Most “real foodies” — a term I loathe, but it gets my point across succinctly, and let’s face it, succinct is not my strong suit — avoid boxed breakfast cereals like the plague, and when I hopped on that real food train, I promptly removed breakfast cereals from our pantry as well.
It didn’t take much to convince me, as I’ve never cared much for boxed breakfast cereals myself. As a child, I thought they all tasted the same (which, they do, if you pay attention — as an adult, I have determined that it must be the synthetic vitamins they fill them with) and I preferred other breakfast cuisine.
When I bought cereal, I always bought fairly “healthy” cereals, with the occasional box of Lucky Charms for a special treat. But as I started reading up on our food system and what actually goes into breakfast cereals and how they’re made, I came to the conclusion that at best, they aren’t very nutritious, and at worst, they could be harmful. So I immediately stopped buying them, much to the distress of my children.
There are several issues with boxed breakfast cereals.
1) grains and sugar content
2) fortified with synthetic vitamins
4) extrusion process
I’ll break it down for those of you who might not have spent hours researching the dubious nutritional benefits of boxed breakfast cereals.
Grains & Sugar
The jury is still out on how much grain we should consume, if at all, but I’m pretty sure that most of us eat too much of it. My kids take sandwiches to lunch almost every day, and at night we often have rice with our dinner. So I figure if I can get protein and even veggies into them at breakfast, rather than more grain, they will be better off for it.
And also? The sugar content in cereals is out the roof – even healthyish cereals are high in sugar, which is the last thing a child needs in the morning before going off to school.
If I AM going to serve a carbolicious breakfast, I would prefer it to be homemade waffles or french toast with homemade bread. Why not a bowl of cereal? Read on.
I am highly skeptical of the habit the food industry has of fortifying denatured foods with synthetic vitamins and minerals. If there are no nutritional benefits there to begin with, then why bother? (I know, it’s quick and easy, and, well, people like it!) But think about it. Our bodies aren’t designed to assimilate synthetic vitamins, and we probably eliminate them as soon as we ingest them. (This is why I try to buy food-based vitamins, not synthetic ones.)
Plus, food that is otherwise dead and totally denatured and then fortified with vitamins and minerals give a false sense of security. You THINK you are getting the nutrients you need, when in fact, you are getting chemically enhanced junk.
PLUS ALSO. Your body needs fat to absorb vitamins, and what do most people put on their boxed cereal? Skim milk. At LEAST if you’re going to eat boxed cereal, put some whole milk on it. (You know I had to get a plug for whole milk in there somewhere!)
Basically, it comes back to this. You are much better off getting your nutrients from nature, as they come in whole foods. Your body will assimilate them better, and there are other benefits to real food beyond the nutrient content, like enzymes and good bacterias. Boxed cereal is a dead food. But feeding your body and brain with eggs and meat and vegetables at breakfast time will power your body and mind for most of the day.
Unless your cereal is organic, it most likely contains genetically modified corn and soy ingredients. Even Kashi has had to admit that their cereals may contain GMOs. I’d just rather steer clear of that hot mess. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say GMO, read this. I don’t know how reliable that site is, but the information explained pretty much sums up what I’ve learned from a variety of sources.)
Extrusion is the process by which they make cereal into those cute little shapes. Some say the extrusion process destroys nutrients and creates toxicity.
In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt has 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.
In addition to all that, read this article, Puffed Grains and Breakfast Cereals, should we eat them? by Sally Fallon. Now, grain of salt. HAHAHA. No pun intended. Sally Fallon is brilliant but I like to balance her information with other sources. Still, I think this experiment is fascinating.
Researchers at Ann Arbor University were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.) But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment in the box than there was in the corn flakes.
I don’t know why the results from this study weren’t published – perhaps there were issues with the validity. Or perhaps the company didn’t want the information out there and found a way to bury it. I don’t know. But if it’s anywhere near true, it certainly gives you pause! (I also want to know why a similar study hasn’t been conducted. How hard would that be? I’d do it myself if I weren’t so wigged out by rats.)
So there you have it.
I am still pretty adamant about not buying breakfast cereals. It was an easy line for me to draw, I guess. But I have lamented about my Breakfast Woes, and sometimes I wonder if I am being too legalistic about the breakfast cereal issue. My kids actually beg for Kashi’s Heart to Heart. I KNOW. But as healthy as it might sound, Kashi is not organic, and they are rumored to use GMO ingredients. See #3 above. And it is probably also extruded (see #4), as that is the only way to make those adorable hearts. Plus it has high amounts of soy, and I’m pretty much anti-soy these days. But I digress.
My point in writing this post is not to cast judgement on those who choose to buy boxed cereals, nor is it to make anyone feel guilty or like less of a mom. PLEASE KNOW that I am so not where I want to be when it comes to my family’s eating habits. This is just one area that is do-able for me so I stick to it (for the most part.)
Since reading Real Food and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, our eating habits have evolved. But only to a point.
I WANT to be one of those die-hard real food types who make everything from scratch, sprout grains, brew kombucha, and raise chickens; but I just am not that person. I’m a wanna be. We have had to prioritize our commitments because I have come to the conclusion that I do not want to devote the time and effort to living that lifestyle, even though I do believe it is optimal.
I am adamant about some things — making my own bread (for the most part, we have to pick up a loaf here and there when I have a busy week); buying locally grown and hormone free meats and eggs; buying raw milk raised locally without chemicals; using coconut oil, butter, lard or olive oil rather than vegetable oils; buying organic produce whenever possible… but there is a limit to the things I will do.
Notice, I say will and not can’t. We all CAN do it. But not all of us WILL (I know I won’t!) and I’m okay with that.
We have lots of boxed snackfoods in our cabinets, for instance. I usually buy organic to avoid GMOs and superfluous ingredients that I can’t pronounce, but they are still dead foods that we have on hand for convenience, not for their nutritional benefits.
Also? I confess that I run through the Chick-Fil-A drive through from time to time. I KNOW. Just keeping it real, yo.
There are plenty of other things I buy and eat that are not optimal. (Like, HELLO. Halloween candy much??) This is real life I’m living here, and it’s not always perfect.
So while I admit, the breakfast cereal thing is not a hill to die on, it is a line I’ve drawn for our household. If it’s a line you choose to draw as well, here are some better choices for breakfast.
Alternatives to Breakfast Cereal
For all my recipes, check out my Recipe Index!
Also, Lydia has a great list of 40 Healthy Breakfast Ideas.
If you’re interested in knowing more about whole foods and how to eat a more traditional diet, you can also read what I jokingly call My Whole Foods Conversion Story, which is peppered with links to various posts I wrote along my journey.