Is cereal good for you?

Well, it depends on who you’re talking too.

Parents and kids are bombarded with innovative marketing and every 2nd cereal box has been carefully designed to catch the consumer’s eye.

But what’s really below the fancy and colourful super heroes on the front of the pack?

How did cereal become a staple item in everyone’s home?

The first cold breakfast cereal, Granula, was invented in the United States in 1863 by James Caleb Jackson. The cereal never became popular because you had to tenderize the heavy bran. And that was almost only possible by soaking the nuggets overnight.

Packaged breakfast cereals were considerably more convenient than a product that had to be cooked and as a result of this convenience (and clever marketing), they became popular.

Battle Creek, Michigan was a center both of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and of innovation in the ready-to-eat cereal industry. And indeed, the church had a substantial impact on the development of cereal goods through the person of John Harvey Kellogg (1851–1943).

In Battle Creek they ran a sanatorium for recuperation and rejuvenation. To supplement the centre’s vegetarian regimen, Kellogg experimented with granola. Soon afterwards he began to experiment with wheat, resulting in a lighter, flakier product. In 1891 he acquired a patent and then in 1895 he launched the Cornflakes brand, which overnight captured a national market.

He partnered with his brother Will, the sanatorium’s bookkeeper, to make and sell them to the public. Will had less interest in dietary purity and more business sense than his brother, and worried that the products wouldn’t sell as they were due to their blandness.

He wanted to add sugar to the flakes to make them more palatable, but John wouldn’t hear of it. Will eventually started selling the cereals through his own business, which became the Kellogg Company; the brothers continued to feud for decades after.

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Between 1970 and 1998, the number of different types of breakfast cereals in the U.S. more than doubled, from about 160 to around 340.

Why were cornflakes created?

Corn Flakes. Alias Kellogs. The brand that started it all.

Mr Kellogg, the man who created Corn Flakes, marketed it as a “healthy, ready-to-eat anti-masturbatory morning meal”.  Mr Kellogg was such a firm believer that sex was damaging to the mind and body that he slept in a separate room from his wife and never consummated the marriage, choosing instead to adopt all their children.

“If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable,” Mr Kellogg wrote.

But Mr Kellogg had a solution to all this suffering, believing that meat and rich flavoured foods increased sexual desire, while plain foods like nuts and cereals suppressed it.

He set about making a range of plain tasting breakfast foods that would once and for all put a stop to these impure desires, which resulted in the cereal we know and love today — Corn Flakes.

A brief history of wheat

One of the main ingredients in cereal is wheat.

The wheat we eat today, is not the same that our grandparents ate.  Humans first began to consume wheat as food about 12 000 years ago.  What was consumed at that time, was the Einkorn wheat that grew naturally in the wild.

Wheat is a grass and consuming it was not easy.  You cannot eat the stalk, you can’t eat the leaves, you can’t eat the roots, you can’t eat seed, without taking the husk off, dry it and then pulverize it.  This was done with stones in the ancient years. They would then add water to it and heat it.

The Egyptians came along and learned how to ferment the wheat to create beer. And then used the beer to make leavened bread.

Wheat were originally very high in protein.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s, with the rise of agriculture farming and business, that wheat were significantly manipulated.  Farmers and scientists specifically selected wheat strains that had a higher phytate content and a higher wheat germ agglutinate content.  Phytates are pest resistant and very powerful binders of minerals in your gut. It binds minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium in your diet and cause deficiencies.

Wheat germ agglutinate is highly toxic, even in small doses.  The little bit that does gets absorbed by your GUT, is highly inflammatory.

Modern wheats have been enriched with phytate and wheat germ agglutinates because Agri business saw it helpful to fight of pests.

Essentially, they changed a good quality protein, into a carbohydrate rich product.  Modern industrial farming methods have reduced the number of wheat varieties from around thirty thousand to a few handfuls.   So today, the focus is on finely ground flours and wheat products that do not spoil in products and can last for months on the grocery store shelve.

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What’s the ingredients of one of the “healthiest” cereals on the market?

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This cereal is making all the right noises. It’s heart-health endorsed, indicates that it gives energy, it’s low GI and even assume it will give you muscle – depending on how the marketing triggers your though patterns.  In big letters it says “REDUCED SUGAR”. It looks legit. Let’s see what’s inside, and then you decide for yourself.

