CEREAL – WHAT’S IN IT?
As you walk down the grocery store’s cereal aisle, all the celebrated animated characters are smiling at you. Who can’t pass up the adorable Lucky Charm Leprechaun, Trix Rabbit, Tony The Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, and Count Chocula? Cereals that contain the most sugar are frequently packaged with a cartoon mascot to appeal to children. Parents are mindful to cut down on refined sugars, so they will carefully read the label ingredients to see how many grams of sugar are in the box. Is a buying decision solely based on that factor? What other ingredients are your children eating that may affect their health? Let’s unbox a cereal and take a peak inside.
SUGAR– Many childrens’ cereals contain a high level of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn syrup, or sugar. Just remember if the word “sugar” is one of the ingredients, it more likely it’s HFCS.
FACT: A child (or adult) who eats a single bowl of cereal every day for one year will eat 10 pounds of sugar by year’s end!
GMOs– Many well known cereal brands contain sugar and corn manufactured from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
NOTE: These same U.S. companies manufacture “GMO-free cereals” for foreign distribution as a result of strict governmental regulation overseas.
ANNATTO– Since many cereal manufactures have stopped using artificial colors and dyes, they have turned to natural sources. Natural doesn’t always mean safe. Annatto is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree. It’s an excellent coloring agent with its yellow-orange shade. It is sometimes added to enhance a food to make it nutty, sweet, and peppery. While being a natural ingredient and safe for most people, it may cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive. The Food Intolerance Network has received complaints about ingesting products that contain annatto. The range of complaints include headaches, head-banging in young children, restlessness, irritability, and sleep issues.
BHT– The acronym that may look more appealing to a consumer then its chemical compound name “butylated hydroxytoluene.” BHT is a food additive used in many cereals to prevent oxidation. The FDA classifies BHT as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). A GRAS designation means that experts recognize products, such as BHT, to be safe. No additional testing is required. However, the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog organization, published their findings Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the U.S. These findings discovered issues in GRAS classifications, including research data originating from manufacturers themselves as well as expert statements that did not take in to account evidence of allergic reactions. The study concluded that the real safety of GRAS additives was compromised.
NOTE: BHT is also known to be a chemical additive that may trigger Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is banned as food additive in Australia, Romania, Japan, and Sweden. Some cereal manufacturers are now substituting BHA for BHT.
BHA– An acronym for the chemical compound butylated hydroxyanisole. BHA is used to prevent foods from becoming rancid. The FDA has classified BHA as a GRAS compound. However, BHA has been associated to cancer in some studies. NIH’s National Toxicology Program study concluded that BHA is a human carcinogen when taken in high doses. The FDA stated that BHA (and BHT) are added in to foods at low enough levels as to be safe for human consumption. While these two Federal agencies battle it out, the State of California listed BHA as a carcinogen.
SOY LECITHIN– Derived from GMO soy, soy lecithin is made from the gummy waste that results when soy oil is refined. Mice fed GMO soybean developed a decrease in pancreatic function, according to a report published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology. Another compound of soy lecithin is phytoestrogen, which produces the same effects as the hormone estrogen, and may increase the risk of breast cancer by altering natural estrogen. Fenistein is another soy lecithin by-product that may have negative effects on fertility and reproduction. Lastly, reports have shown that soy lecithin may affect immature brain cells that can impeded brain development.
NOTE: While lecithin is required to be listed as an ingredient on labels containing soy, as per the Federal Food and Drug Act, many processed foods and baked goods are not labeled according to LiveStrong.
HYDROGENATED OILS– Check the label ingredients and see if the cereal contains partially hydrogenated oils, which contains trans unsaturated fats. Fully hydrogenated oils are full of saturated fat. Consumption of trans fats has been connected to cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases.
NOTE: Current labeling regulation allows a cereal manufacturer to show “0 grams” of trans fat so long there is less than “0.5 grams” of trans fat per serving.
CEREAL- HOW’S IT MADE?
EXTRUSION PROCESS– Many companies use an extrusion process to manufacture their cereals. This process exposes the cereal grains to very high levels of pressure and heat. The once pure grain is now extruded out as flakes, little O’s, shredded wheat, or puffs. Biochemist Paul Stitt found that the extrusion process destroys most of the grains’ natural nutrients, fatty acids, and vitamins. The process also alters the structure of the proteins, such as those found in corn.
FORTIFIED: Since the extrusion process strips the grains of their vital nutrients, manufacturers need to find a way to replace them. Many cereals boast that their product is “fortified” with nutrients and vitamins. Without this fortification process, the boxed cereal would have little nutritional value. Many cereals try to cover up their high sugar content with fortification, which adds back in nutrients. Also, fortified foods may contain too many nutrients, which can be toxic for your child.
THE BAD CEREALS
Mamavation conducted a study of the top 10 cereals that kids should avoid because they contain “unhealthy” ingredients such as GMOs, they use the extrusion process and/or are fortified. This is their findings in alphabetical order. The sugar content is listed first. 1 teaspoon (tsp) is equivalent to 4 grams (g).
- Apple Jacks: 3 tsp. sugar, BHT, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial red #40.
- Boo Berry/Count Chocula/Franken Berry: 2 1/4 tsp. sugar, BHT, dextrose and corn syrup, canola oil, trisodium phosphate, artificial red dye #40.
- Cap’n Crunch CrunchBerries: 3 3/4 tsp. sugar, BHT, and artificial red dye #40.
- Corn Pops: 2 1/4 tsp. sugar, BHT, annatto, hydrogenated coconut, and soybean oil.
- Fruit Loops: 3 tsp. sugar, BHT, annatto, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial red dye #40.
- Fruit Loops with Marshmallows: 3 1/2 tsp. sugar, BHT, annatto, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial red dye #40.
- Fruity Pebbles: 2 1/4 tsp. sugar, BHA, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and artificial red dye #40.
- Golden Crisps: 3 1/2 tsp. sugar and corn syrup.
- Honey Smacks: 3 3/4 tsp. sugar, BHT, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, and soy lecithin.
- Lucky Charms: 2 1/2 tsp. sugar, corn syrup, trisodium phosphate, and artificial red dye #40.
- Trix: 3 tsp. sugar, BHT, corn syrup, trisodium phosphate, and artificial red dye #40.
THE GOOD AND BAD CEREALS
Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit watchdog organization. They analyzed the contents of more than 1,500 cereals, including more than 180 kid’s cereals. Their report noted that on average, kid’s cereals contain 40% more sugar than cereals marketed to adults. A child who eats a bowl of cereal a day will consume 10 pounds of sugar a year! Their survey indicated that 11 out of the 13 most heavily sugared kid’s cereals made claims such as their cereal is a “Good Source of Fiber.” EWG claims this deceptive and misleadingly advertising is covering up an unhealthy product with claims their product is healthy.
So how do you find the most healthy and least sugary cereal products? Check out the EWG-Cereal-Report link below and read EWG’s report and and see which cereals have the least and most amount of sugar before you head out to the store. You can also download EWG’s Healthy Living smartphone app and research your favorite products. NOTE: EWG does not recommend more than 1 teaspoon (4g) of sugar per serving.