Thursday, April 16, 2009

how cereals suck the life out of you

First lets briefly talk about why refined, processed foods are bad for you. Really, there are a host of reasons, but I'll break it down like this...

The refining process (all the steps that take place between a food entering a factory and its being packaged in a box for our consumption) strips grains, vegetables and fruits of their vitaminS and minerals. Many processed foods -the vast majority of breakfast cereals- also have a high amount of sugar in them.

Refined sugar.

In nature, in their unrefined state, sugars and carbohydrates (the energy providers) are found with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, protein, fat and fiber (the bodybuilding and digestion-regulating components of our diet). Digestion of refined carbohydrates (read: white flour and sugars) calls on THE BODY'S OWN STORE of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. These are necessary for proper metabolization (is that a word?), however most are removed during the refining process.

Refined carbohydrates have been called "empty" calories.

"Negative" calories is a more appropriate term.

Consumption of refined calories depletes the body's precious reserves of vitamins, minerals and enzymes during digestion. Consuming sugar and white flour is like drawing on a savings account. If we keep making withdrawals faster than new funds are put in, the account will eventually run out.

With grains in particular (what most breakfast cereals are made of) most, if not all, nutrients are destroyed or altered during processing, and those that remain are very difficult to digest. Refined flour is normally fortified (you read this on a lot of nutritional labels: Fortified Wheat Flour), but it's not much use. Fortification adds synthetic vitamins and mineral to white flour after most of the essential factors have been removed or destroyed.

So how exactly are breakfast cereals manufactured? Read this from Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry:
Dry breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Cereal makers first create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o's, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds (as in Shredded Wheat or Triscuits), or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each little flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.
Extrusion processing DESTROYS many valuable nutrients in grains, causes fragile oils TO BECOME RANCID and renders certain proteins TOXIC. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. Studies show that extruded whole grain cereals can have even more adverse effects on the blood than refined sugar and white flour (!). The process leaves phytic acid intact but destroys phytase, an enzyme that brakes down some of the phytic acid in the digestive tract.

(A note about phytic acid:

Phytic acid is a substance found in the hulls of seeds, nuts and grains. It combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc in the intestinal tract and BLOCKS THEIR ABSORPTION. So that "vitamin fortified cereal"? Most those vitamins can't even be absorbed because the extrusion process leaves all the phytic acid intact. Granola, a popular "health" food made from grains, is subjected only to dry heat and therefore is also extremely indigestible.

Traditional societies would soak, ferment or sprout their grains before eating them, which neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors. Basically, over-night soaking, fermenting (sour leavening - think sourdough bread) and sprouting will pre-digest grains so that all their nutrients are more available.)

This is how ALL BOXED CEREALS are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.

Like most things in our society, it's the bottom line the industry looks at. The extrusion process cuts costs. Food processing is the largest manufacturing industry in the county -and the most powerful. Cereals in particular are a multi-billion dollar industry.

Not convinced yet?

More from Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry: (seriously, read this)

The Rat Experiments

Let me tell you about two studies which were not published. The first was described by Paul Stitt who wrote about an experiment conducted by a cereal company in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole wheat, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A second group received puffed wheat (an extruded cereal), water and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given only water. A fourth set was given nothing but water and chemical nutrients.
The rats that received the whole wheat lived over a year on this diet. The rats that got nothing but water and vitamins lived about two months. The animals on water alone lived about a month. But the company's own laboratory study showed that the rats given the vitamins, water and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks---they died before the rats that got no food at all.
It wasn't a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock.
Results like these suggested that there was something actually very toxic in the puffed wheat itself! Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes, which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.
Another unpublished experiment was carried out in the 1960s. Researchers at University of Michigan 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.
This experiment was actually designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny. The results were never published and similar studies have not been conducted.
Most of America eats this kind of cereal. In fact, the USDA is gloating over the fact that children today get the vast majority of their important nutrients from the nutrients added to these boxed cereals.



Have I convinced anyone yet? Are any of you nervously doing a mental inventory of your pantry and shuddering along with me?

I stated at the end of my post on Tuesday that one of my goals was to not feed the boys breakfast cereal this week. So what have we eaten this week?