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Whole maize flour – we already know how our maize flours and grains were manipulated over the years.

Whole Soya bean flour – As with most foods, there will be some negative effects if eaten highly processed and in high concentrations.

Brown sugar – made up of brown sugar and corn starch.  Contrary to popular belief, brown sugar is not healthier than white sugar.  Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar product with a distinctive brown colour due to the presence of molasses.  Commercial brown sugar contains from 3.5% molasses (light brown sugar) to 6.5% molasses (dark brown sugar) based on total volume.

Sorghum flourSorghum is a cereal grain that’s widely produced around the world. Its whole grain is commonly used in baking, while its syrup is used as a sweetener. Finally, it’s used as a natural fuel source.

Isolated Soya ProteinSoy protein isolate powder is made from defatted soybean flakes that have been washed in either alcohol or water to remove the sugars and dietary fibre. They’re then dehydrated and turned into a powder.

Calcium Carbonate – When used as a food additive, calcium carbonate acts as an anti-caking agent, an added source of calcium and a white food colour. It is also a nutrient for yeasts, an acid reducer and a firming agent, explains PubChem. Calcium carbonate can also stabilize and thicken some products, and be used to strengthen dough.

Cocoa powder – Cocoa, if not organic, is also a processed product.

Powder Fat /Vegetable oilOils are extracted from plants using either a chemical solvent or oil mill. Then they are often purified, refined, and sometimes chemically altered.

Glucose syrup – more sugar. Any sugar syrup in any form spells danger.

Sodium CaseinateSodium caseinate is the biochemical name for casein, which is a type of protein found in the milk from all mammals.

The most important features of Caseinates are their very good Solubility, Water Absorbability, Viscosity, Emulsification Characteristic, Stabilization of Emulsion and Foaming Capability.

Silicon Dioxide – Silicon dioxide is a natural chemical mix of silicon and oxygen that has uses in many food products as an anticaking agent. Silicon dioxide is generally safe as a food additive, though some agencies are calling for stricter guidelines about the quality and characteristics of the silicon dioxide found in foods. 

Salt – Table salt is typically mined from underground salt deposits. Table salt is more heavily processed to eliminate minerals and usually contains an additive to prevent clumping. Most table salt also has added iodine, an essential nutrient that helps maintain a healthy thyroid. 

Vitamins and MineralsFortified and enriched foods were introduced in the 1930s and 1940s. They were intended to help boost vitamin and mineral intake with foods that adults and children were already eating, like grains and milk. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that fortified food are improving health.

I was exhausted, just investigating these ingredients.  Should you have to spend so much time diving through an ingredient list to make sure it’s ok to eat?

Well, first look at the sugar content.  This product contain 7g of sugar per 50g of product.  Based on previous experience, my teenage boys would probably eat 150g of this product – which will give you a whopping 21g of sugar in one sitting.

That is insane.  Carbohydrates are 23g of 50g of the product. Even more insane.

So now that you have a bit more nutritional information on cereal, you can make a better decision on whether this is a healthy food for you and your family.

The above is a “healthier” version of the cereal that is marketed to kids.  I did this video to provide some more insight into in cereal that was marketed as “less than 2 teaspoons of sugar” to kids.

What can you eat in place of cereal?

If you absolutely need to eat a packaged food, let alone cereal, then look for something with a carb/sugar content of 5g per 100g of product.  That is a great choice to make.

When I decided to take my kids off all processed junk food and sugar, Raising Superheroes became my next best friend.  I relied heavily on recipes for cooked porridges (which is easy to make) and snacks for school lunchboxes.

Don’t dismiss how valuable a serving of last night’s leftover dinner can be in the morning.

Homemade roasted nuts can create a great muesli alternative, with some fruit and cream – it’s much cheaper too!

Our favourite remains bacon and eggs in the morning with some tomatoes and avocado.

A healthy whole food meal should keep you satiated for 6 hours – without the need to snack on something.

Cereal only exists because it gave big food companies an opportunity to increase their bottom line. Just because something is common, doesn’t mean it’s normal.

Do yourself a life long favour, ditch the cereal for a week and see how you feel.  Come back and let us know in the comments!

Remember, LOW carb is not NO carb. The emphasis should be on the real whole food prepared in your kitchen, healthy fats, fresh vegetables and good quality proteins.

Talk again,

Petrolene