Monday, January 25, 2010

The Great Cheerios Fake-Out

Cheerios are healthy! It's the "toasted whole grain oat cereal" with no artificial colors or flavors, no saturated fat or cholesterol, and only 1 gram of sugar per serving. A good source of fiber, and as their website claims, "Cheerios is the only leading ready-to-eat cereal that has been clinically proven to lower blood cholesterol levels when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol." They're even certified by the American Heart Association! Cheerios brand has gained the trust of parents, myself included; often, a toddler's first finger food is Cheerios. I've fed my kids Cheerios for decades, and I love the stuff myself, topped with sliced bananas and low fat milk. It IS a decent food, really. The first ingredient is whole grain oats, plus they add oat bran and oat fiber for even more oaty nutrition. A cup of Cheerios has 3 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and only one gram of sugar, all for just 100 calories. I think it tastes great.

But this is not a commercial for Cheerios. I am MAD at General Mills right now, for what I call "the great Cheerios Fake-Out." Let me explain.

You've seen all those yummy new kinds of Cheerios on the shelf lately. It started with Honey Nut Cheerios: all the goodness of Cheerios but with a great new flavor. It was a nice compromise for those of us with a sweet tooth (or with kids who wanted sugary cereals): the nutrition of whole oats with a taste kids love, but with less sugar and more fiber than a lot of junky kids cereals. Honey Nut Cheerios is the same good stuff: whole grain oats and oat bran, but with some sugar, honey, and "brown sugar syrup" thrown in for sweetness. Still, you get 3 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber with only 9 grams of sugar in a 3/4 cup serving. Still, it is "part of a heart-healthy eating plan" than can "help lower your cholesterol." (Why? Because of the oat fiber).

Then came other flavors. Lots of options for us to continue eating healthy Cheerios but with more variety. Except that they forgot to tell you: some of these new flavors aren't really Cheerios anymore.

Let's take the "naturally flavored" Banana Nut Cheerios. The ingredient list begins: Whole grain CORN. Whole grain WHAT?? Corn?? Nutrition facts labels are required to list ingredients in the order of "predominance" meaning the product is, by weight, made up mostly of what comes first on the list. So the #1 ingredient in this cereal is CORN. What else is in there? #2 ingredient: Sugar! But that is not enough corn and sugar, apparently. The rest of the ingredient list includes whole grain oats (oh, nice of them to throw this in there), Brown sugar syrup (huh?), corn syrup (great), dried corn syrup (in case the regular corn syrup wasn't sweet enough), corn bran (more corn), corn starch (even more corn), modified corn starch (in case the regular corn starch wasn't corny enough). Along with all that corn, you get less fiber and protein and more sugar than with regular Cheerios: 1g fiber, 1g protein, and 9g sugar.

Then we've got the "Naturally Flavored" Fruity Cheerios, which is great, right? Because your kids want Fruit Loops but you want them to have the wholesome oat goodness of Cheerios. This is your answer! Except, once again, you get a "sweetened CORN and oat cereal" whose #1 ingredient is corn and #2 ingredient is sugar. Don't forget the same corn syrup and dried corn syrup and corn bran, but with this one you get lots of extra goodies, too, in the form of Artificial Colors: FD&C Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and "Other Color Added."

And then, the latest assault to our senses, Chocolate Cheerios. Think you are getting Whole Grain Oats with a bit of cocoa and sugar? Think again: Whole grain CORN, sugar, corn meal, corn syrup, THEN whole grain oats. But don't forget that dried corn syrup and corn bran, for the full corn experience. Makes me want to butter and salt my breakfast.

Hey, if people want to eat corn cereal for breakfast, great. And yes, it *does* say "corn and oat cereal" on the boxes but who reads the small print when they are buying their trusted Cheerios? I sure didn't. I *assumed* that if it said "Cheerios," it was OAT cereal. I was busily chowing down on my sugared cocoa corn when I realized it tasted *nothing* like oats and tasted almost *exactly* like Cocoa Puffs... another General Mills cereal that many of us would never *dream* of feeding our children or ingesting because it is, in my mind anyway, junk food... but has a strangely similar nutritional profile and ingredient list to Chocolate Cheerios. Cocoa Puffs: Whole grain CORN, sugar, corn syrup, corn meal, cocoa, corn starch... 1 g protein, 2 g fiber, and 11 g sugar. Hmmmm.

