One of the most common breakfast meals consumed by millions of families around the world today are boxed cereals. Their quick and practical convenience has made them sought out by families from both low and high income homes. Their flashy boxes, unique shapes and sometimes even colored food bits tantalize kids and adults alike. But are these foods adequate choices to prevent disease, maintain optimal weight and ensure optimal health? Unfortunately far from it. In this essay we will examine one such example of boxed cereals, Kellogg’s Multigrain Krispies to help you make the best choices for your family.
Every fall and winter, millions of adults and kids complain about the latest “bug” that they picked up. So many of us have accepted this as a normal part of life, but it is far from natural. What so many of us though have yet to realize is how much of an impact the diet we, and our kids, consume daily has on our overall health. This includes the immune system and everything else from behavior to cognitive abilities. This is why as responsible citizens we must take accountability for our choices and figure out what is best for us given the goals we desire.
Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain more muscle, improve your health or just maintain it – the amount and type of processed food in your diet has to be seriously considered. Thus, in today’s article, I am going to dissect with you a typical processed cereal to find out what you are really getting from foods like these.
The Food of Choice
With September being a back to school time for many kids around the world, and many teachers and parents alike, it is not uncommon to pick up a more hurried and stressed lifestyle.
Amidst this, breakfast, and a high quality breakfast at that, often seems to get lost. Earlier this month, we had guest author Mary Ward, give us some quick, good reasons to not skip breakfast in “6 Reasons You Ought To Be Eating Breakfast.”
In the past, I have also dedicated some articles to exposing the myths when it comes to cereals, like in “Foods That Seem Healthy, But Aren’t – Part 1” and gave you alternate, much healthier options in “6 Optimally Healthy Breakfast Grain Options.”
Well today, we are going to dive right in and see what a typical processed breakfast cereal is all about. What claims does it make? What ingredients are you putting into your body? And what do all those numbers really mean?
Now, the cereal we are going to use as an example is Kellogg’s Multigrain Krispies. This is a new product from Kellogg’s. I take, it is an upgrade in terms of nutritional value to the traditional Kellogg’s Rice Krispies. And if you are wondering why I happen to choose this particular one specifically – my reasons are two-fold:
One, it represents a very common cereal which many kids, teens and adults alike eat daily in North America.
And two, a sample of this happened to be dropped off at my door by marketers, so not knowing what to do with it, I read the box, and as I read, it occurred to me that it would be really good to have a little tutorial on what is really in these cereals. So here we go.
Front Package Claims
A few years ago, when I was starting to study nutrition seriously and first learned how to read labels thanks to a video lecture from the wonderful Dr. Fuhrman, I learned this important fact from him:
Never believe anything on the front of the box.
Yup, that means, nothing. Whether it says that it is low in sodium, high in fiber, low in saturated fats, will make you rich and beautiful…don’t believe it. It may be true, but more often than not it is only put there to distract you from something else. Or, it might not even be really true, depending on how they played around with the numbers.
Okay so what does our Multigrain Krispies claim on the front:
- High source of fiber (per 31g retail serving size)
- 4 times bigger (pieces) than Rice Krispies original
- Hint of honey flavor
So what do you think? Is that enough to entice some people to think that this is a healthy option? Oh you bet!
The truth is, while it is great that it is a “high source of fiber” – what does high to them mean? Secondly, did you check the numbers on the nutrient label? Do you even know how much fiber you are supposed to get each day?
See, it is questions like those that we really need to start asking ourselves. Otherwise, why even bother reading anything on the box, as essentially you are putting your health and accountability into the hands of others.
As for being bigger, sure, that might be nice, but has nothing to do with our health. And the hint of honey flavor? I am not sure, is that supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing? No matter how you take it, all of these are simply ploys to get your attention on things that ultimately don’t matter, where health is concerned.
Remember, if you are seeking great health, then you need to know that the item is as natural, wholesome and nutrient dense first – then secondly can come the shapes, sizes and flavors to suit your needs.
When choosing a healthy product, I cannot emphasize enough, how important it is to read the ingredients. In fact you almost don’t have to read anything else, but the ingredients.
Are the ingredients things you recognize or chemical sounding words? Are sugar and salt in the top five ingredients? Are there a lot of ingredients with substance or just artificial fillers? All of these things are important to take into account.
So here are the ingredients for the Multigrain Krispies (based on a Canadian label):
- Whole wheat flour
- Corn flour
- Whole oat flour
- Oat hull fiber
- Corn bran
- Modified palm oil
- Natural and artificial flavor
- Vitamins (thiamine hydrochloride, niacinamide d-calcium pantothenate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid)
- Minerals (iron, zinc oxide)
- BHT (added to package material to maintain freshness)
- Contains wheat ingredients.
- Contains traces of soybeans.
So there we have it. Now let’s take a little closer look. Basically what these ingredients tell me, is that this product is flour, sugar and salt, fortified with vitamins and minerals. Mmmm, sounds yummy.
I mean honestly, think about it and picture it – imagine putting some flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, crushing in some multivitamins, and not to forget, subjecting any chance of nutrition you had there, to some high heat process.
Where is the high quality nutrition in that?
On labels, ingredients are always in order from what makes up the most of the food, to the least of the food. With sugar being 3rd on the list, one must understand that this is still a sugary cereal. Might not be as bad as some others, but still.
