by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Cereals

Oct 9 2018

Popular ready-to-eat breakfast cereals: sales figures

Ever wonder why breakfast cereals take up so much supermarket space?

BakeryAndSnacks.com has the answer:

It would be fun to match these up with their advertising budgets.  I don’t have those figures but am guessing there is a close correlation.

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Oct 3 2018

Rice cereals for infants: the arsenic problem

I’ve been collecting items on concerns about the levels of arsenic in rice, especially rice cereals for children.

The arsenic problem

Arsenic is toxic.  It occurs in food and water in two forms:

Inorganic: a carcinogen and heart disease risk factor

Organic: less toxic, but still harmful

Infant rice cereals are a special concern because they are often the only cereals fed to infants, and arsenic adversely affects infant cognitive development.

How much arsenic is in rice cereal?

In January 2012, Consumer Reports found worrisome levels of arsenic in apple and grape juices.  It followed this with a November 2012 testing of more than 200 products which found measurable amounts of arsenic in every product category, and in both forms:

Further testing in 2014 confirmed these findings.  Because there is no safe level of arsenic, it’s best not to have any, let alone the amounts found in commonly consumed products.

But in March this year, a report from Healthy Babies/Bright Futures (HBBF) found six times more arsenic in infant rice cereal than in infant cereals made from other grains.

How does arsenic get into rice?

Soil and water naturally contain arsenic, but humans also add arsenic to soil through agricultural pesticides (now supposedly banned) and other sources.

Rice also absorbs more arsenic from soil and water than other grains, perhaps because arsenic resembles the silicon these plants need, but also because rice fields are often flooded to prevent weed growth.

What is being done about arsenic in rice cereal?

In 2016, the FDA proposed limits on arsenic in infant rice cereals, issued a call for public comments, and extended the comment period, but has yet to take action.

The agency’s web page on rice an rice products provides:

In March this year, the Government Accountability Office issued a report urging FDA to finalize its guidance (this provides an excellent and well referenced review of the arsenic-in-cereals situation).

The FDA has all the evidence it needs and it is difficult to understand what is holding up its action.  One can only assume politics, alas.

What should you do in the meantime?

It seems pretty obvious that infant rice cereals should be removed from the market unless they can show much lower arsenic levels.

Plenty of other cereals exist.  At this point, those are much better options.

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Sep 4 2018

How did glyphosate get into Cheerios?

The Environmental Working Group recently released a report on the amounts of glyphosate (Roundup) in children’s breakfast cereals, particularly those made with oats and wheat.

Roundup, you may recall, has been judged a probable carcinogen by the International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) and California courts.  It is used to kill weeds in fields growing crops genetically modified to resist Roundup.

But oats and wheat grown in the U.S. are not genetically modified.  The FDA’s list of genetically modified foods says nothing about oats and wheat, and the agency does not permit GMO versions to be marketed.

How could Cheerios and Quaker Oats be contaminated with glyphosate at amounts that exceed standards?

The explanation:

Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so that it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.

Really?  They spray glyphosate on oats just before harvest?  Yes, they do.

What this means is that more glyphosate gets into your food from the non-GMO wheat and oats sprayed just before harvest, then from GMO corn and soybeans sprayed earlier in their growth.

Whether eating glyphosate is bad for you or your kids is a matter of fierce debate.  As the New York Times explains, the safety of glyphosate is very much at issue:

In fact, it is central to a raging international debate about the chemical that has spawned thousands of lawsuits, allegations of faulty research supporting and opposing the chemical and a vigorous defense of the herbicide from Monsanto, the company that helped develop it 40 years ago and helped turn it into the most popular weedkiller in the world.

Scott Partridge, a vice president at Monsanto, said in an interview on Wednesday that hundreds of studies had validated the safety of glyphosate and that it doesn’t cause cancer. He called the Environmental Working Group an activist group.

“They have an agenda,” he said. “They are fear mongering. They distort science.”

The EWG states its advocacy position on its website:

The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. With breakthrough research and education, we drive consumer choice and civic action. We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

I do not view this report as distorting science.  If anything, it provides data that the industry is not collecting or does not want released.  This information is useful for making decisions about what to eat.

You don’t want your kids eating glyphosate while scientists are still in disagreement about the extent of its harm to human health?

  • Vote with your fork: Buy organic cereals; they have far less or no detectable glyphosate.
  • Vote with your vote: Call for policies to get these practices stopped.

Or you can consider a third option now in play: file a lawsuit.

Mar 13 2018

Eat breakfast, prevent obesity (say Nestlé and General Mills)

I haven’t posted an industry-funded study with predictable results in a while but when I saw this headline from FoodNavigator-Asia, I couldn’t resist.

The headline: “The most important meal of the day: Daily breakfast may lower obesity risk in schoolchildren — Nestlé study.”

High marks to FoodNavigator-Asia for naming the funder in the headline.

Its article referred to this study:

Breakfast consumption among Malaysian primary and secondary school children and relationship with body weight status – Findings from the MyBreakfast Study, by E Siong Tee, Abdul Razak Nurliyana,  A Karim Norimah, Hamid Jan B Jan Mohamed , Sue Yee Tan, Mahenderan Appukutty, Sinead Hopkins, Frank Thielecke, Moi Kim Ong, Celia Ning, Mohd Taib Mohd Nasir.  Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2018;27(2):421 – 432.

