Consumers Get Confused – Ya Think?

January 26, 2011 in Foodland, Nutritionism, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

On January 12, 2011, I was full of anticipation for the progress that I could make this year; I wrote, “I believe, though I am but one older person, that I can help us move away from the fast, junk, processed, substances – ‘fude;’ that the purveyors call ‘food’ even though they don’t optimally nourish us.”

Since 2010 was the biggest annual increase in whole grain consumption, my hopes began to rise, but then a sobering confrontation with the facts of the American corporate giants of food seemed to collapse my fantasy. Example in hand: The big, rich, powerful, multi-national, mega-corporation General Mills (net sales of 16 billion U.S. dollars in 2010) published a press release last week (January 18, 2011). The findings of Opinion Research Corporation, hired by General Mills, revealed that 61 percent of Americans believe that they get enough whole grains in their diet. According to their survey the reality is that only 5 percent get the recommended three servings (minimum of 48 grams) per day. Since the average person gets only a little more than half a serving each day (not 3 full servings or more), General Mills and their leadership are worried for America.

I’m worried too; but my worry is based upon the fact that General Mills says that they are “America’s number one source of whole grain at breakfast”- providing more whole grain than any other breakfast food from any other manufacturer. General Mills then goes on to say that they are “the only leading cereal company to guarantee whole grain in its entire line of Big G cereals, with the brands you know and love, including Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Lucky Charms, Fiber One and Total” – such an amusing list, of their more than 20 brands of breakfast cereals. Except for the traditional Cheerios (not Honey Nut Cheerios – one of their ten other varieties of Cheerios) I have used the others frequently as examples of ‘fude.’ Cinnamon Toast Crunch (yummy candy); Lucky Charms (campfire treats – marshmallow); Fiber One (sweetened with aspertame, an artificial sweetener, with a selection of added fiber, but the product is not primarily whole grain – there’s a speck of whole grain in it, but good grief it’s mostly corn bran!); Total – add sugar, corn syrup and lactose (milk sugar) and a huge multivitamin tablet – this cereal has always been ludicrous to me. The advertizing is insane – you’d have to get a cartload of groceries to get the nutrients in a bowl of processed cereal – absolutely crazy! I follow their advertizing idea; it is to choose a processed sweetened grain and add supplemented vitamins and minerals and that makes it healthy, like fruit, vegetables, and true whole grains. Good gravy, nutritionism in its deceptive glory!

The fact that the big cereal manufacturers have been using very tricky practices for decades seems to me that it should disqualify them from making any statements about the public being confused. When the public was educated about the fact that they were eating far more sugar than grain, the cereal manufacturers started breaking sugar into small increments of a variety of sweeteners (e.g. sugar, brown sugar, honey, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, lactose, rice syrup, maple syrup, and so on). Do you understand how it works? If you use 2 or 3 or more sweeteners, each type of sweetener weighs less than the grain in a serving; and can, therefore, be listed after the grain. The heaviest ingredient in the serving is listed first.

And, unquestionably, the breakfast cereal processors became quite expert in this form of deception. When an ever-growing body of scientific evidence began to be published about the wonderful benefits of whole grains (decreased risk for heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, weight management benefits, and now reduction/management of high blood pressure/hypertension) and the public began to learn of this information, the public began to look for whole grains. There was a dearth of whole grains in processed foods; but that is changing today. Unfortunately, however, the food processors are back to using their well-polished techniques of placing the ingredient that the public is looking for, first. So now it is whole grains first. To be sure, many of the companies are not even making a pretense of putting whole grains first. But the ones that are, General Mills for example, are using the technique that I illustrated above. In addition, to breaking the sugar into multiple varieties, they are also breaking the grains up the same way. So you can often find an extensive list of flours, fiber, and several types of starch – all broken out so that the whole grain can be listed first on the ingredient list.

