The Truth About Cereals

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Do you still believe your breakfast cereal is healthy? That belief started when you were young and watching Saturday morning cartoons and bright, colorful ads filled with smiling, happy children enjoying rainbow colored bowls of cereal served by leprechauns and unicorns.

Sadly, those colorful sugary cereals lack fiber, protein or nutrients, and will cause
an enormous blood sugar spike and crash before lunch.

Breakfast cereals are one of the earliest examples of a pre-packaged convenience food, a shining example of brilliant marketing, packaging and sales. They contain cheap ingredients that are converted by manufacturers into what is perceived to be a higher value product.

Breakfast cereals were inspired by religion and health, but became a popular
and profitable industry using primarily cheap agricultural surplus.

The strange history of breakfast cereal begins in 1827 when an early dietary reformer named Sylvester Graham, who felt that too much meat had negative effects, invented the graham cracker from whole grain flour.

In 1863, James Caleb Jackson, a religious conservative and vegetarian took Sylvester Graham’s flour and created a breakfast cereal dough that was then dried and broken into bite size shapes. Jackson called his new breakfast product granula, but granula was so hard, it required soaking in water or milk overnight to be edible. Granula is considered the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal, but was not overly successful.

In 1866 a group of Seventh Day Adventists established a small town called Battle Creek in Michigan. There, John Harvey Kellogg started the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a combination health spa and experimental hospital. Kellogg spent his days experimenting and devising cures for what he believed to be the two most common illnesses of the day – constipation and masturbation. According to Kellogg, both were caused by a lack of fiber.

Kellogg and his family experimented in the kitchen of their sanitarium and eventually produced an easily digestible form of cereal which they also named Granula. But, after being sued by James Jackson, they changed the name to Granola.

“Borrowing” Kellog’s ideas, a former Battle Creek Sanitarium patient and marketing genius, Charles Post, created Grape-Nuts which quickly grew in popularity became the first product to offer customers a discount coupon.

By 1903 Battle Creek, Michigan had become a cereal Mecca with as many as 100 cereal factories. Cereal became the new health craze, thanks to many of these manufacturers making exaggerated claims about the health benefits of their new boxed breakfast products.
During the early 1900s, Kellog and his brother continued to experiment and developed a process for “flaking” wheat. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to patent their new process and it was soon “borrowed” by many of their competitors. Shortly after, they switched from wheat to overly abundant (and cheap) corn and Kellog’s Corn Flakes were born.

Sadly, the process of making corn flakes requires that the germ (which contains the essential nutrients and fats) be discarded as it shortens the product’s shelf life. Today, any flavorings or vitamins are added after the corn grits are rolled into flakes and toasted before drying.

Early on, the Kellogg brothers argued over adding sugar to their corn flakes. John Kellog saw sugar as an evil adulteration, but brother William strongly felt that sugar was needed to stop their products from tasting like “horse-food.” And sugar coated breakfast cereals were born.

Today, off-brand cereals and cereal flakes are often made from corn and wheat dust and their byproducts created by the milling process. This dust is mixed with water into a paste and formed into cereal shapes or “flakes.” Vitamins and nutrients are destroyed by the milling process and are added back into the flour mixture along with sugar, salt and flavors. Frosted cereals are then sprayed with sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Cereals are convenient, tasty and sweet, but many of their advertised health benefits come from added fortification, NOT from any micronutrients from their raw ingredients which have been destroyed in the manufacturing process.

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