How to Find the Healthiest Breakfast Cereal
Much to the dismay of cereal lovers there are a lot of things to be wary of about breakfast cereal. The list includes cancer-causing pesticides, toxic ingredients, nutrition and the cost. If cereal is still your hearts desire after reading this, then I have some tips on finding the best brands. Ditching cereal is also an option and I have some ideas for that also!
First question is what’s in cereal? Read the label and you might find refined grains, sugar, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and added vitamins.
Kids breakfast cereals can have as much sugar as ice cream.
We all know sugar is bad for our health. Breakfast cereals are not usually our friend when It comes to sugar.
Reader Tip – “I have found that the sugar is less important than the sugar to fiber + protein ratio. So I can eat cereal with 9 g sugar because it has 5 g fiber and 4 g protein. Cheerios, on the other hand, crashes my blood sugar HARD in 20 min flat. Whole oats are great, but ground up oat flour is not ok, whole grain or not.”
My Tip – buy plain unsweetened organic cereal and sweeten with honey and or fresh fruit.
Simply put artificial colors aren’t necessary for a tasty cereal.
Food dyes are banned in Europe. Manufactures produce cereals without artificial color ingredients that are sold In Europe.
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BHA and BHT
BHA and BHT are food preservatives that are often found in cereal. It’s also commonly used in cereal packaging.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) is used to prevent fats from becoming rancid.
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) also slows oxidation of fats. It is used to preserve food odor, color, and flavor.
- BHA is on California’s proposition-65 list of cancer-causing chemicals.
- Both BHA and BHT are included in the EWG Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives
- According to EWG rats fed BHT have developed lung and liver tumors.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program lists BHA as a possible carcinogen.
- Both BHA and BHT are banned from foods in Europe and other countries.
What’s Not on the Label?
Have you heard the news recently about glyphosate contaminated cereal?
Many non-organic cereals are laden with the herbicide glyphosate. The reason is the practice of desiccation which has become widespread.
Desiccation is when Non GMO crops like wheat, barley, and oats are sprayed with glyphosate just before harvest. The glyphosate speeds up the harvest and evens the drying process across the field. It’s not necessary, it is a convenience to the farmers.
Three sets of tests from 2016-2019 from two different organizations (the Detox Project and the EWG) have all come back with similar findings that Cheerios and related products contain very high levels of glyphosate residue. As much as 8x higher than what the scientists consider safe.
- 2015 World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen.
- 2017 California added glyphosate to their proposition-65 list of cancer-causing chemicals.
- Our Microbiome is our second brain, and is essentially responsible for our immune system. Studies now show that glyphosate damages our Microbiome.
- Glyphosate disrupts our hormones. It is a known endocrine disruptor.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed Big Ag companies to spray 300 times more glyphosate on oats and other grains compared to what was legal in 1993. Now you are seeing this reflected in your bowl of cereal.
- The risk of pesticide residues on food is from long-term exposure.
- “we just don’t know” exactly how glyphosate will impact the human body in the long run.
- Both organic and non-organic brands have been testing positive for glyphosate
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According to an analysis done by The Cornucopia Institute the following were found in cereals with the label “natural”
- Genetically modified ingredients (GMOs)
- Ingredients grown in sewage sludge.
Whole Grains vs Refined Grains
Refined grains are stripped of their nutrients. They spike your blood sugar and cause energy crashes.
Whole grains such as whole wheat are not refined. They contain the entire grain – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Because they are intact they contain more fiber and nutrients than refined grains like white flour.
When reading labels look for
- 100% “whole wheat” or “100% whole grains”
- Beware “made with whole grains” might only contain minute amounts of whole grains.
- Look for the first few ingredients to read something like BROWN rice or WHOLE GRAIN wheat/oats,
- Read the nutrition label – low fiber generally means it’s not made with whole grains.
To make the flakes, shapes and puffs, the grains have to be heated up to very high temperatures and extruded at high pressures. The shapes are then sprayed with synthetic vitamins and food colors.
Cereal is definitely a processed food. So processed in fact that all the nutrients are stripped from the food during the manufacturing process. This is why many cereals are fortified with added vitamins. The fact is that fortified foods just aren’t good for us.
Two of the biggest issues with fortified foods are:
- You may be consuming too much of a certain vitamin
- Nobody is monitoring how much fortified foods you eat in a day.
- Its possible that you are over consuming some vitamins and it could be dangerous.
- The Environmental Working Group did a survey of major brand cereals in 2014 and found that one serving of many of the cereals reviewed would overexpose children to zinc, niacin, and vitamin A.
- Even if the nutrients are added to the food you may not be absorbing them.
- In a lot of cases the nutrients used for fortification are not the most bio-available forms.
- It’s present in the food, but your body cannot properly absorb and utilize it.
If your kids are like mine and begging for a snack about six minutes after breakfast, here are some BETTER breakfast ideas.
- Breakfast Muffins – these can be cooked in big batches and frozen.
- Whole grain Pancakes/ waffles- these can also be prepared ahead and frozen.
- French toast.
- Breakfast burritos (these can be frozen). Check out this amazing info graphic.
- Eggs scrambled, fried etc.
- Plain yogurt sweetened with honey and or fresh fruit. Add some nuts to make it more filling.
- Oatmeal or cream of wheat, millet, etc. Be sure to add healthy fats.
- Homemade granola – these look yummy.
- Green smoothies. Be sure to add some nut butter or other protein source.
What is the Healthiest Cereal to Eat?
Can’t give up cereal or don’t want to? Here’s how to avoid the worst and find the healthier versions.
- Whole Grains
- Don’t believe the front of the package
- Look for whole grain ingredients
- Check the fiber content
- Lower Sugar
- High Fiber
- Non GMO verified
- The big colorful cereals marketed towards kids.
- Marketing Tricks like
- “made with whole grains” – check the label to see if mainly refined grains
- BHA & BHT
- Fructose Syrup
- Artificial Colors
- Tons of ingredients including additives and preservatives.
- SUGAR: Less than 8 grams (from sources like honey vs. high fructose corn syrup).
- FIBER: 5+ grams
- PROTEIN: 3+ grams. More is better
If reading these tips and finding healthier cereal gives you a headache why not just keep things simple and try an alternative breakfast?
I’ve have tried to get away from cereal since my kids were small. To me it’s not worth the money for a box of cereal that is eaten in 2 days with 3 kids who then beg for a snack no more then 30 minutes after breakfast. Lets not forget that I’m trying to avoid the pesticides, artificial and toxic ingredients.
Today my kids won’t go for cutting the cereal out, so we compromise by buying the healthier kind and alternate days that we eat cereal for breakfast.
What Will You Choose?
Are you going to buy healthier cereal? Or avoid it all together? I would Love to know, leave a comment!
photo from: jonolist via photopin cc