From 1976 through 2006, my choice of breakfast was cold cereal or warm Pop-Tarts. That’s 31 years of Cookie Crisp, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, Boo Berry, Fruity Pebbles, Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, sometimes Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Shredded Mini Wheats, Raisin Nut Bran, or when we were really desperate as kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, soggy Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. Pop-Tarts were always strawberry frosted or brown sugar frosted. Crazy good, right? 31 Years and over 10,000 bowls of cereal throughout childhood, high school, college, motherhood, wow.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. My mom was (is) a caring, wonderful person who always put her children first (and still does). And in the 70s she still had great control over what we ate, which meant on school days, we always started the day with a hot breakfast like eggs or oatmeal. Around age 10, as the 80s approached, mom reentered the workforce, and breakfasts became a little more processed, convenient, and quick, with cereal usually being the first meal of the day. But it was OK because cereals were fortified with vitamins and minerals, and part of this complete breakfast, right?
I continued to eat cereal and Pop-Tarts as an adult, fed them to my own family, not thinking twice (because they had vitamins and minerals). It wasn’t until my food allergy diagnosis in 2006 that we stopped buying both, and it was only because everything contained my trigger allergen, soy. For a while we hopped onto the “organic” cereal wagon, keeping a box of Gorilla Munch or Penguin Puffs in the pantry for a go-to fussy school morning or Saturday “give mom a break from cooking” breakfast.
As I started studying nutrition, we just sort of stopped eating cereal. There was no formal family announcement, no discussion. I think there was just a natural shift to spend the grocery dollars on local eggs or something less processed. I can’t quite remember when we stopped buying cereal altogether; I think it was about two years ago. But I’m glad we did, and here’s why:
Recently, General Mills showed a small but promising step in the right direction by meeting consumer demand and removing all GMO ingredients from Cheerios. Earlier this week, Post announced they would do the same with Grapenuts. Whether a marketing gimmick or an altruistic move to do the right thing, it’s an exciting turn of events in the ongoing GMO battle.
It’s great that GMOs are being talked about, examined, and scrutinized by the public who rightfully want to know what they are eating in absence of long-term studies that could prove or disprove the potential harmful GMO effects. But there’s more to the cereal story than just GMOs. Breakfast cereals have dozens of strikes against them when it comes to the nutrition they claim to provide. Below is a short list of highlights, and I encourage you to conduct your own research because this is just the tip of the iceberg:
- 1.Phytic acid, a mineral blocker that prevents absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc is found in the bran of all grains as well as the outer coating of seeds and nuts, and binds these minerals in the small intestine before they can be fully absorbed during digestion. This happens whether the grain is GMO or not.
- Popular breakfast cereals, whether conventional and organic, are highly processed, pro-inflammatory (non)foods, and it is undisputable that chronic inflammation leads to disease.
- Because of the high heat used in the cereal manufacturing process, most of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are lost. Manufacturers add synthetic vitamins to replace the ones lost in processing. However, the absorption (bioavailability) of the synthetic nutrients are also in question due to the phytic acid, and studies showing that synthetic vitamins (1) don’t provide the same range of nutrients that vitamins from whole, unprocessed foods provide and (2) aren’t always as easily digested and absorbed as the marketing claims.
- Whether whole grain with no added sugar, or a mile-high bowl of Lucky Charms, cereals are high in carbohydrates and spike blood sugar. And when paired with low-fat milk, like the marketing campaigns driven by outdated nutrition information are suggesting, there is nothing to slow down the digestion of these carbohydrates. When you constantly expose your body to blood sugar spikes and excess glucose that can’t be stored or burned, it creates chronic inflammation and myriad health problems.
Bottom line, skip the processed cereals. Your body doesn’t require whole grains to survive, and in fact, recent studies show grains in general can negatively affect brain function and digestion. So think of grains and cereals as a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have, and be thoughtful about which ones you add to your diet, how much, and how often.
Soaked and sprouted grains are best because the soaking eliminates a high percentage of the phytic acid and lectins (which we’ll talk about another time) and the sprouting makes vitamins and minerals more accessible. You can find sprouted seeds, nuts and flours online, but here are some of my favorite sprouted seeds, sprouted nuts, sprouted flours, sprouted rolled oats.
Many of us thankfully have the choice to avoid cereals, grains, and even GMOs, but school children across the country receiving free or reduced lunch do not. I look forward to the day when our government publicly validates current nutrition research, and schools have the option to replace state- and government-mandated whole grains with more fruits and vegetables; and for now, I hope it’s non-GMO. Full fat dairy isn’t a bad idea either. Think of all the children and teens that would no longer experience blood sugar spikes after breakfast and lunch while at school if they consumed less cereal and breads, and more full fat dairy — less brain fog and mood swings, less hunger, more learning and critical thinking. Imagine that.
The fate of GMO ingredients in the parade of breakfast cereals is uncertain, and unless a miracle study is released clearing all GMOs as better than GRAS (generally regarded as safe), I think it’s safe to say the trend to remove GMO ingredients from the food supply will continue. It’s one step closer to a better food system, but it would be even better if everyone just had eggs for breakfast.