Just How Healthful is your Favorite Breakfast Cereal?

Breakfast of Champions

by Catherine Haug, March 29, 2011

(photo, right, from Wikipedia)

Do you, like most Americans, believe that a bowl of boxed breakfast cereal provides a good nutritious breakfast? If so, you might be in for a shock.

Unless it’s certified Organic, did you know that cornflakes are made from corn intended as animal feed, and is likely GMO?

Have you ever looked at a grain of wheat or kernel of corn? Do they look anything like a flake of Wheaties or Cornflakes. Does a grain of oat look like the round tube of Cheerios? No. So, how do they turn a grain into a flake or a round tube, and what is the nutritional consequence?

Some cereals are “fortified” to increase the nutritional value on the label. But what is used to fortify them?

Side note: It isn’t just cereals that are questionable as healthful foods. Consider the recent article in Main St blog: 16 Foods With Scary Surprises concerning allowed contaminants (maggots, rhodent hair, feces, etc.) in certain processed foods.

Cereal extruders

First the grain is ground to flour, then pushed through an extruder to moisten, flavor, and cook the mixture, as well as achieve the desired shape. This is rather like making pasta shapes with a home pasta machine, except the extruder uses extremely high pressure and temperature.

Other processes can also be used (1), but the bottom line is that the high pressure/temperature they all have in common degrades the components of the grain and produces free radicals. And you know what free radicals are — those things you take all those antioxidants to quell.

Specifically, these processes:

  • Destroy much of the vitamins from the grain.
  • Heat the grain’s fragile oils, making them rancid (i.e., free radicals).

The proteins are also affected by this process:

  • Some react with the carbohydrates to produce glycation end products, including acrylamide and free radicals.
  • Others are denatured, which can lead to allergies and other health problems.

See Nourished Magazine: Puffed Grains and Breakfast Cereals, should we eat them? (2)

NOTE: similar extruders are also used to produce dry pet food; do you really want your pet to be exposed to free radicals and the other problems introduced by extruders?

Oat Roller

Non-extruded cereals

(photo, right, from Lehman’s (3))

Some breakfast cereals are not extruded; for example, old fashioned oatmeal and granola. These are far more healthful choices.

True, a piece of oat in old-fashioned oatmeal doesn’t look like a grain of oat, but it hasn’t been extruded. Instead rolled oats are simply pressed with an oat roller, a process you can do at home; steel-cut oats are cut with a steel blade.

Granola can easily be made in your own kitchen, too. You mix whole or sprouted grains with nuts and seeds, a sweetener such as honey, some spices (if desired) a bit of oil (coconut oil is an excellent choice), then bake or toast the mixture in your oven. To avoid rancidity, denaturation and the formation of free radicals, this is best done at low oven temps (less than 300° F) for several hours.

Fortified ingredients

The extruder is only one of the problems when it comes to boxed cereals. Many of these are fortified with iron, because the natural iron in the grain is removed when the germ and bran are removed.

Iron found naturally in foods is a ferrous salt. (Rust, or ferric oxide, is another iron salt). While many cereal makers add ferrous oxide in the form of ferritin, some cereal makers add fine iron filings, which is elemental iron (not a salt)! And we thought things like that happen only in China…

See even more fortification horrors on Mercola’s website  (video): Dont Rely on Fortified Foods.(4).

Excessive Sweeteners

Hooked on Frosted Flakes? Well, no wonder; they are loaded with sugar which can be quite addicting.

Some cereals are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS; also called corn sugar), which has been implicated in the obesity epidemic. Some are sweetened with artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame, which have been implicated in certain health problems.

Undesirable Ingredients

What else is lurking in your box of cereal besides cereal? Does the FDA allow a certain level of contaminants in cereals as it does, say, in a box of Mac and Cheese or a package of popcorn kernels? (5) Most likely.


  1. enotes.com: How Cereal is Made
  2. Nourished Magazine: Puffed Grains and Breakfast Cereals, should we eat them? NOTE: link to article has been removed because of suspected malware in the linked article.
  3. Oat Roller from Lehman’s
  4. Dr. Mercola article & video: Dont Rely on Fortified Foods
  5. 16 Foods With Scary Surprises

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