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Is cereal a healthy choice?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

As part of my current SP challenge, I've been doing some serious label-reading. I've been a label-reader for years so I didn't think there'd be much to discover. However, I decided to take the challenge to a new level and find out what the labels in certain foods actually means.

Yesterday, I read cereal labels. Okay, I was seriously shocked at how many ingredients are in what I thought was healthy eating. We only buy high-fiber, "healthy" cereals. But, I read somewhere that any food with 5 or more ingredients is a processed food. Well, I was amazed at the number of ingredients in cereal, including words I couldn't spell. Never a good sign.

Dr. Oz said that we should avoid foods with sugar in the first 5 ingredients. Again, I was shocked at how many "healthy" cereals had sugar listed in their top 5 ingredients, another warning sign.

So, I took my label reading a step further and did some research on the history of cereal. I found the best best summary of my findings in the following article, which is primarily derived from Felicity Lawrence's book, "Eat Your Heart Out":


Essentially, the article says, yes, cereal is highly processed. In fact, that's why it was developed: To create a packaged and ready-to-eat, highly marketed breakfast product whose primary value is its ability to line the pockets of its manufacturers. Sales of cereal have increased every year since its introduction in the early 1900s. Wow.

One of the most fascinating parts of this article is where it talks about our modern technology's ability to fortify cereals with ingredients lost during processing. However, this process creates a chemical, "Acrylamide", that in 2006 was found to be directly linked to cancer in humans. Yikes!

So, I've learned a lot, especially about my own mistaken beliefs around foods. Marketing really impacts us; it's hard to remember to put on my thinking cap and ask myself, "Is this really good for me, just because it's packaged to sound that way?"

Next question: What will I have for breakfast today??
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Thanks for sharing. I rarely eat cereal any more, but I too discovered some of the "healthy" things I thought I was eating was was over-processed. I too learned a lot from this challenge.
    3465 days ago
    Wow what great info! I didn't know about the rule of 5 ingredients, but I will remember it.
    3465 days ago
    Interesting. My nurse practitioner actually recommended Kashi cereal due to the higher protein content.
    3465 days ago
    Excellent point. In the past I ate cereal for breakfast, a bedtime snack and a handful every now and then. There would be 12 different boxes of cereal in our pantry. I have since stopped eating cereal and have oatmeal, eggs or a smoothie for breakfast or even an evening snack. I am still trying to get my kids off of eating cereal. Two of them will eat scrambled eggs, but the third one doesn't like them.
    3466 days ago
    I found a great breakfast product (for lack of a better word)
    Highwood Crossing Power Grains

    Only problem is they need to soak overnight and I often forget!
    They are an Alberta Company and are now selling at Safeway. I really enjoy this cereal and add a bit if brown sugar or light maple syrup when I need a bit of sweetness.
    3470 days ago
    I am a steel cut oatmeal woman myself, and I actually like the even less processed oat groats. I have been buying them from a bulk bin [about half price that way], so I will be looking at the grocery store when my current supply runs out.
    3470 days ago
  • no profile photo CD6427585
    I just tried steel cut oats for the first time this past week... and I am SOLD! I absolutely LOVE them -- way more than those instant oatmeal packs! I tried them because I'm always looking to cut more sodium -- and they have none! How great to start my day off with such a yummy breakfast with no sodium! The first day I ate them with natural (no sodium) peanutbutter and a mashed banana in them. YUM! The 2nd day I ate them with blueberries, cinnamon, and just a touch of brown sugar.

    However... I DO think it's SAD that all those cold cereals are so NOT good for us! We all grew up on cold cereal... and naturally we LOVE it! And my FAVORITE doesn't even pretend to be good for you! Cinnamon Toast Crunch! But even the others - yea... they ALL have additives and preservatives so they can sit on the shelf for a couple of years at the grocery store! And then in our pantry... I really don't eat cold cereal very often anymore at all. But I WOULD... if it was healthy!
    3471 days ago
    Great blog! You might also wonder if the processed breads are a healthy option for the same reasons. I agree with Carrie. I rarely have cereal now. Mainly have eggs and oatmeal for breakfast and occasionally yoghert. Although this label reading is making me look at the types of yoghert and oatmeal as well. emoticon
    3471 days ago
    Thanks for sharing. I rarely have cereal anymore -- I never could just have one serving, and I was always hungry within an hour after eating breakfast. I now have eggs and oatmeal as a standard.
    3471 days ago
    I love all the suggestions! Yesterday I too read my cereal boxes and while there are a ton of ingredients I don't see me given up my Kashi cereals anytime soon! I also like my chocolate protein shakes mixed with a cup of frozen blueberries and a cup of fat free milk :)
    3471 days ago
    Thx for comments! I should mention that I rarely eat cereal but it was definitely interesting to discover what's in my cupboards.

    1CRAZYDOG - great idea to post breakfast options! Some more include:

    * Low-fat yogurt mixed with fresh fruit and slivered almonds
    * Slow-cooking oatmeal sweetened with maple syrup, apple slices, raisins, and cinnamon.
    * Homemade whole-wheat waffles topped with fresh fruit and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
    * Homemade whole-wheat pancakes topped with almond butter and banana slices.

    More suggestions?
    3471 days ago

    dinner left overs
    oatmeal (steel cut oats)
    egg white omelette
    poached egg

    I get lost w/breakfast ideas, too. That's when it's time to hit the Spark People recipes for ideas!

    Good luck. I know it takes so much time for me to shop because I read labels, but it's so worth it. I feel better buying foods that are healthier for me.
    3471 days ago
  • no profile photo CD3008106
    Great information! Thank you for sharing.
    3471 days ago
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