Purpose: To determine the relationship between breakfast consumption and body weight status among primary and secondary school children in Malaysia among 5,332 primary school children aged 6 to 12 years and 3,000 secondary school children aged 13 to 17 years.

Results: “The proportion of overweight/obesity was higher among breakfast skippers (boys: 43.9%, girls: 30.5%) than regular breakfast eaters (boys: 31.2%, girls: 22.7%)…. Compared to regular breakfast eaters, primary school boys who skipped breakfast were 1.71 times (95% CI=1.26-2.32, p=0.001) more likely to be overweight/obese, while the risk was lower in primary school girls (OR=1.36, 95% CI=1.02-1.81, p=0.039) and secondary school girls (OR=1.38, 95% CI=1.01-1.90, p=0.044).”

Conclusion: “Regular breakfast consumption was associated with a healthier body weight status and is a dietary behaviour which should be encouraged.”

Author disclosures: “This study was funded by Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), Lausanne, Switzerland and Nestlé R&D Center, Singapore. Sinead Hopkins and Frank Thielecke were working for CPW, Lausanne, Switzerland, and Moi Kim Ong and Celia Ning were working for Nestlé R&D Center, Singapore, when the study was conducted. All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interests.”

I was particularly interested in this study for several reasons:

No, I do not believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (I’m not much of a breakfast eater).  Eat when you feel hungry.

It does make sense to think that children should be fed at regular intervals and should not go to school hungry.  It also makes sense that regular meals encourage healthier patterns.  But preventing obesity?  That seems like a stretch, especially when the study’s funders have a financial interest in selling breakfast cereals.

Nov 17 2015

Cheerios for Protein?

I laughed when I first saw the Cheerios box advertising Protein.  Protein is hardly an issue in U.S. diets—most Americans consume twice what they need—so this is clearly a marketing ploy.

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), however, was less amused.  Its scientists did the math and compared the protein to the amount in regular Cheerios.  They also looked at serving sizes.

  • Cheerios Protein: Protein 7 grams, Serving Size 55 grams
  • Cheerios regular: Protein 3 grams, Serving Size 28 grams

Hmm.  Not much difference, is there?

CSPI filed a formal complaint.

General Mills falsely and misleadingly markets Cheerios Protein to children and adults as a high protein, healthful alternative to Cheerios. In fact, Cheerios Protein has only a smidgen more protein per serving than Cheerios, or 4 grams, which is only 5% of the average American daily protein intake. Most of that 4 grams is attributable to differences in serving sizes: Cheerios Protein has a bigger, 55 gram serving size, whereas Cheerios uses a 27 gram serving size. Two hundred calories’ worth of Cheerios Protein has a mere 7/10th of a gram more of protein than 200 calories’ worth of Cheerios.

Even worse, they looked at sugars.

  • Cheerios Protein: 17 grams sugars
  • Cheerios regular: 1 gram

As CSPI puts it:

Rather than protein, the principal ingredient that distinguishes Cheerios Protein from Cheerios is sugar. Cheerios Protein has 17 times as much sugar per serving, as Cheerios, which General Mills does not prominently disclose. 8. General Mills charges a price premium for Cheerios Protein.

Oops.

Buzzfeed has a good discussion of this.

Caveat emptor (I seem to be saying this a lot lately).

Jul 16 2015

Does General Mills get ideas from The Onion? Or vice versa?

From The Onion: “New Omnigrain Cheerios Made With Every Existing Grain On Earth”

From Wegmans, Ithaca:

Truth is stranger than satire.

Mar 3 2015

Food Navigator’s special issue on breakfast cereals, plus additions

First see Bloomberg News on Who killed Tony the Tiger: How Kellogg lost breakfast (February 26)Next, see what’s happening to breakfast from the point of view of the food industry.

What’s for breakfast? Re-inventing the first meal of the day

On paper, breakfast cereal ticks all the right boxes. It’s quick, great value for money, and nutritious – the perfect recession-proof food. Yet US consumption has dropped steadily as consumers have sought out more convenient – and often more expensive – alternatives, and ‘breakfast’ has switched from being one of three square meals a day to just another snacking occasion. So is the future one of managed decline, or can innovation pull the cereal category out of its funk?

Jun 23 2014

Annals of marketing: Protein cereals

Hoping to cash in on the current protein craze, General Mills has come up with this (thanks to Kasandra Griffin of  Upstream Public Health in Portland, OR,  for sending):

Cheerios1

 

Cheerios Protein has 7 grams of protein per serving.  But it also has 17 grams of sugars.

I use sugars, plural, for good reason.  Here’s the ingredient list:

Cheerios3

In case you can’t read this: Whole grain oats, cluster (whole grain oats, brown sugarsoy protein, lentils, sugar, corn syrupnatural flavor, molassesrice starch, caramel (sugar, caramelized sugar syrup), salt, calcium carbonate, baking soda, color added, BHT added to preserve freshness), sugarcorn starch, honeysalt, refiner’s syruptripotassium phosphate, rice bran and/or canola oil, color added, natural flabor, brown sugarvitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT added to preserve freshness.

A trip to the supermarket also turned up these:

This one has 16 grams of sugars.

And here’s another.  This one only has 7 grams of sugar per serving.  How come?  Sucralose!

Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

And just a reminder about protein: American consume roughly twice as much as needed.  Protein is not an issue in U.S. diets.

This is about marketing, not health.

I guess Cheerios SUGARS, Fiber One SUGARS, or Special K SUGARS PLUS ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS wouldn’t go over nearly as well.