One of the aspects of confusion according to the survey is that 46% of people think that bread is their primary source of whole grain; but in reality ready-to-eat cereal is the leading whole grain source for Americans. This is indeed distressing, because it is generally more like candy than whole grain.

The General Mills survey found that 92 percent of Americans know that whole grain is important; that fact is music to my ears. But only 55 percent of the respondents knew how to correctly identify whole grain on a food label; not only that, 28 percent didn’t understand the difference between “whole grain” and “enriched grain.” General Mills says that the consumers may be confused about whole grain. Ya think? Come on General Mills, you guys have helped to lead the consumer to the confusion that they are now suffering from. Note to our readers: enriched grain means that the food processor has added vitamins that are mandated by the government. Enriched flour is impoverished flour (bran and germ removed), with a very small fraction of the hundreds of nutrients found naturally in the whole grain added back. Enriched, Really!!!! What a misnomer! The more accurate word is “impoverished”. In addition, to this problem, science doesn’t actually know yet if it is an interaction between nutrients, or a few or many interactions of the nutrients in whole grains. The correlations of whole grains and health are not correlations with white flour, wheat flour, enriched flour, multigrain flour (all names for impoverished processed flour) with some added fiber or vitamins.

The press release says that only whole grain provides vital nutrients found in the complete grain – the bran, the germ and the endosperm. “The health benefits of whole grain come from these three components working together naturally.” So they know the truth; and I ask, ‘Why are they adding, rice flour, corn bran, modified corn starch, corn meal, oat fiber, maltodextrin, corn flour, oat flour, wheat flour, enriched flour, and on and on?’ They say that they are “committed to continuing our role as a health leader in the cereal category – closing the whole grain gap is a major part of this commitment”. General Mills and all the other purveyors of junk breakfast cereals should take notice. Eventually the public is going to learn about their tricks and if they don’t change, their billions and billions and billions of dollars will go to those who will produce real whole grain products, and take out all the cheap additives that increase their profits at the expense of the consumer.

Let’s face it; if a consumer who really wants to get their 48 grams of whole grains from one of the processed cereals, they would have to consume 9 or more servings of many of the General Mills cereals to get that, and would grow fat doing so. For example, Cinnamon Toast Crunch would supply 1,170 calories for the 9 servings, needed to supply a day’s worth of whole grain. Yikes!!! We have enough of a problem with the obesity epidemic that is leading us to diabetes, heart disease and other ailments, than to recommend that we get our whole grains from sugary breakfast cereals like that.

Listing off the short list of their many cereals was just plain ridiculous. I’ve used those cereals as examples of ‘fude’ – the processed junk that I’m working to steer the public away from. Do you wonder why? What do I have against Lucky Charms? ‘Magically delicious’ is a great by-line, if nourishing your child or yourself is not part of the goal of eating breakfast; it’s really not so magic though. Of course, the ingredient list starts with whole grain oats; but please read a bit farther down the lengthy list. The next item is marshmallows. Are marshmallows really something you need for breakfast? All that sugar is not just in the marshmallows, but in the cereal portion also. Would you put that much sugar on your cereal? I’m old enough to remember adding a sprinkle of sugar to old-fashioned, unsweetened flakes, puffs, or circles. No you really don’t need as much sugar as they are adding. But the fact is that it preserves the grain – helps to keep it fresh for a very long time. And sugar is super cheap, especially when you buy as much as General Mills, Kellogg, Quaker, Post, Kraft and the rest, buy.

