the custom blends in a homey kitchen setting.
Nutritious Fast Food?
Co-founders David Roth and Rick Bacher opened the original Cereality, a kiosk in Arizona State University's student union, in 2003. The Philadelphia location, across from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, is the first to offer seating. "I was really looking at creating a fast-food concept that would be the healthiest option in the marketplace," Roth tells WebMD. "We want to be known for getting people to enjoy cereal in new and healthy and innovative ways."
Those innovative ways include the Devil Made Me Do It, a concoction of Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms topped with chocolate-milk-flavor crystals and malt balls. "At Cereality, you can be as healthy or as indulgent as you want to be," spokeswoman Lisa Kovitz explains. She says the most popular cold cereal blend is actually the more nutritious Life Experience -- Life cereal topped with almonds, bananas, and a drizzle of honey.
In addition to promoting new ways to enjoy cereal, Roth says his company is cooperating with the "Got Milk?" campaign in "educating people about the healthy aspects of milk and getting people excited about milk."
Roth stresses that Cereality "is not intended to be a health food restaurant" but rather a fast-food eatery with healthy options. He says the cafe's unique menu and comfy couches lure customers from all walks of life. "We have entire families coming in in pajamas and bathrobes and fluffy slippers."
Know Your Cereals
Marilyn Tanner, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, tells WebMD experimenting with cereal blends offers "a great opportunity to try something healthful." Research shows children who eat cereal have a higher nutrient intake and are less likely to be overweight. The benefits to adults may include protection against heart disease and certain cancers.
Of course, all cereals are not created equal, so how can you tell which are the most nutritious? Most cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals and therefore have some nutritional value. But the American Dietetic Association says you'll get the greatest health benefits from high-fiber cereals that contain a source of good fat, such as nuts. By choosing brands that provide at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, you can get 20% of your daily fiber in one bowl of cereal.
"Snacking on cereal is a great way to get fiber," Tanner says. "The more fiber, the better. It decreases the risk of colon cancer, keeps your intestines clean, reduces constipation and bloating ... and you're just going to feel better."
While whole-grain and bran cereals usually contain the most fiber; don't go by the name alone. "Sometimes there are cereals that sound healthful, but the title is deceiving," Tanner tells WebMD. "Be careful about the fat content." Don't assume a cereal is at the healthy end of the spectrum just because the box says "granola" or "bran." Take the time to check the label for fat, sugar, and fiber content.
"The least healthy cereals are the ones with the most sugar and the least fiber," Tanner says. "Even those are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals. But eating something with protein and fiber will carry you through a lot longer."
Dress Up Your Cereal
If the words "oat bran" don't make your mouth water, try dressing up your cereal with fresh or dried fruits -- a strategy that adds fiber as well as flavor. "For people who aren't so excited about bran, use fruit as a means to make your mouth happy while getting extra nutrients," Tanner says. "Fresh fruits taste wonderful and have a health benefit."
For those with a more demanding sweet tooth, Tanner says there's nothing wrong with "taking something healthful and adding something fun." Mixing a high-fiber cereal with a sweeter cereal and "tossing in a few malt balls for a chocolate fix" is better than not eating the fibrous cereal at all, she adds. The key is to find a combination that you enjoy enough to eat regularly.
"People veer toward sweet things," says Cathy Nonas, RD. "They're not so familiar with high-fiber cereals." Nonas, who is an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and author of Outwit Your Weight, tells WebMD sugared cereals tend to have less sugar and fat than other snack foods. "As a snack, they're not terrible. They have nutrients. You get calcium from the milk."
But Nonas cautions against choosing cereals solely based on their ability to satisfy your sweet tooth. "This is a wonderful opportunity to get a whole lot of nutrition and it would be a shame to waste it," she says. "If you use cereal like a desert, it could contain as many calories and as little nutrition as a piece of chocolate cake. If you have a regular sugared cereal and you add a little bran or granola, or fresh or dried fruit, you have a much better opportunity to improve your nutritional picture. And if you have a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal with some fresh or dried fruit, you have something that will probably be your most nutritious meal of the day."