Store-bought cereal is filled with corn syrup, fake dyes and GMOs! 10 brands to avoid at all costs

Tisha Riman

Store-bought cereal is filled with corn syrup, fake dyes and GMOs! 10 brands to avoid at all costs

This amazing post was written by Tisha Riman, a Holistic Nutritionist, a Wellness Chef-in-training and the blogger behind The Nourished Mind!  You can check out her website here and follow her on Facebook and Instagram!

There are few memories I treasure so fondly than the ones of preteen me heading down to the kitchen for breakfast before school, reaching into the cupboard for my trusty plastic container of Cap’n’Crunch-only to find it empty.

Why? Because I grew up with four brothers, with huge appetites, making food pretty much nonexistent in my household. Regardless, on the days when the cupboards were filled, my preferred cereals were Cap’N’Crunch and Reeses’ Puffs—the good stuff. My mom (doing what good mothers do) usually bought us the less exciting, less sugary (and less expensive) family-size boxes of Rice Krispies or Honey Nut Cheerios. Ho hum.

My point is, breakfast cereal has been the defining food of all sleepy kids getting ready for school since the dawn of time. Or has it? I mean, where did cereal come from? Why is it such a staple in our diet now? Has it always been that way? As it turns out, no.

The Origin of the Breakfast Cereal 

Initially, cereal was indeed meant to be a health food: a response to the diet of early 19th century Americans that comprised of red meat, eggs, coffee and whiskey (I’ll have what he’s having) [1].

In 1863, as an attempt to improve the health of Americans (and their fibre-lacking bowels), Dr. James Caleb Jackson–an active abolitionist and vegetarian–came up with granola, a breakfast cereal made up of dried and hard graham flour dough that had to be soaked overnight to be edible [2]. 

This cereal invention caught the attention of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a health spa that catered to celebrities like Amelia Earhart and Thomas Edison [3]. Aside from its digestive benefits, Kellogg also supposedly saw cereal as a way to tame lust and desire, and to, uh, cure masturbation [4]. So he created a few kinds of cereal of his own, including his most famous, Corn Flakes.

Soon, Kellogg was selling 2 tons of his cereal a week at the “San”, with 40 other competitors in the Michigan area trying to do the same. His brother, William K. Kellogg, seeing an opportunity for profit, jumped on the bandwagon to sell and market the corn flakes. But unlike Dr. Kellogg, Will was not as interested in dietary purity, and instead fought to add sugar to the cereal to increase its sales.

The two brothers eventually split after years of working together, and their relationship strained, and Will Kellogg went on to create his own business of sugar-coated corn flakes: the Kellogg Company [5]. Spoiler alert: he was a success.

Long story short, other people started to notice the huge profit in something so simple–and more importantly, cheap–and so more and more competitors, including Charles W. Post (once a patient of Dr. Kellogg’s sanitarium), started getting into the breakfast cereal game, trying to outsell one another [6].

As the cereal itself was all mostly the same–a sugared up processed grain–companies relied on clever TV marketing and cartoon mascots geared at children to make sales. 

To get a picture of how huge this industry was, consider this: during the Depression, Post Toasties paid Walt Disney $1.5 million in his first year to create cartoon animals to market the cereal. And he, in turn, took that money to go on and create the Disney Empire [7].

It is a small world after all.

And so as Big Cereal continued to fight to be the best, the focus became less about what was in the cereal, and more about what was on the box. Today our grocery stores are stocked wall to wall with brightly packaged cereals boxes, all making health claims to grab our attention. 

So, is Cereal a Health Food?

I’m not so convinced. While some are better than others (fortified whole grains vs. rainbow marshmallows), breakfast cereals are loaded with nutrient-poor ingredients, like sugar, fiber lacking processed grains, and food additives. They also spike our blood sugar, and they don’t keep us full.

Still, thanks to health-conscious consumers who are now checking their labels before buying, cereal companies have supposedly started to clean up their acts–although this change may have less to do with customer welfare than a decrease in sales profits [8]. They’ve removed high fructose corn syrup (sort of), and artificial coloring and artificial flavors (which are unregulated terms by the FDA, so that doesn’t really mean anything) [9].

We’re trying to take a step in the right direction, but we’re not quite there yet. There are still nasties floating in your bowl of milk.

The Crappy Ingredients in Your Cereal

Sugar

The health dangers of sugar, in any form, is not new to us–it’s linked to a myriad of problems, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s [10][11]. We’ve also been hearing a lot in the recent past about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS-55), a common ingredient in processed foods used as a cheaper sweetener alternative to sugar, and its increased risks for things like kidney disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, insulin sensitivity and visceral adiposity [12][13]. 

This attention has not gone unaware by General Mills, who, at the beginning of this year started to make their cereals without high fructose corn syrup [14].

