Actually up until a year or so ago, I still was. While I had graduated from the frosted cereals and the ones with marshmallows, to the ‘whole grain’ or ‘healthy’ cereals, I still didn’t realize how how unhealthy they could be.
As I started to eat more whole foods, I started thinking about my cereals more and more. Especially the ones I was giving to my young son. It seemed so normal to feed him cheerios as breakfast and snacks. They’re touted as a great first finger food, and I was just doing what most mothers before me had done.
And I realize that food manufacturers have been putting more nutrition into the cereals, and in fact, a lot of them aren’t as bad as they used to be, at least where sugar is concerned. So why talk about it at all? Well, let me share an excerpt from the Weston A Price Foundation:
Dry breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Cereal makers first create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o’s, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds (as in Shredded Wheat or Triscuits), or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each little flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.
In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt tells us that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion. This is how all the boxed cereals are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. They are all made in the same way and mostly in the same factories. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.
Let me also share just a couple unpublished studies with you. I first learned about these in the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, and hard evidence is difficult to come by, so I think of these studies as more ‘stories’ since I can’t give you hard data. I would love to see this done again, especially with cereal as it’s made today (and not 50+ years ago!)
The first contained 4 sets of rats.
- The first group was fed plain whole wheat, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. These rats lived about a year.
- The second group of rats consumed a diet of only water and proceeded to live about a month.
- A third group was fed only water and chemical nutrients, they lived about 2 months.
- The fourth group of rats was fed as much puffed wheat as they wanted, water, and the same vitamins and minerals as the first group. This group lived only 2 weeks. That’s not even as long as the ones who were fed only water! Could this not mean that something changes in the actual grain of wheat while going through the extrusion process?
Another unpublished experiment was done at U of M in the 1960′s with 18 rats. They were split into 3 groups.
- Group one was fed rat chow and water (the control group). They remained in good health throughout the experiment.
- Group two was fed corn flakes and water.
- Group three was fed the box the corn flakes came in as well as water.
Now get this – all of the rats eating the corn flakes died before the rats eating the box. And supposedly their behavior changed dramatically to the point of going insane and then into convulsions. So does the cardboard box really have more nutrients in it, or is the cereal really that bad?
Besides the fact that boxed cereals have improperly prepared grains, or are made with refined grains (white flours), comes the fact that they have added refined sugar in them as well. On average, cereals that are most aggressively advertised to kids (think toys, cartoons, etc.) had 1/3 of their weight devoted to sugar. Another sad average is the fact that most Americans consume about 175 pounds of sugar each year when our total shouldn’t be much over 5 pounds. A study was even done in 2005 that showed on average 2-3 year olds were consuming about 14 teaspoons of added sugar a days while 4 and 5 year olds were consuming an extra 17 teaspoons.
Here’s even more statistics recently released from Consumer Reports:
- 58% of “kids” cereals are actually consumed by the 18 and over crowd
- One serving of Honey Smacks, along with 10 other cereals, had as much sugar in them as a glazed donut from Dunkin Donuts.
- 23 out of the 27 kids cereals that were tested, were rated only good or fair for nutrition
- Most people, kids included, pour themselves more than the recommended serving size.
So what are you to eat in the morning?
If it seems odd to not have cereal in the house, you’re not alone. I’m betting a very large percentage of homes have at least one box in their house right now. Not mine. I cut out cereal over a year ago and never even think of buying it anymore. Not only is it healthier to eat fresh, whole foods for breakfast, it’s cheaper! I used to go through a box a week by myself and if I fed my toddler the same and my hubby, we’d probably be more along the lines of 2-3 boxes. At full price that’s at least $8 – $12 a week on boxed cereal.
Instead of pouring a bowl each morning, you do need to think outside the box. It might take a few more minutes of prep, but once you get used to it, it’ll seem normal.
- eggs (fried, scrambled, omelet style)
- oatmeal (soak overnight first for greatest health benefits)
- whole wheat muffins or pancakes (these can be made ahead and simply warmed up) with natural sweeteners (honey/maple syrup)
- fruit salad (again can be made the night before for a quick morning)
- homemade sausage patties on whole wheat toast
- leftovers from last nights dinner