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“Adjacent To This Complete Breakfast!” Kicking Your Cereal Addiction…Consider Eating the Box Instead

(This article is Part II of my carbohydrate addiction series. In order to fully understand it, you should start with Part I, “Why You’re Addicted To Bread“, because it describes the mechanisms of sugar (‘carbohydrate’) addiction—all of which apply equally to breakfast cereal. Part III is here.)

Breakfast Cereal = Skittles

We already know that the glycemic index of both whole wheat and white bread (71-72) equals that of Skittles (70)…but the glycemic index of most breakfast cereals exceeds it. You get the same sugar rush from ‘healthy’, ‘whole grain’ breakfast cereals that you get from candy!

(All figures for North American versions when available, as formulations differ between countries. Also note that differences of + or – 5 points most likely aren’t significant, as measurements vary.)

  • Rice Chex: 89. Wow.
  • Crispix: 87
  • Rice Krispies: 82. Snap, crackle, type II diabetes.
  • Corn Flakes: 81. But where are the Frosted Flakes? You’ll be surprised.
  • Grapenuts Flakes: 80
  • Total: 76. It’s a Total sugar rush!
  • Shredded Wheat: 75
  • Cheerios: 74. Is that really ‘heart-healthy’?
  • Bran Flakes: 74. What about those ‘complex carbohydrates’ that are supposed to digest more slowly? My next article will cover this issue.
  • Note all the "heart-healthy" propaganda on the box...

  • Instant Cream of Wheat: 74
  • Weetabix: 74
  • Grapenuts: 71
  • Skittles: 70. Skittles win again!
  • Special K: 69
  • Froot Loops: 69.
  • Pure white table sugar: 68. No, this isn’t a misprint.
  • Instant oatmeal: 66
  • Cream of Wheat: 66. Still basically the same as table sugar.
  • Raisin Bran: 61
  • Oatmeal: 58
  • Snickers bar: 55
  • Frosted Flakes: 55. No, this isn’t a misprint.

(Figures from here, here, and here.)

...yet a bowl of these will spike your blood sugar less!

Yes, ‘healthy’ cereals like Bran Flakes and Grape Nuts spike your blood sugar more quickly than pure white table sugar, and provide a bigger sugar rush. So by dumping sugar on cold cereal, you’re actually decreasing its glycemic index…and Frosted Flakes has the same glycemic index as ‘healthy’ oatmeal!

Would you eat Skittles for breakfast? No? Then why are you eating cold cereal?
Would you eat a Snickers bar for breakfast? No? Then why are you eating oatmeal?

Cereal: Adjacent To This Complete Breakfast!

Yes, cereal has vitamins and minerals, because it’s ‘fortified’—they’re added after the fact. Just eat Skittles and a multivitamin and you’ll get the same result.

“Robert Choate, an adviser to President Nixon on nutrition, told a congressional hearing into breakfast cereals that the majority “fatten but do little to prevent malnutrition”. Choate was outraged at the aggressive targeting of children in breakfast cereal advertising. He analysed 60 well-known cereal brands and concluded that two-thirds offered “empty calories, a term thus far applied to alcohol and sugar”.

Rats fed a diet of ground-up cereal boxes with sugar, milk and raisins were healthier than rats fed the cereals themselves, he testified to senators.”
-Drop That Spoon, The Guardian, November 23, 2010

(Thanks to my friend Bruce for the phrase “Adjacent to this complete breakfast!”)

Cereal: A Triumph Of Marketing

Next time you’re shopping for food, take a moment to notice how expensive cereal is. It’s a triumph of marketing: take wheat or corn that sells for a few dollars a bushel, extrude it into small, crunchy pieces, and sell it for several dollars a pound. I can buy two dozen eggs—or a pound of hamburger, an onion, and a head of garlic—for less than a large box of cereal.

“One of the biggest costs in cereal manufacture is not the value of the ingredients nor the cost of production, but the marketing. About a quarter of the money you spend on breakfast cereal goes on the cost of persuading you to buy it. That still leaves room for gross profit margins on processed cereals that are 40% to 45%.
-Drop That Spoon

So how did we get snookered into eating expensive empty calories for breakfast? Answer: cereal was invented by religious fundamentalists to destroy your sex drive and keep children from masturbating. Read the complete article “Drop That Spoon” for an eye-opening history.

What should I eat instead?

A real breakfast. Ham, eggs, veggies...click the picture for recipe and technique.

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to solve. Instead of cereal, eat a traditional American breakfast of meat and eggs. Even better, have an omelet, with some hash browns if you must.

Or, just eat eggs. No, they’re not bad for you.

And now: SCIENCE! proves what’s obvious to all of us: you’ll feel less hungry, and you’ll eat less for the rest of the day, after eating eggs for breakfast.

