Nutri-Grain, Fake Color, and Why Do American Kids Deserve Less than Europeans?

Take a look at the two packages for Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain cereal bars. One is made here for us. The other is made in the UK for Europeans. Both use food coloring to achieve a more “strawberry-ish” color.

In the UK, the coloring is achieved using beetroot. But in the US, the coloring is Red No. 40, a dye that has been associated with hyperactivity, and some types of cancer.

Why not use the beetroot? The answer is that Kellogg’s probably saves half a penny on each bar using an artificial dye rather than using a natural one.

So why does Kellogg’s use the beets in Europe? Because in Europe the regulator has required WARNING LABELS on products with Red 40. Just like cigarettes. Kellogg’s did the bottom line calculation and decided the loss in sales would cause much more damage than the savings on the food dye.

But in the US, the FDA has given red 40 a GRAS status (Generally recognized as Safe). The reason is one of approach:

In Europe manufacturers need to prove an ingredient is SAFE beyond a shadow of a doubt for it to be approved for use.

In the US researchers need to prove an ingredient is DANGEROUS beyond a shadow of a doubt for it to be banned.

Bummer. But as CSPI reports, the FDA is planning to review the matter:

The news that the Food and Drug Administration, in response to CSPI’s 2008 petition, will convene an advisory committee meeting to discuss the link between food dyes and children’s behavior is welcome and overdue. Yellow 5, Red 40, and other commonly used food dyes have long been shown in numerous clinical studies to impair children’s behavior. But for years, FDA—which actually commissioned one of the first controlled studies—dismissed the mounting evidence against the dyes. read more…

Maybe there is hope for change. After all, our kids deserve better.

What you need to know:

Since we’re talking about a product many families have in their pantry, we thought you’d like to know what else is lurking inside. Here’s how Fooducate’s iphone app rates Nutri-Grain:

This is the ingredient list:

Filling (High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Strawberry Puree Concentrate, Glycerin, Sugar, Water, Sodium Alginate, Modified Corn Starch, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Methylcellulose, Caramel Color, Malic Acid, Red No. 40), Whole Grain Rolled Oats, Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Whole Wheat Flour, Sunflower and/or Soybean Oil with TBHQ for Freshness, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Contains Two Percent or Less of Honey, Dextrose, Calcium Carbonate, Soluble Corn Fiber, Nonfat Dry Milk, Wheat Bran, Salt, Cellulose, Potassium Bicarbonate (Leavening), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Mono- and Diglycerides, Propylene Glycol Esters of Fatty Acids, Soy Lecithin, Wheat Gluten, Niacinamide, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Carrageenan, Zinc Oxide, Reduced Iron, Guar Gum, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid.

Mostly sugar and fillers, questionable preservatives, and artificial flavors. Sounds more like a candy bar than a cereal bar.

Even if Kellogg’s gets around to changing the coloring to beets, consider this a snack, just like Snickers, not  wholesome way to start off the day.

What to do at the supermarket:

Don’t buy candy masquerading as a healthy food. If a bar starts off with sugars as the first ingredients, put it back and choose something else.

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  • zoe

    There’s no High Fructose Corn Syrup in the British one either!

  • Mabelle @ Latina Health Diaries

    Interesting post! —I agree 100% that Kellogg Nutrigrain bars are more of a candy bar than anything else. When I was a teenager trying to loose 60 pounds and lead a healthy lifestyle I used to buy Nutrigrain bars all the time thinking they were good for me. It wasn’t until several years later and a whole lot of reading and research about nutrition that I discovered the “Nutri-grain” labeling in this bar (and in other items sold to the public) were nothing more than a masquerade by the manufacturer (in this case Kellogg) to make it seem like a healthy item.

    I also took a Nutrition class in college where the professor warned us about these snacks/foods that portray a healthy image but in reality are far from it!!–As a wiser adult, I now make sure I look at the ingredient list of snacks very closely to make sure they are in fact the healthy item I am looking for. It is important for people to go beyond the labeling and ‘pretty colors’ of a commercialized items. In this post I learned something new in regards to the side effects of red-dye. So, basically, it’s worse than I thought! Thanks for this insightful post. Hopefully it opens the eyes of many people in regards to what’s really healthy out there. The US should adopt Europe’s FDA standards. Asap!

  • Rachel Assuncao

    Great article. It’s interesting to see how different governments create different rules that are meant to create the same outcome. Proving that an ingredient is safe so it can be used sounds like a much better idea.

    We bake our own cereal bars at home. I get to control the ingredients that go in, and we all get a say in the flavor combinations. It’s easy and fun!

  • Jess

    Rachel, can we have your recipe? :)

  • bcupper

    I am American currently living in the UK. It is refreshing to pick up a bag of fish sticks and see only 5 ingredients listed on the package. And some things are banned here – certain dyes and sodium benzoate… or will be soon enough. But, I’ve learned to be careful because some of the additives are the same or similar, just called different names. And aspartame is widely available. I have to be careful when getting a kids drink to check the label. It’s sad though that I have to feel so cautious when buying something that is a ‘product of the usa’. :-(

  • bushidoka

    Back in 1994 when I was living in Germany, I noticed similar differences between McCain pizza in Germany versus in my native Canada. The ones in Germany had no nefarious ingredients whatsoever, while the ones in Canada had far more nefarious ingredients than real ones. I even wrote the company about it asking why this was the case, but never got a reply.