So if you think buying Cheerios means you are buying a cereal made predominantly of whole grain oats, think again. Check your labels. Some of the varieties *are* oat-based, but others are not. And shame on General Mills for using the trusted Cheerios name with its healthy reputation to pass off sugary, corn-based junk.

34 comments:

happyfunpants said...

Just another great example of how reading the labels (not just the nutrition facts) can help us make better decisions.

When I was a kid, my mom had this rule that we could pick out *any* cereal we wanted as long as it had less than 9 grams of sugar in each serving. It's amazing how these days, those are the same types of cereal I pick out for myself now too.

And also? I heart Cheerios too. :)

Seren_Sighs said...

Personally, I'm not a big fan of most large food companies. I feel most of them cut corners using cheap ingredients that hurt our health.

I suppose the original cheerios aren't too bad, but then looking at this progression of new products makes me not trust them as much.

I prefer the more natural (although slight more expensive) brand names. Names like Kashi and such. There are cheerio like cereals out there that are made by these companies.

I keep hoping one day our food won't be as nutritionally devoid as it is now.

KatDoesDiets said...

EXACTLY! When I saw Chocolate Cheerios on the shelf this weekend I was like, you've got to be freaking kidding me General Mills, have the decency to peddle your junk food under another name than Cheerios at least!

What a Splurge said...

I haven't seen the chocolate ones yet! Oh dear. My husband picked out the Banana flavor a couple of months ago. Neither of us cared for them ... too sweet. We went back to plain. You're right about how sad it is that General Mills traded out the trusted Cheerios brand to sell junk to kids ... and a few unsuspecting husbands. He wants bananas? I'll buy the real fruit.

spunkysuzi said...

I have to admit that i do try to read the labels on new things but sometimes i forget!
I to love regular cheerios and honey nut cheerios and honestly i haven't even tried the other ones.
Goes to show how careful you have to be.

The Chubby Girl Diaries said...

This is definitely why I read the labels. Because I think these food manufacturers put all kinds of crap in our food. And some of it is probably addictive.

I think this is a great reason why reading labels is absolutely essential!

Great post! I really love your blog! I come here for a daily dose of inspiration.

~Kellie

Sarah said...

Someone just posted about loving new chocolate Cheerios on my fb. I never thought about this until now and I thank you for bringing it to my attention!

Leslie said...

I think General Mills actually got told that even for regular Cheerios, they needed to stop saying it was proven that it would lower cholesterol as part of a healthy diet...even that was a stretch. The honey nut were my kids' favorites. But I never get them now because I can't handle even that sweetness in a restricted amount. Just makes me want more. But me love regular Cheerios!

Previously Plump... in progress said...

hmmm, wow. I live in Canada, and they seemed to have restricted us to the plain cheerios, honey nut, and multi-grain grain ones (by the way although they are multi grain they still ahve more sugar then plain ol' cheerios - figgure that one out).

Tammy said...

I've never eaten Cheerios in my entire life. Never appealed to me. When it comes to cereal, my weakness is Golden Grahams. Not too many cals if you only eat 3/4 of a cup. Yeah right....I can eat half a box of those damn things in one day. Can't have them in the house. :)

Stacie said...

Wow. I just read a blog entry about chocolate cherrios - and my first thought was "wow! I need to find those when I go to the store next!"... and then I come here. Big fat bummer, General Mills. I eat multi-grain cherrios quite regularly... and now I want to run home and check out that label. I feel like I've been duped!

Becca said...

For me, It's regular cheerios or bust. I was actually really surprised a while back when i noticed the multigrain cheerios had considerably more sugar than the original. Needless to say i didn't purchase them :)

Margie M. said...

I saw the new chocolate Cheerios at the store recently. I was able to walk right by. It's best if I never even TASTE something. That way I never know what I might be missing (in this case not much). Like you, I enjoy the plain old regular Cheerios sometimes. I will say, however, that our dog's favorite treat is plain Cheerios. We keep her treat container full of them for her.

The Shrinking Violet said...

Goes to show how you have to read the labels on every darned thing other than fruit and veg!

karen@fitnessjourney said...

