Just Adding to the Confusion!

This morning the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a national environmental health research and advocacy organization issued a new report detailing the dangers of eating fortified cereal and snack bars.  In their report they identify 141 products (out of 2,550!) they perceived to be over-fortified, by their own standards this indicates the products contain a meager 30% or more of the adult daily value for vitamin A, zinc and/or niacin.  Only one of these three elements needed to meet their 30% threshold so if vitamin A was elevated but zinc or niacin were not, the cereal still made the list.  My response to this new “study” is really!!!!?  Are you kidding me?

 Not exactly a kid's first choice in a breakfast bar or cereal!

Not exactly a kid's first choice in a breakfast bar or cereal!

If you look carefully at the EWG list you will notice that 11/23 cereals contain the word “bran” in their title and 15/23 contain the words “bran” or “whole grain”.  Not exactly the type of cereals that kids typically eat!  In addition, perhaps the EWG has already touched upon the topic, but isn’t it far more dangerous to take vitamin and mineral supplements on top of the nutrients we receive in our diets (1,2)?  Why focus on breakfast cereals and bars?  In today’s cereal article they provide the reader with numerous qualifying “could cause”, “can cause”, “can impair”, and “can result” statements, yet to the best of my knowledge, to date there is no hard scientific evidence linking cereal consumption to any of the toxicities, damage, or developmental abnormalities that they appear to be intent on scaring us all into thinking we might contract from feeding our kids breakfast cereals.

The health and wellness industry relentlessly tells all of us that we need to be consuming more vitamins and minerals for optimal health.  And to a certain degree, maybe they are warranted in doing so as less than 10% of Americans meet their daily nutrient requirements (3).  It also appears that Americans are listening to the health and wellness industry’s relentless chatter about our inability to meet the daily recommended nutrient intakes as greater than 50% of Americans now take some type of vitamin or mineral supplement (4).  Many of us are not meeting our daily micronutrient recommendations while on the other side of the coin many of us are exceeding recommendations.  However, for the vast majority of us, our micronutrient intake will neither kill us nor provide us with the fountain of youth.

Nearly 70% of Americans are overweight or obese (5).  Fortified cereals and bars not only help Americans meet their micronutrient requirements (6) but they are also an invaluable aid in calorie management.  In children and adolescents, regular breakfast cereal consumption is associated with a reduced likelihood of being overweight (7).  In general, breakfast cereals are not calorically dense and offer a healthy, cost effective, and convenient alternative to meals that we otherwise could be eating.  If breakfast cereals are so bad for all of us, what are we supposed to be eating, bacon and eggs?  Oh, that’s right we are often told that these options aren’t good for us either.

Congratulations EWG, you have done a great job of raising a caution flag in an area of nutrition that is really actually quite safe.  Your press release makes for great Internet fodder but does it actually help any of us eat better?  The headlines of the upcoming days are going to be how cereal is bad for us.  Most of us will not take the time to recognize the severe limitations of your “study” and will instead conclude that maybe we shouldn’t be eating cereal.  All of the anti-grain promoters will say, “see I told you grain is bad for you”.   I have to applaud you on your ability to further confuse the consumer and to give us all another reason to throw our hands in the air and say why bother!

 

Todd M. Weber PhD, MS, RD

 

 References:

  1.  Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud C. Antioxidant supplements to prevent mortality. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. Sep 18 2013;310(11):1178-1179.
  2. Miller ER, 3rd, Pastor-Barriuso R, Dalal D, Riemersma RA, Appel LJ, Guallar E. Meta-analysis: high-dosage vitamin E supplementation may increase all-cause mortality. Annals of internal medicine. Jan 4 2005;142(1):37-46.
  3. Krebs-Smith SM, Guenther PM, Subar AF, Kirkpatrick SI, Dodd KW. Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. The Journal of nutrition. Oct 2010;140(10):1832-1838.
  4. Gahche J, Bailey R, Burt V, et al. Dietary supplement use among U.S. adults has increased since NHANES III (1988-1994). NCHS data brief. Apr 2011(61):1-8.
  5. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and trends in the distribution of body mass index among US adults, 1999-2010. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. Feb 1 2012;307(5):491-497.
  6. Fulgoni VL, 3rd, Keast DR, Bailey RL, Dwyer J. Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? The Journal of nutrition. Oct 2011;141(10):1847-1854.
  7. de la Hunty A, Gibson S, Ashwell M. Does regular breakfast cereal consumption help children and adolescents stay slimmer? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity facts. 2013;6(1):70-85.