  • Kara Sorensen

    There’s so little food in that bar. It’s scary to me that chemicals have become an acceptable substance to eat. People are buying them, so its obviously acceptable for them. Wouldn’t it be better to eat food grown in the ground instead of a chemistry lab?

    Kara Sorensen, MS, LAc

  • Charlotte

    You can get imported Dr Pepper in Norway that contains sugar, and not HFCS. ;) It’s manufactured here in the US.
    Honey Nut cheerios contain no HFCS either, and I do believe they had to remove the “nut” part, as it contains… no nuts?
    But, sadly, Norwegian companies do feel the need to inject their fish with fish “water” to increase the weight of the product, just like here in the US. Though, the government wants to ban that now, thankfully.
    GM foods are banned.
    HFCS is banned.
    Various colour additives are banned.
    And until recently it was illegal for producers of “children’s cereal” to have toys or other incentives on the box. A major loss here…

    Y’know, Norway may have a limited selection of foods, but atleast they don’t contain (too much) crap, like the US stuff. Grocery shopping here in the US is like a mine field… And sometimes, I get hit. :(

  • Dave Schy

    If you have the time and like to cook you can make healthy granola and granola bars yourself. I am sure you will recognize all of the simple ingredients used in these recipes!

  • Grigore

    @zoe because we use sugar inEurope

  • Dave

    Idea: let free people decide for themselves what foods to buy instead of asking nanny government to make our decisions for us.

    • Rcellasio

      Agreed, BUT we are not given that choice or option. First of all, food that is traditionally farmed or made has to be labeled organic, but food made with chemicals and GMO’s requires NO labeling. That makes absolutely no sense, 30 years ago organic farming was just called farming, when it should be chemical farming should have a label. Second of all in America a company food is required to be proven dangerous instead of safe, like the article says, ridiculous.

  • Ian

    Right wing looney or sarcastic comment against the right wing?

    That’s what the problem is – people don’t understand what the choices are. Big Business will quite happily lie until told they can’t. Why do the Right believe it’s the consummers fault if they buy dangerous products?

  • Marcello

    @Rachel Assuncao – no, you do not have control.

    Do you think you can buy a true organic grains, without altered genes? Even if you try to buy it in US, you cannot be 100% sure that bees have not brought those genes from fields where monsanto won.

  • Karen

    Don’t buy it if you don’t want to eat it. How hard is that ?

  • Lisa

    yes this article didn’t even MENtion the GMO aspect to the ingredients ! @Marcello

    • Jomiller11

      GMO isn’t a problem. It just does in the lab what nature might have done under the right circumstances (ex the right virus in the right plants at the right time).

  • whoa

    People in the US are on the go. They need to slow down and start eating better. I can count more obese in one block just walking down the street. So sad too.

  • Emily

    I don’t think it’s that American kids are less deserving than Europeans but that Americans are more lazy about their lifestyles (and before you jump on me, I’m an American and have never lived anywhere else and include myself in this generalization). Americans are more willing to accept things as they are then try to change what they don’t like. Food companies can get away with selling products with HFCS, dyes and preservatives because they know people will buy them. In Europe, if they tried it, not only would they be unable to sell the product, but they would be unable to market things as “healthy” when they contain such ingredients.

  • Lisa

    I used this photo for a project I did about food additives in my nutrition class. It’s a shame that in the US too many people are not thinking about what they are eating. It’s a shame that in the US big money big business control what is put out there. Many things need to change. While I feel it’s the FDA’s responsibility to make sure the food supply is safe, consumers need to take charge and know what they are putting into their bodies and their children’s bodies. Educating and empowering the consumer is the way to bring a change. In the meantime, read food labels and know what you are eating.

  • CC

    Compare the two packaging photos (not the food in the foreground.) I guess U.K. consumers aren’t so keen on goo?

  • Pat Anthony

    Such important details. Our kids deserve better and so do we. Why don’t we all stop buying products with artificial colors? Go on a food/shopping strike for 30 days and see if anyone listens. These bars taste terrible (like chemicals) and I wonder why people eat these.

  • katbird_27

    this reminds me of the difference between ketchup in the USA vs. canada! here we have at least 7 ingredients and in canada its often just 3! and guess what! Canadian ketchup TASTES BETTER!

  • Rosiw

    This is why there 250ib 13y/o kids looking like adults. Ridiculous! They take the sort cuts with us because they feel that americans are to lazy to care whats in our food or they think we will eat anything. Hmmm, will we?

  • Amy

    I’m glad to see this issue getting some legs. I wrote a post about it in November and used the same CSPI graphic. That organization does a great job!

  • Sheila B.

    Could you please help educate us on the more recent re-introduction of carmine dye and the symptoms or side-effects that can be attributed to the use as a cheap alternate to red dye.

  • Anonymous

    Many European countries make fun of Americans and label them as fat, lazy and stupid.  I guess they see how people here are willing to put up with food that makes them fat and is not has safe to consume, but people are willing to buy and eat them because is fast and cheap. 

    • Joseph

      I guess those European countries are definitely right.

  • Sarah

    I’m a mother of a child who has hyperactivity. Within 2 weeks of eliminating all dyes from our diets, and additives in general, he is more focused and not nearly as impulsive. Here we are 6 months later, and he’s on the honor roll for the first time. I wrote to Kellogs and Kraft and they really don’t care as long as they’re making money. I’m not lazy but I do feel that it’s hard to change things with the FDA. We all need to get on board and demand it.