Thanks for the information. I was buying the banana kind for my kids and husband. I'm a little bummed to learn that I wasn't really doing them any good, but it's good to have this information.

M said...

I saw the Chocolate Cheerios, and I thought that's nuts. I feed my twin regular Cheerios and the multigrain one. I think I'll stick to those.

PatriciaW said...

Wow. I had no idea. I passed by the Chocolate Cheerios recently and laughed. Something just wrong about that whole idea. But I still thought they were chocolate-flavored oats, not corn.

Shame on General Mills.

Diana said...

I think Chocolate Cherrios is one of those if it's too good to be true, it's probably not true.

Anyway, I could resist and sent this off to General Mills:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
I read a blog today - http://escapefromobesity.blogspot.com/2010/01/great-cheerios-fake-out.html - and was appalled at what you've done to one of your best products, Cheerios. How could you?!

You're another food congolomerate providing legalized poison to the masses. Seriously General Mills, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

redballoon said...

The amount of sugar people eat is unreal. Incredible.

antgirl said...

It's pretty much why I shun all 'mass produced' foods in favor of organics, etc ...

Andra said...

Even original Cheerios is pretty much a fake health food. As Seren Sighs says, large food companies are not known for doing what's best for the health of the public. The grains are pulverized and highly processed then shaped into the little o's. Other "healthy" stuff is then added back. That doesn't seem like the smartest choice. Better than Cocoa Puffs, maybe but there are still better choices.

If one wants the goodness of whole grain oats, then eat whole grain oats as oatmeal or over yogurt and fruit. That eliminates two processed foods, the other being the milk, which is mucus making and inflammatory.

redballoon said...

Andra,
You definitely have the right idea! :)
Americans are still too easily swayed by words. Just because it says "healthy" on the package doesn't mean it is. There is way too much gullibility and belief in the establishment still.

Heather said...

just goes to show that you always have to check the label. I look at everything because so often, products are labeled completely different than whats actually in them. such as "natural" when there is not much natural of anything in them. we just have to be smarter than those manufacturers.

South Beach Steve said...

I am totally with you on this Lyn - it is a great fake out!

Amy said...

Okay, can I please recommend everyone see Food, Inc? It explains why everything is corn, high fructose corn syrup, etc. and why natural & organic foods are so much better. Also talks about the corruption in the meat industry. Fascinating! It has changed the way our family eats for the better. I finally "get" it and am eating healthy!

Genevieve and Aunt Sue said...

I've just started trying to lose weight again and I'm finding that I have to stay away from cereals for now because if it's a cereal I like, I eat too much of it. I think this is a very interesting item about Cheerios, though. I'd always considered them pretty healthy. My niece and I started a blog recently to support our weight loss. I'm looking for healthy breakfast options for us. -- Sue

screwdestiny said...

Thanks for helping keep us informed. :)

I only eat Honey Nut Cheerios, anyway. Regular Cheerios taste like I'm eating cardboard or something, but Honey Nut Cheerios...oh, I've been a fan for a long time.

BlueRaspberry said...

Never liked the darned things anyway lol....dislike them even more now! Thanks for pointing out the ridiculous state of the whole food industry when it comes to telling us what they do and do not hide in there products. I am sure that Cheerios are just the thin end of an enormous wedge.

BR

Camevil said...

It seems a given that *any* cereal that has "chocolate" or other label indicating sweetness is going to have sugar and be less-than healthy. Most of it's processed garbage anyway.

All Women Stalker said...

Oh, wow. I didn't know that. Thanks for that helpful info.

Lauren said...

Wow, thanks for passing along this information, Lyn! Really makes you think twice. I'm currently reading and loving "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. He talks a lot about how corn and soy have overtaken the American diet. It's so interesting to see a post completely backing up that hypothesis.

Fat Girl said...

Love this! I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how Cheerios in the house led to a binge. I do think that cereal fakes us out in a major way and it's unfortunate because I do love cereal almost as much as cake!

Hanlie said...

What concerns me is that the corn is most probably genetically modified. There are more and more reports that GM corn is causing organ damage and infertility in animals, so I wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.

C276 said...

I tried to avoid wheat and corn but those both are listed on the cheerio boxes