Let’s look at an ingredient list. I’ll choose one mentioned in the General Mills press release. Cinnamon Toast Crunch at a glance – begins with whole wheat; second is sugar; then rice flour (processed grain- not whole) then two types of oil; fructose (more sugar); next maltodextrin (a long chain of sugars processed from starch – same calories as sugar, gram for gram); dextrose (more sugar, dextrose is one of the molecules of sucrose, table sugar – essentially just more sugar), then comes the salt, cinnamon, colorings and vitamins and minerals and preservatives. It has about a full tablespoon – three teaspoons of sugar in one serving. One single serving has 210 mg of sodium; with so much sugar can you even taste the sodium? One gram of fiber – of all the 24 grams of carbohydrate, only one is fiber. When you see only one gram of fiber in a ‘supposedly whole grain’ product, containing 24 grams of carbohydrate, you know that there are a lot of other processed grains and/or sugars. I really don’t want to add to the confusion, but some of the food processors have tried to solve this problem, buy adding any of the huge variety of fiber sources: inulin, cellulose, beta-glucan, gums, pectins, psyllium, oligofructose, corn bran, wheat bran, rice bran and other sources of fiber. They so frustrate me!!! If we were eating real whole grains, fruits and vegetables, we wouldn’t need so many food additives. Remember, the research on benefits of whole grains was done with true whole grains, not with fiber additives.

Let’s look at one other comparison – Cheerios and Yogurt Burst Cheerios. To begin with, the serving size is not even the same, one cup for traditional Cheerios and ¾ cup of the ‘yogurt’ style. This is another common way to deceive with statistics on food labels – make the serving size smaller so there will be fewer calories, sugars, and other bad stuff. I find myself unable to go past the ‘yogurt’ word without making a remark. Let’s face it; it’s candy coating; beginning with sugar, and palm kernel oil (poor choice of saturated fat), more sugar (dextrose), cornstarch, and finally dried nonfat yogurt. This is not yogurt. Please don’t give this to your kids or yourself thinking that you’re getting the high quality protein food – yogurt. I feel better now; let’s go forward. Notice the traditional Cheerios have 103 calories for the full cup and the ‘Yogurt’ Burst Cheerios have 120 calories for ¾ of a cup. Only one gram of sugar in the traditional and 10 grams in the ‘yogurt’ – don’t forget the serving size, because it’s much worse than it appears—with a one cup serving that Yogurt Burst of calories would add up to 160!

I found a link “What’s Lurking in YOUR Cheerios?” that lightened my day. If you need cheering up, this is a good laugh. Yes, I know that trisodium phosphate is used to manage acidity by food processors; but note that you never need to add it to your bowl of oatmeal, homemade granola, or cracked wheat cereal. I also never add salt, tocopherols (preservatives), wheat starch, monoglycerides (fats), calcium carbonate (smashed rocks to help your cereal appear to be a better source of calcium), or modified cornstarch – why do they add it? Because cornstarch is INCREDIBLY cheap, not to mention that it turns to sugar so fast in your mouth it tastes sweet and can decrease the need for flat out sugar.  Annatto – is just food coloring; I personally avoid food coloring, but that should be a different post.

Ingredients of Traditional Cheerios:

Whole grain oats (includes the oat bran), modified corn starch, sugar, salt, oat fiber (additional oat fiber to help the numbers – you’ve got to make up for the lack of fiber in the modified corn starch and sugar – make the fiber number look better), tripotassium phosphate, wheat starch, vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) added to preserve freshness.

Vitamin and Mineral Additives: Calcium carbonate, iron and zinc (mineral nutrients), vitamin C (sodium ascorbate), a B vitamin (niacinamide), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin mononitrate), vitamin A (palmitate), a B vitamin (folic acid), vitamin B12, vitamin D3. Often they are sprayed on as a liquid as the toasted cereal passes underneath on a conveyer belt.  Cheap.  Makes it sounds like it’s brimming with the great nutrients real food contains.

Traditional Cheerios are not perfect; they’re not really a 100% whole grain cereal, but if you have to use one of the Cheerios products, choose this one.

Ingredients Yogurt Burst Cheerios: I highlighted the processed grains and sugar.

