It was the straw that broke the camel's back. The ad on television for General Mills' cereals was seemingly benign. Just more marketing of sugary cereals to kids under the guise they are healthy and have whole grains in them. But now they have added calcium and vitamins to 'nourish the lives' of our children to help them grow big and strong! Well, big maybe, but strong, hardly!
A visit to the General Mills website (www.generalmills.com) shows a slim, fit and healthy child posing to show his 'muscles' with a bowl of cereal in front of him and the headline 'Nourishing Lives.' Clicking on the 'Benefits of Cereal' icon leads to a colorful guide explaining why kids need to eat packaged cereals. Filled with photos of smiling slender children happily chowing down on cereal, this 'guide' extols the benefits of eating whole grains and minimizing sugar in your child's diet while defending the products they produce with numbers and charts and studies designed to mislead and manipulate parents into believing that 'Lucky Charms' are somehow healthy for their children to eat regularly.
They don't actually lie in this guide. They simply manipulate the truth to suit their needs. For example, it's true that people who eat breakfast tend to consume less fat and more fiber in their day. It's also true that kids who eat breakfast tend to have better focus in school. It's also true that people who consume whole grain cereals tend to have healthier body weight. What isn't true is that 'Lucky Charms' or 'Chocolate Cheerios' (both carrying the check mark of whole grains) will provide your children with this result.
Here's what they leave out of this presentation about the health of your kids and the consumption of General Mills cereals...or better yet, minimize and exaggerate. They proudly state that 'Lucky Charms' contains only 110 calories and 11 grams of sugar per serving, compared to their standard bearer, 'Cheerios' with 100 calories and only 1 gram of sugar. Wow, they look similar; bring on the marshmallows, right? For the 'Cheerios,' that serving is one cup and for 'Lucky Charms' only a three-fourths cup, a marketing ploy designed to make this unhealthy cereal appear healthier. Oh...before you read further, head to the kitchen and measure out 1 cup of packaged cereal. Now pour out what your kids and you eat normally and compare. Hardly the same, I would venture. Most people, kids included are eating two to three cups of cereal at breakfast (according to experts), meaning that their actual caloric intake would be 240-360 calories (not bad...) but up to 54 grams of sugar (yikes!!!) -- quite a different picture, wouldn't you say? And that's before the milk has been added, which would add saturated fat to that breakfast treat!
To say that these cereals, so loaded with sugar they can make a diabetic go into shock at the mention of their name, are remotely associated with keeping our kids strong and focused in school is a joke...and it's being played on us.
And it doesn't just stop with calories and sugar. The front-of-package initiatives these companies take border on criminal. With their 'screamers, spot, check marks and good-for-you claims they give this junk a 'health halo.' In reality, these are simply more snazzy marketing ploys designed to mislead consumers into believing their products can actually benefit our kids' health and more important, to get more of those packages into your shopping carts.
Let's take a look at what is actually in 'Lucky Charms' now that General Mills has opened this Pandora's Box, claiming this cereal as healthy for kids. While the first ingredient is, in fact, whole grain oats including the bran, the bulk of ingredients that follow hardly seem to be the stuff you would want floating around in your kids' bodies: the marshmallow bits alone contain: sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, artificial flavor, yellow 5 and 6, red 40, blue 1, methylcellulose, sodium lauryl sulfate. The laundry list of unhealthy ingredients continues with more sugar, corn syrup, corn starch, salt, calcium carbonate, color added (whatever that means...), trisodium phosphate (actually an industrial cleaner used for masonry...ouch!), artificial flavor (again!) and some minerals and vitamins that have been added. It's important to note that these nutrients are at the end of the ingredient list meaning the smallest amount of them exists in the cereal. Not exactly what your grandmother would have chosen to feed you...and not the way for your children to begin their day.
But 'Cheerios' has been 'clinically proven' to help reduce cholesterol, so let's take a look, shall we? While less like a chemistry lab than 'Lucky Charms,' the list of ingredients includes whole grain oats (actually whole oat flour...if they were made from whole oats, they couldn't be shaped into the little rings, now could they?), modified corn starch, sugar, salt, trisodium phosphate (again!), calcium carbonate, monoglycerides and wheat starch. The study General Mills refers to cites the effects of whole grain oats on the reduction of cholesterol, not necessarily the consumption of 'Cheerios.'
By comparison, let's take a look at what's in real whole grain oats, the kind your Nana used to simmer for you before school. After much research, the only ingredient I could find in whole oats or oatmeal was...oats. And while General Mills cites that their cereals contain whole grains (and technically they do), the rule of thumb is that a product is considered 'whole grain' if it contains 2.9-4.95 or more grams of fiber. Oatmeal (processed rolled oats) contains 3.98 grams of fiber per cup, while whole oat groats are 10 percent fiber! And whole oats come with all the nutrients that Mother Nature intended for them, like seven B vitamins, vitamin E, nine minerals, including iron and calcium and twice the protein of wheat or corn...naturally occurring, not enriched! Oats' high concentration of soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and improve satiety (you stay full longer).
To imply for one moment that feeding our children sugary cereals (or pre-sweetened, as they are called by the General) will provide calcium and focus is a lie. Calcium is leached from the body by sugar consumption, so at the very best, they are merely doing less harm to your child's bones by enriching this junk with calcium and vitamin D. And they really believe we're dumb enough to swallow their boldfaced fabrications of truth. Their front-of-package claim on 'Chocolate Cheerios' that this product 'may help reduce the risk of heart disease' is a joke. Someone please explain to me how a product with less than two grams of fiber and nearly 13 grams of sugar per serving can do that? The first four ingredients on the panel are: whole grain corn (flour...you don't see little corn kernels, do you?), sugar, corn meal and corn syrup. They manipulate the facts; the FDA stands behind them and they count on you continuing to be a sucker who swallows their lies and their garbage. But I guess it doesn't matter how much of the whole grain is in the product to receive their checkmark, just that it's present in some miniscule amount.
If you need more motivation to feed your kids something other than this foodlike substance (thank you, Michael Pollan), just watch the evening news...or Oprah. You'll hear endless reports by experts talking about the health of modern children. Our kids are growing fat, lethargic and dramatically unhealthy. Obesity and juvenile diabetes, as well as Type-two diabetes are rising at alarming rates among our young. And we all have heard the terrifying news that this generation of children may be the first in history to live shorter lives than their parents. The cause won't surprise you. A diet high in saturated fat, simple sugars, chemicals, processed food, fast food and drive-thru is wreaking the same havoc on our kids' health as on ours. Trust me, General Mills, with their 'Big G checkmarks' are leading us all right to the Pearly Gates.
I know it's hard. Our children are bombarded with advertising, marketing, free toys and games, dancing clowns and promotions with popular children's movies. And just like us, they're seduced by colorful packaging and promises of happiness.
It's time to take our children's health out of the hands of packaged cereal manufacturers and fast food chains. Food is meant to be grown, not manufactured. Remember if it comes in a package, you might want to think twice about buying it, beginning with cereal. Having pre-teenage kids with plaque-clogged arteries, heart disease, excess weight, early-onset puberty, diabetes, attention deficit disorder, cancer, lethargy and lack of vitality is a national heartbreak. Our children are our future. Will we create kids that are the result of an artificial environment, one that is the result of pollution, fast food and lack of physical exertion? Or will we create a future of healthy, strong, vital and socially conscious people who respect nature and each other? Only we can decide.