- buckwheat/rice pancakes with butter (Liam and me) and coconut oil (Simon) and pure maple syrup
- milk (L) and rice milk (S) to drink
- rice/sorghum/tapioca pancakes with coconut oil (all of us) and pure maple syrup (these were fried in bacon grease and suuuuper yummy)
- green smoothie (L & me) and OJ (S) to drink
- steel cut oatmeal (had been soaked for 24 hours in water and a spoonful of goat yogurt) with coconut oil, raisins and goji berries
- green smoothies all around (with red grapes, spinach, whole avacado, coconut oil, 1 apple, a bit of OJ to keep the blades spinning)
Friday (planning to have)
- scrambled eggs with broccoli and cheese (regular for me & L, goat cheese for S)
- bananas
- more green smoothies

Yes, it's all a bit more work than opening a box of cereal, but it's worth it.

Plus I felt like super mom this morning knowing my boys were eating spinach (leafy greens), avocado (healthy fats) and goji berries (super food), among lots of other great, REAL food.

So now we can eat chocolate and Doritos and drink all that pop for the rest of the day.


Pressure's off.

(Most of my information was taken from Wikipedia, Nourishing Traditions and The Weston A. Price Foundation website.)


  1. very interesting post. Food for thought for sure.

  2. Wow... Very well written article, thank you! We rarely do breakfast cereals here, but after reading this post I doubt we'll be buying it at all... The bottom line, anything processed is questionable at best, and harmful in most cases. I'll stick to slow old fashioned food, thank you :)

  3. Wow! I'm glad that my grocery budget don't allow me to buy cereal!! :) Good research, you can go on to find good info about healty food.
    You said you put whole avocado in your smoothies...what do you mean by whole???

  4. wow, well, I'm convinced! I'll probably have some every once in a LONG while, but definitely won't be eating it regularly... and then I can eat all the chips and cookies I want too! It's good to have you in the family Amy - I get all the interesting information without actually doing the research! I'm a lazy health freak.

  5. @Olya I love the term "slow food".

    @Elise The skin and everything! Just kidding. I mean a whole as opposed to a half. Sorry for the confusion.

    @Sara Any requests for future topics?

  6. OMG! I did not know breakfast cereal was so bad! Thankfully we dont' eat that much, the boys prefer toast and we make our own bread....

    I have recently started eating more cereal though but now I think I will switch back to good old oatmeal instead.

  7. Awesome Amy!! Now if only I could convince my cereal is one of his most favourite junk foods!! I'm going to link this from my blog....hehe...he reads my blog!! BTW, got a good recipe for some WF/DF bread? Breanna is allergic to now, dairy, wheat, white rice and well, I'm keeping a food journal to see what else!!lol


  8. @Kami Make sure you soak your oats though, if not the phytic acid will block absorption of all those other vitamins and mineral. It also cooks soooo quick if it's been soaked overnight (I've read as long as 24-72 hours, but I think 3 days is overkill). Try to use steel cut oats or at the very least the old fashioned rolled oats.

    @Penny How've you been? In response to your question about GF/CF (most people use the term casein free as opposed to dairy free, if you're doing any online searches for example) bread, I don't really have one. We found a store here in Ottawa where I can buy spelt sourdough or barley sourdough or kamut sourdough. Seems that sourdough is the trick, but I have yet to master that. I'll let you know if I ever find a recipe that works. Heck, I'll be letting the whole world know!

  9. Interesting post Amy. Although there is good and bad in everything we eat, buy. Breakfast cereal is by far not the worst offender. And since I am not prepared to change our whole lifestyle of eating around here (and Hubby would have non of it anyway) I will continue to stock our pantry with boxes of cereal. I was brought up eating it and am now passing it on to my kids. I tried the whole steel cut oatmeal thing, but got weary of letting them soak :).

  10. That is scary. I didn't realize that the process was so bad. I stayed away from a lot of the really sugary cereals, and now I think we'll have to change things further. I don't think I want to buy another box of cereal again! I never cared much for processed junk, and now I know why.

    Did you know 'modified milk ingrediants' aren't milk... or even made from milk? Makes you think... they even modify the names in the ingrediants list to make us think something is what it isn't.

  11. Great post!
    My oldest son doesn't love cereal, but does eat it sometimes. Baby boy loves Cheerios... and so do I! They eat really well all day, though... lots of fruits, veggies, homecooked Greek meals twice a day, etc... my oldest son LOVES eggs and has them almost everyday for breakfast.

  12. Great post! This is exactly why I get my high-quality breakfast cereals from Serial Cereals

  13. awesome Amy, thankyou for your reply! I've been getting my spelt/kamut bread products from planet organic, so until I can master the technique.....i guess I'm buying it!lol
    have a great rest of your day!!


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