It is wonderful that the flours are “whole” – but as I mentioned in other articles, we really should be eating the actual grain, not its powdered form, for maximum benefits. The more powdered something is, the more surface area is exposed and the faster our body metabolizes it. While that may sound good, what it means in fact, is that products that are “whole grain” but based mostly on flours, get treated by our body more like sugars, than starches.
The addition of the oat hull fiber and the corn bran, even allude to that, as it is very difficult to have a high fiber product based on flours alone.
And what is up with the modified palm oil? Makes one wonder what they did to it? Not to mention this is a largely saturated fat oil, and on top of that the majority of the world’s rainforests are being cut down, due to our unnecessary reliance on palm oils in way too many things.
Whenever you see natural and artificial flavor, understand that you have no idea what the heck they put in it. You can read the definitions of what these can include here on Wikipedia.
The vitamin and mineral additions are nice and very much needed by some people who live off of this stuff, but nothing to rave over. These did not come naturally with the food. They were put in by humans and machines. So if you really want vitamins and minerals, check out the produce aisles – no kidding.
Finally, the case of the BHT. Do you know what BHT is?
BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene - is a type of chemical antioxidant used to preserve common household foods by preventing them from oxidizing. It keeps fats and oils from going rancid and is commonly found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils. This compound is not inert or stable and there is concern from several studies that it may cause cancer.
Now granted, this is not actually added TO the food in this product (in others it is), it still does not dismiss the potential for it getting into the food. While I am sure the risk of eating something packed with this in it, is much lower than eating actual food with it, why would one need to put themselves at any such risk at all, if we don’t have to?
So there we have it, the ingredients dissected. Now I know there will be people out there who read this, and will think that, well, there is nothing wrong here – and I respect that. But seriously, if you are health conscious, if you love and care for your kids, then I hope you can see that this is not a high quality food product where health is concerned. But before we conclude, we have one more part to dissect.
The nutrition facts can both be helpful and harmful in getting to know the quality of your food better. Helpful, because one can quickly focus in on critical things like the types and amount of fats, as well as the amount of salt (sodium) present per serving. However, they can be harmful because some people obsess about these numbers, without actually knowing what they mean, or focus in on the calories only, or feel a sense of satisfaction when they see some vitamin and mineral numbers.
In terms of calories, this should honestly not be your main concern. The bigger issues to focus on are: is there any trans fat, saturated fat and sugar? How much? What is the sodium amount? If it is higher than the number of calories per serving than it is a high sodium food, and should definitely not be eaten by someone with high blood pressure. And while the vitamins and mineral values can be nice, ultimately if you really want to know good levels, it is much more complicated than looking at the daily value percentages.
So here is what our nutrition facts say, per 27g serving:
Calories = 110
Fat = 1g
Saturated Fat = 0.3g
Trans Fat = 0g
Cholesterol = 0mg
Sodium = 160mg
Potassium = 55mg
Carbohydrate = 23g
Fiber = 4g
Sugar = 6g
Starch = 13g
Protein = 2g
Vitamin A = 2%
Vitamin C = 0%
Calcium = 0%
Iron = 25%
Thiamine (B1) = 40%
Niacin (B3) = 6%
Vitamin B6 = 8%
Folate = 8%
Pantothenate = 6%
Zinc = 10%
For starters, before you get happy or upset about any of the numbers, do you realize how small a 27g serving is? It is probably 1/2 of what a typical child would eat, and maybe 1/3 or less of what a hungry adult would eat. So keep in mind, depending on how much you eat, you need to multiply all the numbers by at least 2.
Fat is low in a product like this, and not surprisingly so based on what it is made of. I wouldn’t get too happy though that it says 0g trans fats. Depending on what they did to that palm oil, or take another product for example, if the number is below a certain point, companies are allowed to round down to zero. One wouldn’t know there is actually then any trans fat, unless a bigger serving was taken into consideration.
In terms of the sodium, yup this is a high sodium food – who would have ever thought? So if you have high blood pressure, this is not your ideal food. And likewise if you don’t want to start having problems with your blood pressure, you really have to make sure that sodium on any label is not higher than the calories.
Where the fiber is concerned, one should be getting as an adult, between 25-35g of fiber daily, so while this cereal can help add to that, it is nothing to rave about.
One honestly never has to worry or obsess over the protein number. They are really neither good, nor bad. In our society even the strictest of vegans normally do not have any problems getting enough protein and the average person actually eats too much.
Finally, as far as the vitamins and minerals go, as I mentioned already, these are a life saver for people who do not eat high quality, balanced diets perhaps, but should not be depended on as your ultimate source of these nutrients. The best ones again, come directly from wholesome, natural foods.
While many see the typical European breakfast as some type of bread, jam and juice, it is not uncommon to think of the typical North American breakfast as a bowl of cereal. But how nutrient dense are these food products really? Are we eating just to “fill up”? Or, are we actually eating to nourish our bodies?
As I have already mentioned in the article “Foods That Seem Healthy, But Aren’t – Part 1,” boxed, processed cereals are really, really NOT a healthy option.
Not only are the ingredients of poor quality usually, but we normally add to this cow’s milk. As if the processed food itself wasn’t bad enough, we then go and take on all the problems associated with milk, and dairy in general.
In the end, this makes for one acidic meal and how many fruits and vegetables did you get in there? The odd few may cut in some fruit into that bowl, but for the average person out there, the number will be zero.
So, I hope you learned something here today, not just where cereals are concerned, but how to better understand labels.