• breakfast cereals;
  • dietary fibre;
  • faecal bulk;
  • wheat bran equivalents

Faecal bulk may play an important role in preventing a range of disorders of the large bowel, but as yet there is little information available on the relative faecal bulking capacities of various foods. Breakfast cereals are often promoted as a good source of potential bulk for ‘inner health’ because they provide dietary fibre, but their relative abilities to provide faecal bulk per se have not been described. The faecal bulking efficacy of 28 representative Australasian breakfast cereals was therefore measured. A rat model developed for the purpose, and shown to give similar responses as humans to cereal fibres, was used to measure faecal bulking efficacy as increases in fully hydrated faecal weight/100 g diet, based on precise measurements of food intake, faecal dry matter output and faecal water-holding capacity (g water held without stress/g faecal dry matter). Compared to a baseline diet containing 50% sucrose, increments in hydrated faecal weight due to 50% breakfast cereal ranged from slightly negative (Cornflakes, –2 g/100 g diet) to about 80 g/100 g diet (San Bran). Most breakfast cereals increased hydrated faecal weight by between 10 and 20 g/100 g diet from a baseline of 21 ± 1.5 g/100 g diet, but four products containing high levels of wheat bran had an exceptionally large impact on hydrated faecal weight (increment >20 g/100 g diet), and the changes resulted more from relative changes in dry matter output than in faecal water retention/gram. However, as faecal water retention was about 2.5 g water/g faecal dry matter on average, increases in dry matter represented large increases in faecal water load. Faecal bulking indices (FBI) for most of the breakfast cereals were less than 20 (wheat bran = 100). The content of wheat bran equivalents for faecal bulk (WBEfb)) in the breakfast cereals was calculated from FBI. Most breakfast cereals contributed, per serve, less than 10% of a theoretical daily reference value for faecal bulk (DRVfb = 63 WBEfb/day), which was based on data from human clinical trials and dietary fibre recommendations. Based on the WBEfb contribution/serving that would be required to meet the DRVfb from the number of servings of dietary fibre sources in the CSIRO 12345+ food and nutrition plan, the results suggest that although some high bran breakfast cereals may contribute substantially to, and many are reasonable sources of, faecal bulk, for most of them, one or two servings at breakfast cannot be relied on to effectively redress shortfalls in faecal bulk elsewhere in the diet.