Malcolm McDowell Woods
Simply Health

The ‘whole’ truth about cereals

By - Mar 8th, 2010 04:00 am
Judy Mayer

Judy Mayer

Most cold cereals are little more than filler convenience foods with misleading claims stamped on the front of the boxes. They’re an easy sell for marketers who know we’re trying our best to eat healthier and turn back to nutritious staples.

Cold cereal is a breakfast mainstay and it is so well marketed that it is the only breakfast food kids think of. For our part, adults are attracted by misleading claims on the box: “heart healthy,” “provides 12 essential vitamins and nutrients,” “good source of calcium and fiber, and contains whole grains!”

The problem is, for many kids aged four to 12, cereal is the number one source of many key nutrients including iron, vitamin A, folate and zinc. So what do we do?

Practice avoiding refined grains
We know we’re supposed to eat whole grains, but have no idea how to do it. Here’s my advice on sorting through this madness – for a moment forget the pictures and marketing – pretend the box is white and let the ingredients speak for themselves.

Let’s start with whole. If the box says flour, white flour, wheat flour, all purpose flour, unbleached flour, self-rising flour, durum, semolina, grits, corn flour or enriched flour — with no mention of the word whole — forget it, none of those are whole grains. Wait, there’s more: multi-grain, stone ground, 100 percent wheat, 7-grain, bran and cracked wheat can also be added to the list.

Understand what a whole grain is
Now take a step back to science class. Whole grains are the entire grain seed which consists of the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran is the outer protective skin of the grain. It contains fiber, antioxidants, iron, zinc copper, magnesium and B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate). The germ is the plant embryo that also contains B vitamins, most of the wheat kernel’s fat, and vitamin E. The endosperm is the inner part of the grain, which contains the main nutrients, protein and carbohydrates.

When grains are processed or refined, they no longer remain whole. Most of the bran/germ is removed, resulting in the loss of fiber as well as protein, vitamins, iron, minerals and antioxidants. This process became popular in the late 19th century in England with the invention of food processing machinery. The consequences were devastating. People suffered many nutrient deficiencies, physical diseases, cancer and mental disorders. It took decades to understand the connection to food processing. As a result, these refined grains had to be enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin) and iron were added back after processing. Folic acid fortification was mandated in 1998 in order to prevent birth defects. Fiber and protein is not added back to most enriched grains.

Discover whole grains
Examples of whole grains: whole wheat, cracked wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, whole corn, whole cornmeal, brown rice, whole rye, whole grain barley, buckwheat groats or flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), whole millet, whole quinoa and whole spelt.

How do you know you’ve found the right cereal? You may have to look past the whole grain to see what else may be hiding in the ingredient list.

  1. Check the ingredient list to make sure the word “whole” describes the grain. Most companies don’t list the amount of whole grains used in their products. A good example of a whole grain cereal is “Mom’s Best Natural Toasted Wheat-fuls.” The only ingredient is whole grain wheat, preserved with vitamin E.  It contains seven grams of fiber and it’s my favorite.
  2. Next move on to the fiber. Look for at least three grams or more per serving. Fiber comes naturally with whole grains.
  3. Calories. Try for 200 calories or fewer per serving, with or without milk.
  4. Sugar. Try to stay below eight grams per serving. There is one teaspoon of sugar in every five grams of sugar. You can see why a cereal with 15 grams of sugar (three teaspoons) is just too much.
  5. Avoid synthetic chemicals. Many of the big name cereal companies use the preservative BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) to prevent rancidity. You won’t see that anywhere at Outpost! Organic and natural cereals use vitamin E as a preservative.

Why whole grains?
Whole grains have been found to reduce the risk of many types of cancer. They also help regulate blood glucose in people with diabetes. Studies have shown that people who consume more whole products consistently weigh less than those who consumed less. Best of all – they taste so much better.

Buyer beware!
“Fiber One Honey Cluster” cereal made by General Mills boasts whole grains and a whopping 13 grams of fiber. It sounds healthy, doesn’t it? But it contains 14 added sweeteners and amazingly only seven grams of sugar. Reading far down the extensive list of ingredients (including BHT), you’ll find sucralose, an artificial sweetener. Check that one off your list! When it comes to nutritional value, disregard “added nutrients” promoted on cereal boxes.

So there you have it. Skip the sugars and the faux-cereals, and eat a breakfast that’s good for you.

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