Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that really depends on what you’re serving up. Are there any toxins found in cereal? Could that quick bowl of cereal that got you out the door on time be doing more harm than good? Is it causing a sugar crash midway through the kids’ school day? Is it contaminating you and your family’s bodies with harmful pesticides and toxic ingredients? Mamavation is here to help you solve the mystery of what kind of cereals are best for your children and which to avoid like the plague.
Ingredients in Cereals to Avoid
When it comes to kid’s cereals, there were some ingredients we were most concerned with. If a cereal had all or many of these ingredients it was a no go for us.
This can be listed as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar, evaporated cane juice among other things. Many popular kids cereals contain more sugar in one serving that a child should be eating all day! And sugar, even though it tastes really good, is very bad for the health of your children. But don’t just take our word for it, look at what science says about it. More and more research is coming out tying sugar in the standard American diet to all sorts of chronic disease and ailments. In fact, parents who cut their children’s intake of sugar to just 10% of their calories saw a huge improvement in their health. A recent study sought to see the effects of lowering the sugar intake of children. The group of 43 children went from 25% dietary sugar to 10% in 10 days. The calorie intake was kept the same and sugar was just swapped out for carbs. The results were impressive with a 5 point reduction in bad cholesterol, a 33 point reduction in triglycerides, normalized insulin and blood sugar, and a reduced risk of diabetes.
It’s very difficult to get rid of sugar completely when it comes to children cereals. In fact, children’s cereals contain on average of 40% more sugar than adult cereals. But there is also natural sugar content in milk to consider so it’s best not to pour more in the bowl. The point here is to ensure that your child is getting less than the recommended 25 grams of sugar per day.
Partially hydrogenated oils are a cause for concern because they contain trans fats, which are linked to cancer. In fully hydrogenated oils you’ll find saturated fats. Transfats are considered to be the worst type of fat there is. It’s known to cause cancer, heart disease, and immune system problems says Dr. David Brownstein of News Mac Health. In fact, there is no safe amount of trans fats in your diet, so avoiding this cancer causing food altogether would be advised. Even the FDA has made a preliminary determination to say trans fats are not generally regarded as safe, like previously thought. You can avoid hydrogenated oil but instead choosing coconut, palm, or olive oil. Organic and/or grassfed butter is a better option as well. But for the purpose of cereals, avoid “hydrogenated” anything.
GMOs and Glyphosate
In the majority of conventional cereals you’ll find GMO corn or sugar, and possibly other ingredients from genetically modified sources like soy. The problem with genetically engineered ingredients isn’t so much the technology, It’s more a problem with what ends up in the product. And most of the time, when you are dealing with GMOs ingredients, they ALSO contain high levels of Monsanto’s herbicide glyphosate. Glyphosate is the most popular herbicide in the world and has been categorized as a “probable carcinogen” by the World Health Organization as well as placed in the Prop.65 List of Carcinogens known to affect reproduction in California.
If you choose a NonGMO Project Verified cereal, that’s great! That means no genetically engineered ingredients were used in that cereal. BUT nonGMO doesn’t cover you completely. You also want to consider toxic persistent pesticides. The only way to ensure that the cereal you purchase wasn’t sprayed with glyphosate is to purchase an organic brand. And if you want that cereal lab tested to ensure that any glyphosate didn’t sneak into your organic flakes via contamination from the field next door, look for the “glyphosate-residue free” certification from the Detox Project. They lab test the product to ensure there was no contamination and certify the product.
Most conventional cereals are fortified with additional vitamins. This is due in part to the extrusion process many cereals are made with that transforms the grain into a processed food. The naturally occurring nutrients are depleted in this process and to fix that, they like to add things back. The other reason is the assumption that children are not getting enough vitamins and minerals each day and that is a correct assumption even if an all organic diet is happening in the home. Fortified foods are problematic because too much folic acid can cause some problems in the body like masking B12 deficiencies, encouraging growth in existing tumors, and increasing risk of colorectol, breast, prostate and other cancers.
