Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sugar isn't the only problem with breakfast cereals

Here is a new article I wrote for the Examiner about breakfast cereals...

"Consumer Reports released an article today stating that many breakfast cereals are more than 50% sugar.

"The bad news is that 23 of the top 27 cereals marketed to children rated only Good or Fair for nutrition. There is at least as much sugar in a serving of Kellogg's Honey Smacks and 10 other rated cereals as there is in a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts. "
Examiner Article: Sugar isn't the only problem with breakfast cereal

While it's very easy to get upset about added sugar in cereal, nobody seems to notice all the damn CARBS in that crap!!!


Abi said...

*laughs* did you see the segment on television?? "i didn't realize this cereal had as much sugar as a doughnut!" as they are parading cocoa puffs and the like...

how could you not realize sugar cereals were that sweet? granted, i understand the shock that rice crispies and cheerios both do, because they are not as blatent... but chocolate frosted sugar bombs really do have sugar ;)

Anna said...

Oh, no, sugar is the proverbial "tip of the iceberg".

One of the things I have noticed is that people don't seem to understand that starch is sugar molecules "glued" together. So one has to look at the total amount of carbs (simple sugars *and* starches), not just the simple sugar content, perhaps minus the indigestible fiber, because all carbs will be broken down into sugar molecules. With complex carbohydrates, the starch chains will take longer to break down into glucose molecules and be absorbed, but it's still glucose and will all go into the blood stream and insulin production will need to high enough to escort all that glucose. Chronically high insulin (growth factor) levels are associated with disease.

And in breakfast cereals, we're not talking intact grain kernals, of course, we're talking highly processed, precooked grains, even if labeled "whole grain". There's evidence that the extremely high heat, high pressure forced extrusion process that most cold cereals go through damage the grain proteins, too.

Humans have only been consumed substantial amounts of grains for 5,000-12,000 years, a blip in the timeline of human evolution. Until technology allowed for grain consumption (grinding, neutralizing anti-nutrient content), grains were mostly inedible to humans, and passed through the gut intact or nearly intact. Once grains were grown as a crop and became staples, human health declined dramatically, with loss of height, dental problems, increased disease, etc. Only recently (past 250 years), with increases in animal food consumption, certain medical practices, and adoption of dental hygiene practices, have humans regained some of the lost height and control of dental disease.

Grains are basically inedible unless processed in such a way that our system can then digest them to absorb the nutrients. Prior to mechanization, traditional processing included soaking, sprouting and/or fermenting (sourdough) as well as grinding into a coarse flour-meal. Grain bran (the indigestible outer hull) contains phytic acid, which prevents the seed from spouting until conditions are right for germination (moisture neutralizes phytates and activates dormant sprouting enzymes). Soaking, sprouting, and/or fermenting neutralizes phytates (more about why phytates aren't good later), making the grain nutrients more bioavailable.

But in industrial grain processing, that phytate neutralizing step is eliminated (if you insist on eating grains, look for sprouted grains or better yet, make your own). Modern industrial grain processing is done mechanically, turning grains into very fine flours, rendering them "pre-chewed" and practically "pre-digested" before they ever hit the spoon (think about it, the cooking and breaking down into small particles for enzymatic action is already done!). And saliva has an enzyme, amylase, that starts to break down starch in the mouth, with further exposure to more amylase later in the GI tract. So prepared cold breakfast cereals, unless they are nearly 100% indigestible bran (not good, either. more about that later), are practically all glucose "bombs" that hit the bloodstream with a huge glucose load, causing the pancreas to respond with a huge insulin rush, which clears out the glucose, sometimes too much, leading to roller coaster BG levels, mid-morning carb cravings, and hunger pangs.

Then there's the bran in many breakfast cereals, some even being primarily bran (that people feel so good about eating, even if it tastes like cardboard and creates a fiber dependency to stay "regular". Bran (fiber) binds with all sorts of things in the gut, including many of the medications we take (thyroid hormone); cholesterol (needed for hormone production and neural function); bile salts (usually reabsorbed for fat breakdown); and minerals, (yeah, even the calcium supplements that are supposed to be shoring up our bones are going "away" with the fiber). One wouldn't know it from the promotion of "whole grain" and high fiber intake advise, but one can become mineral deficient on a high fiber diet. And there are anti-nutrients in fiber (phytic acid/phytates) that prevent many of the nutrients (in the grain germ) from being absorbed (phytic acid prevents seeds from germinating until the conditions are right).

Grains that are soaked, sprouted, and/or fermented at least have less phytic acid to bind with nutrients, preventing their absorption. If one is to consume grains, at the very least, they should be soaked overnight, sprouted, and/or fermented, preferably with a slightly acidic water solution (a tiny bit of apple cider vinegar or plain yogurt whey is good). My husband can still remember when steel cut and old fashioned rolls oat containers still had the instruction to soak the oats overnight. The oats haven't changed, they still need soaking, but practically no one knows to do this anymore. Soaked oats cook faster, too, in about 5-10 minutes instead of 25-40 minutes. But most people go for "instant" or "quick-cooking" oats, that have been industrially processed ( pre-cooked), but the phytates have not been neutralized.

Lastly, wheat and other grains contain proteins called glutens, which have a way of sneaking through the gut cells, resulting in a range of damage to the gut lining (more leaks), which can cause irritation & inflammation; GI problems; lack of nutrient absorption; and for some, can wreak havoc on the immune system ranging from minor issues to full-blown auto-immune problems like sprue-celiac disease (the gluten proteins that leak through the gut lining and make it into the blood are viewed as "foreign" and attacked).

I'll stick to eggs cooked in butter for my breakfast.

Wifezilla said...

Thanks for the reply Anna. I did mention in general how easily digested these mashed and extruded grains are, but you provided some much needed detail.

abigail said...

i just realized.... all that sugar and the average person eats THREE servings in their bowl....

i don't recall them mentioning that anywhere in their reports...