Health claims on processed food packages are usually nothing more than marketing messages. So when Kellogg’s plasters the word “IMMUNITY” in quadruple font on the front of its Rice Krispies breakfast cereal, we just have to take a peek (thanks to Fooducate reader TD for the heads up).
We took a look at the product nutrition information and at the Rice Krispies website. We’re not sure if this is a new formulation or just a new marketing campaign, but this is what Kellogg’s boasts:
“Now each and every box is fortified with vitamins and nutrients that work together to help support your child’s immunity.”
“The cereal you love, invisibly better”.
Great pitch folks. Now let’s analyze the facts…
What you need to know:
We started off with the Ingredient list, which did not seem too promising:
RICE, SUGAR, COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI, SEMISWEET CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, ANHYDROUS DEXTROSE), PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (ONE OR MORE OF: COCONUT, SOYBEAN AND/OR COTTONSEED), SALT, MALT FLAVORING, CALCIUM CARBONATE, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ASCORBIC ACID AND SODIUM ASCORBATE (VITAMIN C), IRON, ALPHA TOCOPHEROL ACETATE (VITAMIN E), NIACINAMIDE, ZINC OXIDE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B6), RIBOFLAVIN (VITAMIN B2), THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE (VITAMIN B1), FOLIC ACID, BHT (PRESERVATIVE), VITAMIN D, VITAMIN B12. LESS THAN 0.5g TRANS FAT PER SERVING.
Sugar appears here no less than 3 times. It is the second ingredient, part of the 4th ingredient, and appears later in the list as well as High Fructose Corn Syrup.
COCOA PROCESSED WITH ALKALI – Also known as Dutch Processed Cocoa, helps to remove the natural acidity of the cocoa bean. Unfortunately, it also removes the beneficial flavanoids found in the cocoa beans.
PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL – This is Trans Fat. We’ll talk about it more below.
MALT FLAVORING – natural flavor derived from barley.
CALCIUM CARBONATE – added calcium.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP – the cheap alternative to sugar.
ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR – we’d like to know what they put in here.
BHT (E321) – Butylated hydroxytoluene is a food additive used to prevent foods from going rancid. There is some debate over the safety of this product, as some studies have shown it to cause tumors, and others have shown it to reduce the risk of cancer.
A serving is defined as 3/4 cup or about 1 oz. If that sounds too small to you, don’t think that Kellogg’s is singular. Look up any breakfast cereal, and you’ll see serving sizes that are appropriate for 4 year olds.
There are 120 calories, and most come from carbohydrates. Although trans fat is listed as 0%, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil appears as the fifth ingredient in this product. This means trans fat is present here, but through a loophole in FDA regulation, less than 0.5 grams per serving can be marked as zero. Since no amount of trans fat is considered OK to eat, even 0.49% in a tiny serving is too much.
The 150mg of sodium is not too high, at less than 10% of the daily value.
The 12 grams of sugar are equivalent to 3 teaspoons, and constitute 39% of this product by weight!. Whoa, that’s a lot of sugar. No wonder the kids love it so.
The fiber content is very poor. The label states that “less 1 gram”, and right next to that “1%”. Now let’s do some quick math. The recommended daily intake for fiber is 25 grams. That means a serving here has less than 1/4 of a gram (1% of 25 grams). Why didn’t Kellogg’s write ZERO grams of fiber here, just like they did with trans fat?
Easy answer – the good folks at Kellogg’s want you to see “1 gram of fiber” while skimming quickly through the nutrition panel so you’ll think the product is healthier. Never mind that it’s much much less than 1 gram.
The vitamin and mineral list is certainly impressive. But keep in mind that all these are not naturally present in the product, and are added to it during the manufacturing process. In nutritional terminology, the product is fortified with these nutrients. There is scientific debate as to the bioavailability and benefit of these nutrients when artificially added to food as compared to being found naturally in whole wheat, fruits, and vegetables.
Another tidbit to keep in mind is that these vitamins and minerals are sprayed onto the product. That means they wash off when wet, i.e. into the milk. If your child does not drink the milk left after after all the cereal is gone, a lot of the benefit of the vitamins and minerals is lost.
In a country where kids get too much sugar, and trans fat consumption causes heart disease, a product with 40% sugar sounds more like a candy than a healthy way to start the day. The trans fat bonus does not equate with health or immunity.
You know what Kellogg’s, it’s OK to sell sugary cereals for what they are, but please don’t con us into believing this is a healthy product.
What to do at the supermarket:
The next time you read a bold headline such as “IMMUNITY”, instead of automatically thinking “wow this must be a healthy product”, show those marketers you know better.
Look for cereals with a high fiber content, at least 2.5 grams per serving, and a low sugar content, less than 6 grams per serving.
RESIST the temptation to believe the health claims on the front of the package and read the nutrition panel and ingredient list carefully.
Note: Is there a product whose nutritional value you’d like explained? That’s what we’re here for. Just drop us a line or comment below.
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