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Cereal Sinners.

Read any cereal boxes lately?

If it isn't a "Cheerios May Help Reduce Cholesterol!" banner across a red, heart-shaped cereal bowl, it's a special offer for John Tesh's "Grand Passion for Healthy Living" CD, as part of the "For Heart's Sake '98" campaign run by Kellogg and the American Heart Association.

If it's not Total's "Start Your Day Strong Hotline" pushing calcium to fight osteoporosis (with a tie-in for calcium-fortified Tropicana Orange Juice), it's Ina--the Lafayette, Colorado, everywoman--on the Quaker Toasted Oatmeal Squares box that announces, "Great News! Town Confirms Oatmeal Can Help Lower Cholesterol."

If it isn't Just Right, it's Smart Start, Basic 4, or some other name that imparts an aura of health.

Cereal can make one of the best breakfasts (see "Cereals Made Simple," page 11). But the competition for cereal sales has created a cereal-claim horse race as companies try to outdo one another. Here's a sampling of breakfast cereal tricks to watch out for.

Not the Whole Truth

"Whole grain oat cereal," announce the Apple Cinnamon and Frosted Cheerios boxes. "Whole wheat and rice cereal," says Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But since they're all at least one-third sugar, you don't get much whole grain ... and only a gram of fiber.

Whole grains are good and the claims are technically true, but they don't tell the whole story. Ditto for "multigrain." Froot Loops, for instance, says "sweetened multi-grain cereal," and, by George, it is a mixture of corn, wheat, and oat flour. So what? Each flour is refined and the cereal--which is close to half sugar--has just one gram of fiber per serving.

Spinoff City

Wheaties, Cheerios, Kix, Rice Krispies, corn flakes. While they're not all superstars, they are fairly low in sugar. So their manufacturers have slapped their good names on junky cereals that barely resemble their namesakes.

Honey Frosted Wheaties, for example, are made mostly of refined corn flour. That's why a serving gives you no fiber. Compare that to the three grams of fiber in a bowl of regular Wheaties, which are made from whole wheat.

When it comes to sugar and fiber, Honey Frosted Wheaties is no better than Post Fruity Pebbles, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are worse than Cap'n Crunch, and Kellogg's Honey Crunch Corn Flakes are as bad as Post Oreo O's.

The take-home message: Skip most spinoffs.

Wishful Thinking

The Food and Drug Administration says that it takes three grams of soluble fiber a day to lower your cholesterol. But the Feds allow a "may-reduce-the-risk-of-heart-disease" claim if a food has three-quarters of a gram. (The cereal industry convinced them that we're all going to eat four servings every day.)

So "may help reduce cholesterol" is emblazoned on the Cheerios box, even though a serving has only one gram of soluble fiber. That's the same as Kellogg's All-Bran or Raisin Bran or Healthy Choice Apple & Almond Crunch Mueslix, which make no soluble fiber claims.

Names can also be deceiving. Pure oat bran (and most oat bran cereals) has more soluble fiber than oatmeal (or oat cereals). But Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran has none. Worse yet, it has 1 1/2 grams of heart-damaging saturated fat ... and its partially hydrogenated oil adds unhealthy trans fat.

Sweet Tricks

"Lightly sweetened taste," says the box of Razzle Dazzle Rice Krispies. Translation: 30 percent sugar.

You can trust a "sugar-free" or "no sugar added" claim, like shredded wheat's. Most other sugar claims are meaningless. Until the FDA defines claims like "low sugar"--we're asking it to--sugar claims aren't worth the cardboard they're printed on.

Ditto for honey or brown sugar claims. Oh, there's some in the cereal, all right. But Honey Bunches of Oats, for example, has more salt than honey. Quaker Toasted Oatmeal Squares "with a hint of brown sugar" has more (non-brown) sugar, malted barley, and molasses than brown sugar. And none of those sweeteners is any healthier than corn syrup or table sugar.

Fat-Free, Sugar-Full

"Fat-free!" shout the boxes of Kellogg's Apple Jacks and Corn Pops. Each is half sugar. Kellogg's Smart Start is "98% Fat Free." It's 30 percent sugar.

"Low-fat," "98% fat-free," and "fat-free' claims don't mean much on most cereals. (A bowl of sugar's fat-free too.) Nor do the hearts, whether they've got the American Heart Association's name or an FDA-approved claim like "A low fat part of your heart healthy diet." A heart just means low-fat. It doesn't tell you diddly about sugar.

The hearts and claims are a good reminder that cereals have less fat than most other breakfasts, but they don't help you find a good cereal.

Cholesterol in your Blood, not in the Box

A "cholesterol free food," boasts the Quaker 100% Natural Oats, Honey & Raisins Granola box. What nerve. The cereal has nine grams of fat in a half-cup serving, 3 1/2 of them saturated (thanks to the coconut). That's as much as you'd get in a small McDonald's hamburger. And the partially hydrogenated cottonseed or soybean oil will add even more heart-damaging trans fat.

All that saturated and trans fat will raise the cholesterol in your blood. That's why the FDA prohibits low-cholesterol claims on foods with more than two grams of sat fat. What's Quaker trying to get away with?
COPYRIGHT 1999 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:healthy marketing ploys by cereal companies
Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 1999
Words:868
Previous Article:Cereals made Simple.
Next Article:TERRIFIC TOMATOES.
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