Health · Notes from West London

A Farewell to Oatiflakes

I offer a simple piece of dietary advice to anyone whose circumstances allow them to follow it: mix your grains. Or, more accurately, mix the carbohydrates in your diet so that you are not eating the same grain or starchy vegetable more than two meals running. If you have no choice regarding grains and starchy vegetables, or if you are avoiding carbohydrates for now, this advice does not apply.

When I was growing up we followed this advice without realizing it. We had cereal for breakfast, usually cornflakes or rice krispies, sometimes Weetabix or (in my teens) wheat-based muesli of some kind. School lunches typically incorporated potato as the main carbohydrate but occasionally (as far as I recall) there was a rice-based dish, or a plate of macaroni cheese. At home, potatoes were our staple at dinnertime. We ate bread at weekends with our fried breakfasts.

In my twenties, again without realizing it or planning it, I did not follow this advice. There were days when my only carbohydrate was wheat: Weetabix or muesli at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, pasta for dinner. There may well have been two or three days in a row when this was the case. This rapid increase in the amount of wheat (and therefore gluten) in my diet has not done any lasting damage so far, but I believe it played a big part in making me feel tired so much of the time. I wish that someone had advised me back then to eat less wheat and more potatoes.

I know many people who became gluten-intolerant after the age of 40 but I have not joined their ranks. A new drinking buddy (a friend of a friend who lives locally) was diagnosed gluten-intolerant in the last few years. He has switched from beer to cider. There are gluten-free beers but it’s more straightforward for him to stick to cider. Back in the spring we were in a bar that stocked a wider range of Tayto crisps than any place I’ve been to in London. Of the seven available flavours only three were gluten-free. I can’t remember which ones they were, but I’m not the one who would have got stomach cramps from eating the wrong flavours.

Many years ago, when I made a conscious decision to mix my carbohydrates, the easiest way to approach it was to ditch wheat at breakfast. For over 20 years, my day has almost always started with an oat-based cereal or porridge. That’s seven of my 21 weekly meals guaranteed to be wheat-free. For the other 14 there’s usually wheat (bread or pasta), potatoes (in all their glorious forms) or rice. There are also meals built around gluten-free bread or pasta (it’s okay when it’s hot, but never as good as the original). We tried polenta for a while, but not for many years now.

For at least the last 10 years my breakfast cereal of choice has been Oatiflakes, made by Weetabix. I mentioned the brand in this piece from last year, about numerous items that were out of stock at our local supermarkets. I even mentioned how cheap they were at the Co-Op in Dorchester-on-Thames: two packets for £4. There were a few months when they seemed to be available everywhere, but they have become harder to source again recently. My wife was unable to find any either online or on her regular shopping trips in the last few weeks. I located some at a nearby supermarket earlier this week but was shocked to find that a single 550g box cost £4, literally double what I paid 16 months ago. I bought a box anyway, but decided that at these prices it would be the last time I do so. The label on the shelf told me that this works out at 72.7p per 100g. A little further along is the supermarket’s own-brand oat-based banana & papaya granola, £2.75 per kg (27.5p per 100g, as you can probably work out). For a while, when the children were babies, this was my breakfast cereal of choice. It used to cost £2 per kg, which means it has “only” increased in price by around 38% in the last 15 years. I won’t go all Marcel Proust about how the taste of this granola takes me back to the time before the children started school (although it does) I just want to record that, at these prices, I’m saying Farewell to Oatiflakes.

 

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