“Millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, niacin and zinc, and fortified cereals are the leading source, said a new report from the Environmental Working Group, a Washington -based health research and advocacy firm.
The reason, the researchers write, is because the fortified amounts are calculated for adults, not kids. The worst offenders were- Kellogg’s Product 19 and General Mills Total Raisin Bran, plus generic brands from Food Lion, Safeway and Stop & Shop.
“Just a tiny, tiny percentage of cereals have nutrition labels that list proper nutrient amounts for kids”, said EWG’s director of research, Renee Sharp. “That’s misleading to parents and is contributing to the problem.”
A variety of health issues are at stake for children who consume too much vitamin A, zinc and niacin, like liver damage, abnormal immune function and short-term issues like rashes and vomiting, the report says.
Daily levels of vitamins and minerals were decided by the FDA in 1968. Though the FDA is updating nutrition panels for most of its packages, it doesn’t plan to make changes to prevent the over consuming of fortified nutrients.
Why Are Breakfast Cereals Bad For You?
1. Extrusion Process
Breakfast cereals go through an extrusion process. This manufacturing procedure that makes all the o’s, flakes, biscuits, and other shapes of cold cereals, destroys the fatty acids and vitamins in grains and alters the structure of amino acids, making them toxic.
2. BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
This common additive is used to prevent oxidation in a wide variety of foods and cosmetics and is listed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in 2005 as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” on the basis of experimental findings in animals. It is also used in jet fuels, rubber petroleum products, transformer oil and embalming fluid. Moreover, Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns that BHT should not be allowed to enter the environment, can cause liver damage, and is harmful to aquatic organisms.
3. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
HFCS is loaded with unbound fructose and glucose molecules. Studies have shown that the reactive carbonyl molecules can cause tissue damage that may lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. HFCS is made from genetically modified corn and processed with genetically modified enzymes. To make matters worse, studies have recently revealed that nearly half of tested samples of HFCS contained mercury.
4. Refined Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate intake should vary according to one’s activity level, genetics and time of day. But if you think about it, most of us are sedentary, and should not be eating carbohydrates first thing in the morning, like that cereal. Of course, the argument is that one is fasting throughout the night and need nutrients going to one’s cells for energy. Yes, your cells will be ready to receive nutrients and you will be hungry. However, both healthy muscle cells and fat cells are ready to receive nutrients in the morning.
That means that only very lean people (with fewer fat cells), or those who are very active (muscle cells will uptake more of the carbohydrates) should be eating carbohydrates in the morning. The best time for carbohydrates for the rest of the average folks is after a strength training workout because muscle cells are ready to absorb carbohydrates and you won’t store them as fat easily.
5. Phytic Acid
Breakfast cereal grains are improperly prepared and contain phytic acid. Ancient cultures have fermented, soaked and sprouted grains before consumption because these natural methods for processing food make the grains easier to digest. These processes eliminate phytic acid, a substance in grains that binds up nutrients, preventing your body from absorbing them and making grains difficult to digest.
Almost all colorants approved for use in food are derived from coal tar and may contain up tp 10ppm of lead and arsenic. Also, most coal tar colors could potentially cause cancer. Many cereals contain artificial colors that may pose health risks. In 2007, a study published in “The Lancet” indicated that some artificial food colors increase the likelihood of hyperactivity in children. In 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest focused on Red 40 in its publication “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks,” suggesting that this dye, which is made with petroleum, contains carcinogens that speed up the development of cancerous tumors in mice. It also found that 15 percent of people experience allergic skin reactions to Red 40.
Unless a cereal has been certified organic, it’s likely to contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), including wheat, corn and soy, which can wreak havoc on the immune system and lead to various health issues such as autoimmune disease, gluten allergies and more.
8. Synthetic Vitamins
Breakfast cereals contain stripped and refortified grains. Some cereal products contain highly processed flours that have been stripped of most nutrients. Manufacturers then add back low-quality chemical versions of vitamins and minerals that can cause nutritional deficiencies and imbalances.
Many cereals have vitamins added, but these are synthetic (man-made) vitamins that the body is simply not designed to utilize. Many synthetic vitamins are actually treated as toxins and are eliminated by your body as quickly as possible. Synthetic vitamins can also cause imbalances in the body that may lead to health problems in the long run. On top of this, the body cannot absorb many key nutrients if they are not consumed with foods that contain saturated fat. If you’re eating boxed cereal with low-fat or skim milk, the vitamins and minerals added in are providing virtually no nutritional benefit.