Whole Grain Oats (Includes The Oat Bran), Sugar, Naturally Yogurt Flavored Coating (Sugar, Fractionated Palm Kernel Oil, Dextrose, Corn Starch, Dried Nonfat Yogurt [Heat Treated After Culturing] (Cultured Nonfat Milk), Soy Lecithin, Nonfat Milk, Natural Flavor, Lactic Acid, Calcium Lactate), Corn Meal, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Salt, Trisodium Phosphate, Brown Sugar Syrup, Color Added, Wheat Flour, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added To Preserve Freshness. Vitamins And Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Zinc And Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), A B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), A B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3.

I personally call this ‘vacation cereal’ – during our annual vacation each year when my children were young, they could pick any cereal regardless of how unhealthy it was. So I guess you could call it a vacation from health.

General Mills made a big deal of their announcement of their reduction in sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that they are reducing the sugar in their cereals, but reducing by one or two grams does not turn sugar cereal into a healthy cereal. Many of the cereals are still at the 3-teaspoons-of-sugar per serving level after the reduction.

It seems as though I’m picking on General Mills, who has made a commitment to whole grains, but that is to show you how far into the 'fude' market they are. Kellogg, Post and Quaker are certainly just as bad, if not worse. The decades old Quaker’s Cap’N Crunch has 12 grams of sugar of their 23 grams of carbohydrate (note that is more sugar than the weight of the grain). It only has one gram of protein, one gram of fiber and 202 mg of sodium. So the ¾ cup serving (less than an ounce) – most of it sugar and zero whole grain. They’re not even trying.

Ingredients of Cap’N Crunch: Corn Flour, Sugar, Oat Flour, Brown Sugar, Coconut Oil, Salt, Niacinamide (One of the B Vitamins) Yellow 5, Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide (a Source of Zinc) Yellow 6, Thiamin Mononitrate (One of the B Vitamins) BHT (a Preservative) Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (One of the B Vitamins) Riboflavin (One of the B Vitamins) Folic Acid (One of the B Vitamins).

What can you do?

If you make a bowl of oatmeal, cracked wheat cereal, or homemade granola, you control the ingredients. For kicks, you may want to weigh the grain, whatever you choose, and weigh an equal weight of sugar, just so that you can illustrate for yourself, how silly it is to have so much sugar being delivered by the cereal processors. One other option is that you can choose a real whole grain cereal from the food processors like Shredded Wheat, but they’re hard to find; add your own sweetener and/or fresh fruit – you’re set with real food, including real whole grains.

Check it out, cut oats, rolled oats, old fashioned (avoid instant packets, your blood sugar spikes, then drops too soon, leading to a snack attack). One ounce – 28 grams -- is about 1/3 cup dry (yields about ¾ of a cup cooked); make it into granola, or cook it as oatmeal. It gives a full five grams of protein, three grams of fiber; 19 grams of carbohydrate, none of it sugar, only one or two mg of sodium (Can you believe it?), all for 109 calories. It will help you stay full much longer than the processed sugar cereal, without blood sugar spikes. If you use Dr. Grandma’s Delight, you can naturally sweeten your cereal, hot or cold without adding any empty calories from sugar.

One way to get whole grains is to turn to products that simply have only whole grains – no impoverished grains or additives, by any name. There are some new cereal makers who “get it.”  Also, there is Dr. Grandma’s. Remember that you can get whole grains quickly with mixes made with 100% whole grains, Muffins Your Way and Pancakes and Waffles. You are not at the mercy of the large food processors; make a loaf of quick bread using Dr. Grandma’s 100% whole organic hard red spring wheat, it’s easy and has no added sugar. And lastly, don’t forget that there are two meals in addition to breakfast. Serve a whole grain muffin with your salad lunch or dinner soup, or as a snack. Don’t forget wheat berries and brown rice are excellent whole grains and lend themselves to delicious recipes. Begin to make it a habit to keep cooked wheat berries in your freezer and then you’re ready to make a whole grain recipe quickly.

Don’t be confused by the cereal processors; learn how to cook with real food, real whole grains and you will not be at the mercy of their deceptive marketing and labeling practices, and nutritionally impoverished products. Remember that Good Health Can Be Yummy!