It’s sometimes said that Lewes is a middle-class town. Can’t imagine why. The only time it seems anything less than gritty is with regard to children's nutrition. A son like mine, who subsists on chips and Coco Rocks, is a badge of shame. Luckily I also have a daughter who prefers broccoli to burgers. She will choose porridge over other more processed, and multi-national profiting breakfast cereals. It’s a little remarked trend this, the rise of porridge as the right-on food de jour. It’s also bemusing to we Scots who had boiled oats forced down us from birth for the “guid roughage”. Suddenly porridge is a source of vitamins, and complex carbohydrates, and a food for athletes.
You might say that the trouble with porridge is the amount of spurtle and Brillo action attending the actual eating. But kids come with a microwave and a dishwasher these days so making and cleaning-up are no longer chores. No, the trouble with porridge is that no matter how much I trowel down, I always need another breakfast an hour later. Research among friends suggests I am not alone in this temporary fulfilment. So what’s going on? Paula Radcliffe runs marathons on the stuff. How come everyone I know struggles to make it through the drive to work?
My first thought is that my portions are not big enough. I have about 60g of oatmeal. Might I simply be having more of other cereals? Careful weighing of Bran Flakes (‘What are you doing Daddy?’) squashes this hypothesis. 60g of Bran Flakes looks like something you’d tackle for an eating contest. Other possibilities require investigation. For example, do oats really give more sustained energy than, say, bread? Consideration of the glycemic index of oats (the rate at which foods release glucose into the blood) reveals it to be somewhat lower than bread or Shreddies or most of my other favoured breakfasts. Clearly porridge should last longer. A friend suggests I’m adding too much honey and crashing. Though this doesn’t seem entirely convincing I dutifully have my next bowl in the style of my Scottish youth (i.e. garnished only with salt and a homily on virtue as its own reward). It’s disgusting. And I’m still hungry shortly after.
After a week of experimentation the only remotely plausible explanation lies in that old hokum about roughage. Actually oats aren’t that great in the dietary-fibre stakes, coming above Corn Flakes but some way below most other cereals. As fibre is crucial to a sense of fullness it seems that porridge, while giving you energy, is wanting when it comes to feeling replete.
Despite all this I’ll go on eating porridge. It’s hot food on a cold morning and clearly there’s more to be said about its benefits. I’ll get into that sometime but for now, if you’ll excuse me, I just need a quick bowl of Coco Rocks.
John McGowan, 7th December 2010