Breaking Bad (Breakfast Habits): How Kids’ ‘Most Important Meal of the Day’ Can Be the Most Harmful

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Breakfast has long been touted as the “most important meal of the day,” but as it turns out many of us seeking a balanced brekkie are getting more than we bargain for—yet less than we may expect health-wise.

Two of our biggest cereal producers, for example, General Mills and Kellogg, have been sponsors of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 10 and 9 years respectively—but that doesn’t mean their nutritional value is admirable. Even the brands’ ‘healthy options’ cereals come with scary ingredient lists, such as General Mills’ Fiber One cereal with Raisin Bran Clusters:

Possible GMOs include Corn Bran, Sugar, Corn Starch, Glycerin, Corn Syrup, Canola Oil, Molasses, Honey, Corn Meal, Malt Syrup, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Vitamin E. Vitamin C, and Vitamin B12. Also of note, controversial ingredient BHT is present, which has shown to be carcinogenic in some studies, and this cereal has more sugar per serving than Lucky Charms. (GMO Inside)

General Mills got caught up in an ongoing controversy a few years ago when they were surprised with a swift backlash of anti-GMO activists during a social media campaign for one of their most popular items, Cheerios. The company is also in hot water with naturalists for fighting California’s Proposition 37 with a financial contribution of $1.1 million—a proposed bill that would have required food producers and retailers to accurately label their products, as well as forbidding companies that use GMOs from using market-speak phrases like “all natural”, ”naturally derived” and “naturally flavored.” (Media Bistro)

In 2010 General Mills substantially reduced the amount of sugar in their children’s cereals and at the turn of the millennium were one of the first likeminded corporations to pick up on whole grains; however they continue to use various genetically-modified ingredients—as well as corn syrup, refined sugars, and petroleum-based artificial flavours and colorings that have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), nervous system disorders, and cancer. (Natural News)

Concerns about the health risks of consuming heavily processed cereals surfaced long ago, as far back as the 1940s when Post began producing cereals with thick sugar coatings. Kellogg initially held back from similar ingredient developments as its Kellogg Foundation, set up to promote children’s health and education, was a major company shareholder. The company has since reprioritized for profit, as in 2010 the Federal Trade Commission had to contest the company for rolling out misleading advertising campaigns for many of its cereals. Kellogg’s agreed to change much of its marketing language, including to abandon claims that Rice Krispies would strengthen children’s immune systems, and to stop claiming that its Frosted Mini Wheats were “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20 percent.” (Examiner)

Robert Choate, adviser to President Nixon on nutrition, was outraged at the aggressive targeting of children in unhealthy breakfast cereal advertising, stating at a U.S. congressional hearing in 1970 that the majority of breakfast cereals ‘fatten but do little to prevent malnutrition’. He analyzed 60 well-known cereal brands at the time for nutritional quality and concluded that two-thirds of them offered ’empty calories, a term thus far applied to alcohol and sugar’. Rats fed a diet of ground-up cereal boxes with sugar, milk and raisins were healthier than rats fed the cereals themselves. (Guardian)

Looking for safer breakfast choices that don’t involve cardboard? Visit 100 Days of Real Food.

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