Ratliff et. al. Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutr Res Vol 30, Issue 2, pp. 96-103 (Feb 2010)
“Subjects consumed fewer kilocalories after the EGG breakfast compared with the BAGEL breakfast (P< .01). In addition, subjects consumed more kilocalories in the 24-hour period after the BAGEL compared with the EGG breakfast (P < .05). Based on VAS, subjects were hungrier and less satisfied 3 hours after the BAGEL breakfast compared with the EGG breakfast (P < .01).”

Live in freedom, live in beauty.

JS

Continue to Part III of this series on glycemic index and carbohydrate addiction—”Fat and Glycemic Index: The Myth Of “Complex Carbohydrates”. (Part I is here.)

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20 comments to “Adjacent To This Complete Breakfast!” Kicking Your Cereal Addiction…Consider Eating the Box Instead
  • Cornelius

    Ha! “Just eat Skittles and a multivitamin and you’ll get the same result.” Finally someone else had the sense and the guts to say it.

    I have been saying the same thing for years.

    It burns me up when I see commercials about how “heart-healthy” Cheerios are, or those absurd Kashi commercials about how their breakfast cereal has “as much protein as an egg.” Note they never say “complete” protein. And, “an” egg? Who eats one egg for breakfast?

    Give me bacon and eggs, or even better, a three egg omelet loaded with cheese and sausage, with bacon on the side, any day. Chances are come lunch time I won’t even be hungry yet, but if I eat cereal, I feel like I am starving by ten o’clock. I’m better off skipping breakfast than eating cereal. And, by the way, who coined the phrase “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day?” I’m pretty sure it was someone at a cereal company. “Just give your kids a bowl of this crap that comes out of a box, pour on some milk, and then let them spoon sugar all over it. Then you can feel like you have done the right thing for them, because even though it took no effort at all, it is healthy, and, after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” Now THAT is a triumph of marketing.

    Gotta read “Drop that Spoon” soon, but I already knew Kellog was a nut.

  • HeMan

    Makes me feel better on the rare occasion I don’t feel like bacon and eat ice cream for breakfast. Hey, at least I’m not pretending it’s good for me (though the GI of ‘good’ stuff is near 30)…

    In fact, it might actually be good for me. Especially on carb-reload days after long hikes.

  • HeMan:

    The great thing about realizing that cereals are purely junk food is that you don't feel bound to purchase that 'Nuts-n-Twigs' crap that claims it's good for you. Might as well enjoy something sweet! 

    Although I avoid wheat and try to avoid fructose on general principles — so if I'm trying to pump up my glycogen stores (which I do before a big hike/ride, not after), I'll generally go for something that's mostly glucose and wheat-free, like Rice Chex, Rice Krispies, or the generic equivalent.

    JS

  • HeMan

    Mr. Stanton:

    I suppose there’s an argument for glucose-only sources. In fact, most of the ice cream I make is is “glucose-free” stuff – which is actually sweetened by the glucose and galactose [a glucose epimer] breakdown products. Why so much effort — living with someone who’s lactose intolerant and finding the commercial equivalent sans random thickeners is difficult. If it needs a little extra, I have dextrose (which, of course is a stereoisomer of glucose) kicking around.

    Might be a little beyond what the normal person would have around. And really, it all stemmed from making wine. If you’re going to have a hepatotoxin, might as well be a fun one.

    … And I need to reload after long hikes otherwise the next morning biking to work is rather sluggish — essentially a pre-load that way.

  • HeMan

    “glucose-free” stuff should read “lactose-free” and is sweetened by lactase breaking down the lactose. Otherwise makes zero sense.

  • HeMan:

    How do you make lactose-free ice cream?  Add lactase to it?

    And strictly speaking, dextrose is glucose AFAIK…the stereoisomer is L-glucose, which is not found in nature.  Right?

    I actually have a bag of dextrose (from the brewery store) that I use to sweeten things instead of table sugar.  No, it's not “paleo” — but there are several sauces that taste better with some sweetness to them, and honey (as well as being basically HFCS, metabolically) just makes things taste like honey.  I'm definitely on the neo-paleo end of the spectrum vs. the re-enactment end of the spectrum.

    I'm also physically active enough (as you are, from the sound of things) that some amount of carbohydrate keeps my glycogen stores up.  But I still get the majority of my calories from fat.

    JS

  • HeMan

    Yes, pre-treat the cream with lactase. Cream usually doesn’t have much to begin with, but it’s not my intestines that get tied in knots if I miscalculate, so I tend to err on the side of caution.

    Regarding R-glucose/dextrose/glucose terminology – they’re both stereoisomers [of each other] but it’s overly pedantic the way I originally stated it for exactly the reason you stated: no L-glucose outside the lab.

    But no worries on the carbs. I’m not playing caveman fantasy, just going for results.

  • I guess I’m lucky – the traditional northern English breakfast is fatty meats and eggs. We doggedly (gnolledly?) refuse to take on “health alternatives” and love our “proper” breakfast. Eaten maybe once a week in the real world, it’s gorgeous! Skipped (so, IF) otherwise.

