What’s in Your Cereal Bowl?

by Ellen


If you’re like a lot of folks who believe cold cereal topped with reduced-fat milk is a great way to start your day, you might want to think again!  Even a breakfast of “healthy” boxed cereals might not be good for you.

Low Fat Milk:

Many health-conscience people use reduced-fat or skim milk as a way to cut down on calories and saturated fat.  You may be surprised to learn that low fat milk isn’t necessarily the route to a slimmer waist.

In her doctoral thesis, Swedish nutritionist Susanne Eriksson presented results of a study of nutrition and bone health in eight-year-olds.  She found that children who drank full fat milk more than once a day had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who either never drank or rarely drank whole milk.  Children who drank reduced fat milk didn’t show the same inverse association with BMI.¹

The study also found an association between lower BMI and higher saturated fat intake.  I’m not surprised by this finding either, as saturated fats, eaten by our ancestors for centuries, are nourishing foods that have been vilified by the Powers That Be.  (I’m not talking about the nasty man-made trans fats, which unfortunately are often lumped together with saturated fats in studies, completely muddling any results.)

Breakfast Cereal:

Regardless of the claims on the box of “healthy” cereal, it might actually be doing you harm.  Did you know that most cold breakfast cereal is created through a process called “extrusion?”  Extruded cereals are made from a slurry of grains that is heated to a high temperature and then forced through a small hole to make shapes, shreds, flakes or puffs. The high heat and pressure of the extrusion process alters the proteins in the grains.

Analysis of the grains after extrusion indicates that this industrial process breaks up the carefully organized proteins they contain, creating neurotoxic (damaging to nerves) protein fragments.²

I came across two shocking unpublished studies of extruded cereal.

The first study was discovered by Paul Stitt, a biochemist who worked for the food industry, including a stint with Quaker Oats.  Here’s how he describes this study in Beating the Food Giants the online version of Fighting the Food Giants:

While I was doing research on my project in Quaker’s library, I came across a little flyer that the company had published in 1942. It contained a report on a study in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole-wheat kernels, water, vitamins and minerals. Another group received Puffed Wheat, water, and the same nutrient solu­tion. A third set was given water and white sugar, and a fourth given nothing but water and the chemical nutrients. The rats which received the whole wheat lived more than a year on the diet. The rats who got nothing but water and vitamins lived for about eight weeks, and the animals on a white sugar and water diet lived for a month. But Quaker’s own laboratory study showed that rats given vitamins, water and all the Puffed Wheat they wanted died in two weeks. It wasn’t a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition; results like these suggested that there was something actu­ally toxic about the Puffed Wheat itself. Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the puffing process of putting the grain under 1500 pounds-per-square-inch of pressure, and then releasing it, may produce chemical changes which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance. And Quaker has known about this toxicity since 1942.³

The second study (which I find rather cruel) tested the nutritional content of corn flakes.  Rats at the University of Michigan were fed diets containing water and either corn flakes, rat chow, or the corn flake box. The rats on the corn flake diet died before those eating the cardboard box!  Once again, the extruded cereal seems to have had major ill effects.

Remember that not only cereals are extruded.  Many snack foods and even pet foods are extruded.  Pringles, anyone?


1.  http://hdl.handle.net/2077/20457

2.  Enig, Mary, and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat.  New York: Hudson Street Press, 2005.

3.  Stitt, Paul. Beating the Food Giants

4.  http://www.westonaprice.org/modernfood/dirty-secrets.html

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Comments on this entry are closed.

Jack December 5, 2009 at 8:04 am

Your post raises another question. Some pasta products like spaghetti and other shaped noodles are extruded. Does this happen under conditions that would cause the same effects that occur with breakfast cereal products?

BodyEarth January 13, 2010 at 10:29 am

Good question, Jack. I’m not sure that extrusion is the same with noodles; it may just mean that they are pressed through a mold before they are dried. I’ll need to do some more research.

Kathe Sterling December 6, 2009 at 1:09 am

Gad Ellen this is not good. I suspect all processed foods are not healthy. Why else the blue zone near Los Angeles where I think it is the seven day adventists breathe that LA air and live to very old age. No meat and no processed food. Kathe

Lynn Duvall March 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Do 100% whole grain rolled oats (store brand) and/or 100% natural whole grain Quaker quality steel cut oats have the same extrusion problem? The former can be cooked stove-top or microwave; the latter only stove-top. Does microwaving have a negative effect? I’d appreciate your opinion on these cereals. I’ve contacted you at the suggestion of someone who listed your blog on a WebMD site.

BodyEarth March 29, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Thanks for your questions, Lynn.
As far as I know, rolled oats and steel cut oats are always just oats that have been minimally processed, and not extruded. Rolled oats are more processed than steel-cut and thus cook faster. Oat cereals made into puffs, flakes and shapes are a different story: they have probably been extruded.
I don’t use a microwave for cooking, because I feel like it changes foods. Also, I soak oats overnight to make them more digestible and less likely to block absorption of minerals. You can read more about soaking oats here. I usually soak my oats overnight in some tepid water with a little lemon juice or whey and an added spoonful of whole wheat flour. Oats are naturally low in phytase, the enzyme needed to break down phytic acid, an anti-nutrient they contain. The phytase in the whole wheat flour helps to boost the reduction of phytic acid.

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