Saturday, May 26, 2012

Are Breakfast Cereals Toxic?

Have you ever noticed that all the flakes in your Frosted Flakes or the puffed rice in your Rice Krispies all look alike?  When you bake cookies do they ever turn out being the exact same size and shape?  The uniformity of your cereal is the result of the marriage between grains and food processing.

All but a few brands of breakfast cereals–even so-called organic health food cereals–are produced by a process called extrusion that subjects the grains to very high temperatures (Grape Nuts is one exception – it is not extruded but baked).  Analysis of the grains after extrusion indicates that the industrial process breaks up the carefully organized proteins they contain, creating neurotoxic (damaging to nerves) protein fragments.  Since organic whole grains are higher in protein, it is very likely that extruded health food cereals contain higher levels of these toxic protein fragments than refined grains that are lower in protein.

The following grains contain a relatively high percentage of protein:  wheat (13.7%), oatmeal (16.9%) and barley (12.5%) and are most likely negatively impacted by extrusion.

Grains that are lower in protein are less affected such as corn (9.4%) and rice (6.5%).   Grains such as corn and rice however are lower in not only protein but fiber as well.  These two grains are also the grain of choice for nutrient deficient sugary cereals like Fruit Loops and Coco Krispies.

Baked cereals are the best option to obtain grains rich in protein and fiber without the potential negatives associated with the extrusion process.  As mentioned earlier Grape Nuts are baked, as are Kashi’s Autumn Wheat varieties (similar to shredded wheat).

I contacted Kashi to ask what varieties of their cereals were extruded.  The list included the bulk of their offerings except for the aforementioned Autumn Wheat.

Whole grains contain a lot of powerful nutrients for children as well as adults such as B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, iron, and fiber.  These cereals are also very convenient for families on the run in search of a quick nutritious breakfast or snack.

There has not been a huge outcry from the media or nutrition professionals on this topic so the impact on health at least in the near term is likely very small.  However, my own experience and philosophy has led me down the path that when it comes to whole grain the less processed the better.

What I mean by that is whole grains are most nutritious when consumed in their whole unprocessed form: oats, corn, buckwheat groats (excellent replacement for rice crisps), quinoa, brown rice, and barley.   When Cheerios are made not only is the protein in the oats compromised by extrusion but processing also leaches out other nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.   Eating whole oats such as those found in your oatmeal will keep the nutrients intact.

In a nutshell all oats and other whole grains are best left as nature made them and not the result of a manufacturing process that sounds like something out of a Will Smith movie.


Cereal makers may be attempting to get out in the front of this topic and deal with it before it becomes a headache.  I recently saw a commercial for a cereal that emphasized that it’s grains are baked.  Here is a description of the product from the Post web site:

“What do we mean when we say Great Grains is "less processed"? Why is it good for me? 

Great Grains uses more "whole food" ingredients like whole grain flakes from the actual wheat berry, as well as real fruit and nuts. Rather than grinding our wheat into flour and then stamping it into uniform flakes, Great Grains Crunchy Pecans gently steams, rolls, and bakes our whole wheat. Keeping the whole grain whole means that you enjoy better nutrition.”

By the way I reviewed this cereal and it’s an above average option because it contains 4 grams of fiber per serving and the first and most prominent ingredient listed is whole grain, though at 13 grams per serving the sugar content is a little high.

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