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    [...] cereal: like bread, it hits your bloodstream even faster than white sugar. Yes, even Grape-Nuts and all those “healthy”, “high-fiber” cereals that taste like [...]

  • PrimalNut

    I am starting to wonder if corpses decompose at a slower rate then normal now because of all the years of preservative ingestion prior to death.
    Anyone else thought about this?

  • PrimalNut:

    Good question.  Anyone know any old mortuary workers?

    Of course, the additional fat mass is a second uncontrolled variable.

    JS

  • Susan

    As a new mom and newly devoted paleo/primal/whatever you want to call it because it’s a hundred times better than the SAD, this article has been enlightening. Too bad I can’t shield my daughter from the ridiculous marketing, but at least I’ll know that what she’s eating at home is far superior to 95% of her peers.

    Random question though: my daughter is just 6 months old and I’ve already had to deal with doctors and nurses questioning why I haven’t started my daughter on cereal. At the daycare (which she hasn’t yet attended) they said that they give all the kids snacks based on government recommendations. When I mentioned that she only just started eating avocado/veggies/and some fruits (she’s been exclusively breastded), again I get the evil eye. What’s a parent to do?

  • Susan:

    Tell the doctors and nurses that since so much breakfast cereal is sugar-frosted junk marketed directly to kids (a fact they can't dispute), you've decided it's safer not to give her a taste for cereal — even “healthy” cereal — as a familiar comfort food.  It's a very short step from “healthy” Corn Flakes to Sugar Frosted Flakes, and subsequently to temper tantrums.

    For the daycare provider, try to spin it positively instead of negatively.  Tell them that your child is much healthier, sleeps better, and behaves better at home when she always eats food containing complete protein (instead of the bread, cake, cookies, and other carb-heavy, no-protein snacks typically served to kids).  I'm not a fan of claiming gluten intolerance, because then they'll just serve Rice Chex and Corn Pops.

    If they absolutely won't let you give your daughter snacks to take with her, then give them an ultimatum.  If they still won't budge, find another daycare.  They're not the friggin' Food Police.

    Most importantly, be calm yet firm.  You'll be told over and over that you're ENDANGERING THE HEALTH OF YOUR CHILD!!1!!1! by not feeding her sugary pablum and gluten-based junk.  

    First, you have the right to raise your child as you see fit.  Period.  End of discussion.

    Second, if they persist in trying to make the “logical” nutrition argument, ask them “So what essential nutrients are in cereal that aren't found in far greater quantities in natural, whole, unprocessed foods (these are great words to use) like eggs, vegetables, and meat?”  ”We're all supposed to avoid the center of the grocery store and eat more vegetables, right?  I'm starting her out with good eating habits, so her 'comfort foods' later in life are healthy — not candy, cake, cookies, or McDonalds.”

    You can make the same argument for “hearthealthywholegrains”: what nutrients aren't found in far greater quantities in natural, whole, unprocessed foods?

    But remember, it's not about logic.  You won't convince anyone that you're correct.  The best you can hope for is acceptance — convincing them that you're not insane – and that you're doing this for good reasons that don't involve being part of a weird religious cult.

    JS

  • I've stopped explaining paleo to people unless they're listening. Your choices for yourself, whatever they are, are your choices … your choices for your family are your choices. You never need to explain them! Besides, more real food for us here if the rest of them are eating “big farmer”.

    Paleo is a template, not a religion – it is a simple template of eating nutritiously, avoiding toxins and playing as hard as you sleep. That's a big one for kids.

  • Susan

    Thank you for that response. It was the assurance I needed. I’ve already had to deal with the “endangering her health and welfare” speech. Which often comes from the same people who look at me eating my paleo and question my sanity when I explain my disdain for the government recommendations.

  • Walter Stuart

    @Cornelius

    Who eats one egg for breakfast? My friend who had a stoke and is confined to a nursing home. One egg, oatmeal and toast and (bad) coffee.

    I’m glad he gets the egg though; I woulda thunk that was against government rules.

    There’s a *real* problem for people confined to institutions, and hence diets are confined by government guidelines.

  • Walter Stuart:

    One egg is a big improvement over zero eggs, to be sure.  

    I agree with you.  Institutional diets are a crime — and that goes for schools as well as hospitals and nursing homes.  We've turned the helpless and dependent into grain disposal units.  

    As Dr. Anastasia quotes: “Mrs Carmody’s sugar is 33mmols. Of course she had toast and margarine, and marmalade, and cornflakes, and skim milk, and apple juice for breakfast. It’s a standard diabetic diet.”

    JS

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  • Aniruddha Shankar

    The link for the Mrs Carmody diabetic diet quote is http://primalmeded.com/2012/01/28/first-week-of-being-a-doctor/

  • Aniruddha:

    Thank you for the correction! I must have had too many windows open…

    JS

  • [...] Part II: Adjacent to this Complete Breakfast (what an excellent headline) [...]

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