And because most of the vitamins used to fortify food in cereal are based on ingredients that are prohibited in organic food, organic cereals are very unlikely to be fortified. So remember if you child is eating organic cereal for breakfast, don’t forget to give them a multi-vitamin with folate instead.
Additives like BHA and BHT & Artificial Food Dyes
Food additives such as BHA and BHT are generally regarded as safe (GRAS). However some studies have linked BHA to cancer and BHT may be a trigger for ADHD. These substances are known as antioxidants and you thought they were a good thing, right? Well, too much of a good thing is not a good thing evidently. And because of the amount of processed foods Americans eat everyday, there is a reasonable expectation that avoiding BHA and BHT and instead opting for foods that use vitamin E as a preservative instead is more beneficial for your health. The other reason–hyperactivity. Some ADHD diets avoid BHA & BHT because parents across American have noticed a lack of impulse control after children consume it.
Then there are the infamous artificial colors. The Food & Drug Administration maintains that’s it’s completely safe, but they said the same thing about transfats and all sorts of other things that are banned today so…you decide. Some studies are linking artificial food dye to hyperactivity in children. So if you want to wait till the science is settled and take a chance on your children, that’s your choice. But The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens, Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply. Nice, right?
When You Know Better, You Food Better
From that information and our list of toxic kids cereals to avoid, you can do you make educated decisions about which products you buy. But now, consumers are demanding answers and transparency regarding their food straight from the brands themselves.
Those consumer demands are causing a shift in the supply. Brands are going beyond hyping their positives on the front of the box to deflect from all the negatives that are listed in the ingredients. Many brands are actually reformulating their products, creating new ones, or adding established health conscious brands to their portfolio. Any way you look at it, as a consumer it’s good see positive changes and to know your voice of concern has been heard. As a brand, it’s beneficial to give the customer what they are asking for and to have transparency in your business. More on those brands later.
Have you seen the video of a family who swapped out all their conventional food for organic to see what would happen? In a short amount of time the amount of pesticides found in the family’s urine dropped dramatically, to almost non-existent levels. At the end of the experiment the mother who didn’t think organic was worth it, changed her mind.
As we, the consumer, become more informed and more decisive about what we want to eat, we change. We change our eating habits and buying habits. We seek out brands that mirror our values. Brands that offer products we feel confident feeding to ourselves and our families.
Best of the Box
When it comes to kid’s cereal, the brands are our top choices. They are organic, lower in sugar than conventional kid’s cereals, and appealing enough that our kids will actually eat them. Each brand offers an assorted variety of cereals so you’re bound to find one that you can keep on hand in the pantry.
Nature’s Path Organic
So back to those brands who are listening to the informed consumer. We do a lot of calling out on Mamavation, but let’s shout out those brands that are taking steps in the right directions. If we want to see more changes, we need to support the progress that is being made. It’s about continued progress, not perfection.
Big Brands, Bold Changes
General Mills made changes to the sourcing of some ingredients in order to make Original Cheerios GMO free. As this is often “baby’s first food” this is great news for a lot of moms. Although this is just one box in the brand’s vast catalogue of cereal’s, General Mills is broadening their product line. With their purchase of Annie’s Homegrown in 2014, they set out to expand on Annie’s mission to make organic for every “bunny.” The Annie’s brand, now backed by the General Mills giant, has been able to expand to organic cereals and many other new products. Along with these changes, General Mills has offered more transparency regarding GMO ingredients. On their website you can find a tool that will tell you if the product you’ve selected is made with GM ingredients. They’ve also committed to removing artificial colors and flavors from 100% of their cereals.
Like General Mills, Kellogg’s has offered information on their website regarding which of their products contain GMOs. They offer some organic cereals and Non GMO verified cereals. The brand’s standard cereals, and the one’s marketed towards kids, are not Non GMO Project verified. Small changes are still changes, and if the consumer continues to demand reformulated cereals and more labeling, the brands will listen. With the passage of Vermont’s GMO labeling bill Kellogg’s vowed to change their brand’s labeling nationwide.
These big brands adopting such changes came directly from the consumer, but the impact of these changes will spread across the food industry. When a large and influential company does something, others are soon to follow. It’s a domino affect and it’s the sort of progress we want to see.