But, wait. If you actually look at their cereal labels, you’ll see further down the ingredient list is fructose. Because what Big Cereal doesn’t tell you is that yes, they have taken out HSCS-55, a product that is 55% fructose, but they’ve replaced it with isolated fructose, which is 90% pure fructose. This fructose, by the way, is unbound and riding solo, meaning it is immediately absorbed into your bloodstream [15].

Worst of all, this is on top of the regular corn syrup that is still in the cereal plus all the other sneaky names that sugar hides under, such as “dextrose,” “maltodextrin,” “barley malt,” “brown rice sugar,” and “evaporated cane juice,” just to name a few of the sixty-one names that currently exist.

Food Coloring

While they do make cereal pretty colorful, artificial food coloring also makes us feel pretty awful. The Center For Science in the Public Interest created a really useful PDF that analyzed studies about artificial food colorings. Here are the highlights:

  • Yellow 5 may be contaminated with chemicals and it causes hypersensitivity

  • Yellow 6 causes adrenal tumors in mice and may be contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals

  • Red 40 causes hypersensitivity, hyperactivity in children, and may accelerate immune system tumors in mice

  • Blue 1 has the possibility of causing kidney tumors in mice and may cause hypersensitivity

  • Blue 2 was found to increase the incidence of tumors in male mice, particularly in the brain [16]

Thankfully, companies are moving away from these ingredients. But the list below shows that they are still very present in today’s cereals.

Trisodium Phosphate

When I first heard this word, I thought, huh, sounds like something my mom might use to make her bathroom tub shine. Turns out, I wasn’t too far off. You can buy a 400g carton of trisodium phosphate at your local Canadian Tire for a mere $3.29, and it can be used from everything to cleaning your paint brushes, removing kitchen grease, scrubbing your floors and emulsifying your cereal (although do not sprinkle this bad boy on your cereal, as it is quite toxic) [17] [18].

The trisodium phosphate that is in cereal will not warrant a call to Poison Control, and it is generally regarded to be safe for consumption. That being said, as a phosphate, it may accelerate aging, lower bone density and the formation of tumors–although more science is still needed [19].

BHT

Although BHT has gotten a lot of attention, the jury is still out on this food-preserving antioxidant, as the research is mixed on whether or not BHT is a human carcinogen. As far as big baddies go, this one ranks on the lower end of the scale.

Hydrogenated Oils

This guy, on the other hand, oh he takes home the prize for concern. Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils that are made stable by the addition of hydrogen, which prevents fats in processed foods from going rancid. Not only that, but these overachievers also take the Sara Lee cake for doing your body harm: they contain artificial trans fats that increase cholesterol, increase the risk of coronary artery disease, cause inflammation and even insulin resistance [20] [21]. These are a definite no-go. Stay clear.

So how do your favorite cereals hold up? Let’s find out!

(I’ve gone ahead and highlighted the ingredients of concern in the top offenders so you can do a quick scan. And, for your amusement, I’ve also added in some of their pitches—they’re delightful.)

Afterward, you can find my simple and delicious Cranberry Orange Granola Recipe after the top 10 offenders.

The Top 10 Offenders

fruit loops cereal

1. Fruit Loops

A colorful breakfast cereal with incredible taste and aroma made with corn, wheat, whole grain oats, and natural fruit flavoring. Low in fat and a source of 7 essential nutrients.

Ingredients: Sugar, whole grain corn flour, wheat flour, whole grain oat flour, oat hull fiber, corn bran, hydrogenated coconut and vegetable oil, salt, color, natural fruit flavoring, BHT

Vitamins and Minerals: Iron, niacinamide, zinc oxide, thiamine hydrochloride, d-calcium pantothenate, cholecalciferol (vitamin d3), pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid. [22]

2. Cap’n’ Crunch

The tasty crunch of sweetened corn and oats, Cap’n Crunch also offers a source of seven essential vitamins and minerals. This combination makes it a delicious part of a balanced breakfast or a convenient snack between meals. The original flavor is a classic and a favorite of the young and the young at heart.

Ingredients: Corn Flour, Sugar, Oat Flour, Brown Sugar, Coconut Oil, Salt, Niacinamide*, Yellow 5, Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide, Yellow 6, Thiamin Mononitrate*, BHT (A Preservative), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride*, Riboflavin*, Folic Acid*. [23]

3. Cocoa Puffs

Ingredients: Corn (Whole Grain Corn, Meal), Sugar, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Caramel and Beet Juice Concentrate Color, Salt, Fructose, Calcium Carbonate, Corn Starch, Tricalcium Phosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Trisodium Phosphate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Wheat Flour, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness. [24]

4. Lucky charms

Magically delicious Lucky Charms cereal features frosted oats and colored marshmallows. Made with whole grain, Lucky Charms is fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals and is a good source of calcium. Frosted toasted oat cereal with marshmallows. Goodness first.

Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats, Sugar, Oat Flour, Corn Syrup, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Starch, Dextrose, Salt, Gelatin, Trisodium Phosphate, Yellows 5 & 6, Red 40, Blue 1, and Other Color Added, Natural, and Artificial Flavor. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin A (Palmitate), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3. [25]

5. Cinnamon Toast Crunch

Ingredients: Whole Grain Wheat, Sugar, Rice Flour, Rice Bran and/or Canola Oil, Fructose, Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Salt, Cinnamon, Trisodium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Caramel Color. BHT Added to Preserve Freshness. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3. [26]

6. Reeses’ Puffs

Ingredients: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Reese’s Peanut Butter (Peanuts, Sugar, Monoglycerides, Peanut Oil, Salt, Molasses, Corn Starch), Dextrose, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Canola Oil, Corn Meal, Salt, Hershey’s Cocoa, Caramel Color, Trisodium Phosphate, Natural Flavor. Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Tricalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3. [27]

7. Fruity Pebbles

Every spoonful is…a blast of fruity awesome!

Ingredients: Rice, Sugar, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Coconut and Palm Kernel Oils), Salt, Contains Less than 0.5% of Natural and Artificial Flavor, Red 40, Yellow 6, Turmeric Oleoresin (Color), Blue 1, Yellow 5, Blue 2, BHA (to Help Protect Flavors). 

Vitamins and Minerals: Sodium Ascorbate (Source of Vitamin C), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide (Source of Zinc), Vitamin B6, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D. [28]

8. Honey Combs

Ingredients: Corn Flour, Sugar, Whole Grain Oat Flour, Whole Grain Corn Flour, Honey, Salt, Natural Flavor, Yellow 5. BHT Added to Packaging Material to Preserve Product Freshness.

Vitamins And Minerals: Niacinamide (B Vitamin), Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide (Source Of Zinc), Vitamin B6, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid (B Vitamin), Vitamin D, Vitamin B12. [29]

9. Apple Jacks

Kellogg’s Apple Jacks Cereal is a delicious breakfast option for the whole family. The crunchy cereal features multi-grain rings sweetened with cinnamon and apple juice.

Ingredients: Sugar, Corn Flour, Wheat Flour, Oat Flour, Salt, Milled Corn, Dried Apples, Apple Juice Concentrate, Modified Corn Starch, Cinnamon, Sodium Ascorbate And Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Yellow #6, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Zinc Oxide, Baking Soda, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Turmeric Color, Calcium Phosphate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Red #40, Vitamin A Palmitate, Blue #1, BHT (Preservative), Folic Acid, Vitamin D And Vitamin B12. [30]

10. Trix

Trix is fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals and made from whole grain. It’s also a good source of calcium. But it’s those fruity flavors, isn’t it, that makes Trix a fun and healthy way to start the day? Raspberry red. Lemony lemon. Orangey orange. Wildberry Blue. Grapity purple. And watermelon.

Ingredients: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Corn Meal, Corn Syrup, Rice Bran and/or Canola Oil, Salt, Color (Vegetable and Fruit Juice, Turmeric Extract and Annatto Extract), Trisodium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Malic Acid. 

Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3. [31]

Conclusion

The moral of this story is that while cereal is certainly not unsafe, it’s a far leap to say it’s healthy. We should be reaching for more wholesome, natural foods to keep us nourished for the day.

Okay, so what should I eat for breakfast? Keep it simple! A smoothie, veggie omelet, greek yogurt and berries. Or, if you’re a cereal fiend, no fear—I’ve got you covered with this delicious granola recipe to satisfy all crunch and munch breakfast needs. Just make it in advance and eat it throughout the week! It’s quick, easy and you know exactly what you’ve put into it.

Cranberry Orange Granola

granola cereal homemade

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats

  • ½ cup pecans

  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds

  • 1 cup cranberries

  • ½ cup maple syrup

  • ¼ cup coconut oil

  • ½ orange, juice, and zest

  • 2 teaspoon cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.

  2. In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients, except cranberries. Set aside

  3. In a small saucepan, melt together coconut oil, maple syrup, and orange juice.

  4. Pour wet mixture into dry and combine until mixed even.

  5. Spread granola mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring halfway through.

  6. Allow to cool 10 minutes.  Stir in cranberries. Serve immediately over top yogurt, or store in a sealed container for up to a week.

Did you enjoy that delicious cranberry granola? Then you have to try these delicious recipes next time!

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Tisha Riman

Tisha Riman

Tisha Riman is a Holistic Nutritionist, a Wellness Chef-in-training and the blogger behind The Nourished Mind - her little corner of the Internet to share whole food recipes, healthy living tips, and maybe (always) talk about her pets. She's a lover of delicious food, fact-based nutrition, red wine, a good sense of humor and dark roast coffee. She also works as a Recipe Developer, Content Creator, Nutritional Consultant and Food Stylist.

You can check out her website here and follow her on Facebook and Instagram!
Tisha Riman

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