Some breakfast cereals contain more sugar than some donuts. A global Consumer Reports study conducted across 32 nations found that eleven popular cereal brands contain as much sugar as a glazed doughnut. This study also found that the same brand cereals in the US have as much as 15% more sugar than in other countries. Sugar is acidic and robs your body of important minerals that you need to stay healthy and energized.
Most breakfast cereals contain wheat and gluten. 1 in 133 people suffer from Celiac Disease (also known as gluten sensitivity enteropathy, gluten intolerance, or celiac sprue), a chronic, genetic disorder, affecting both children and adults. People with Celiac Disease are not able to eat foods that contain gluten, which is found primarily in wheat, spelt, kamut, rye and barley, as well as other grains.
More and more people are suffering from some kind of food allergy or “gluten intolerance” because their inner ecosystems are damaged and they are missing “grain-loving good bacteria” that help us digest gluten. These folks may crave gluten-containing foods and not even realize that gluten is the culprit for a wide variety of health issues.
11. Loaded with Pesticides
In a 2001 study, researchers measured pesticide residues in the urine of 110 children. All children had measurable levels of organophosphate (OP) metabolites – with the exception of one child. Turns out the child who didn’t have OP ate exclusively organic produce. OP exposure in kids have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Although breakfast cereals don’t seem like it would a lot of sodium, many commercial varieties, including those with bran flakes and oat squares, contain 200 to 300 milligrams of sodium per serving. The Institute of Medicine recommends getting no more than 2.3 grams of sodium per day to keep your blood pressure at a safe level, but the average American exceeds this amount by about 1 gram. Starting your day with more than 10 percent of your upper intake of sodium makes it difficult to stay below that recommended number.
The Truth About Organic And High Fiber Breakfast Cereals
High fiber, organic cereals made from “healthier” grains are marketed as the better nutritional choices. Read here. These cereals tend to have more protein than conventional dry packaged cereals. However, this is not true. In fact, when the high-protein grains are extruded they produce even more denatured protein. So your “healthy” cereal is potentially worse for your body than junk cereal since they contain more high-protein grains that have been ultra-processed. See this article for more information.
Even breakfast cereals marketed as “natural” or “healthy” are really no better than conventional cereals but with a bigger price tag. There are no legal requirements for foods that are labeled as “natural”. It’s meaningless hype used by breakfast cereal companies to dupe consumers who are looking for healthier cereal options. You can check out the history of breakfast cereals here.
For instance, in 2011 a class action lawsuit was filed against Kashi for misleading consumers with its “natural” claims. Many of their products are made with GMOS and synthetic processed ingredients. In addition, some companies with a historical “organic” brand image have changed from organic to conventional ingredients (that may contain GMOs and pesticides) to save money. Yet, the prices of these cereals remain the same so the cost-savings have not been passed down to consumers.
Why Are Children Particularly Affected?
The worst breakfast cereals tend to have the most advertising directed toward kids. One of the worst unhealthy truths about breakfast cereal is the deceptive marketing to children. Breakfast cereals marketed to kids have about 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium than cereals marketed to adults.
Cereal FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score) is a research study developed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University, in consultation with a steering committee of experts in nutrition, marketing, and public health.
Cereal FACTS measured breakfast cereals by nutritional quality, such as sugar, fiber, salt and fat, and found these popular kids breakfast cereals as the worst on the nutrition score.
Top 10 Worst Cereals for Kids
1. Cocoa Pebbles
2. Fruity Pebbles
3. Cap’n Crunch
4. Fruity Pebbles with Marshmallows
5. Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries
6. Cap’n Crunch with OOPS! All Berries
7. Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch
8. Special K Chocolatey Delight
9. Rice Krispies – Rice Krispies Treats
10. Rice Krispies – Frosted Krispies
Cocoa Pebbles topped the list as it’s about 40% sugar by weight. One serving contains 11 grams of sugar (and remember many kids eat more than the recommend serving) – that’s more sugar than a Krispy Kreme donut. You can read more about how breakfast cereals affect children here and here.