Can “Healthy” Cereal Be Doing Your Kids Harm?

What’s in Your Cereal Bowl?
By HF Guest Writer, Ellen (of Body Earth) of Williamsburg, MA

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.

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I came across two shocking unpublished studies of extruded cereal.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?


Check out these web sites for some healthy breakfast ideas:


  2. Enig, Mary, and Sally Fallon. Eat Fat, Lose Fat. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2005.
  3. Stitt, Paul. Beating the Food Giants

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ellen of BodyEarth lives with her husband and son in Williamsburg, MA. She holds degrees from Stanford in biology and international relations, and a master of public health degree from Boston University in epidemiology and biostatistics. In previous incarnations, Ellen has worked as a research scientist in molecular biology and, most recently, as an infectious diseases epidemiologist. As a stay-at-home-mom, Ellen’s current passion is conducting independent health and environmental research for her blog, BodyEarth (


2 Comments on “Can “Healthy” Cereal Be Doing Your Kids Harm?

  1. Very interesting. I’ve always thought it more effort to find breakfast for my kids since they don’t like cereal…this is making me feel that they have a better sense of what to eat in the morning than me..,time for breakfast, I think I”ll go have a grapefruit! Thanks, Ellen, for raising our awareness.

  2. I hope there will soon be some peer-reviewed, *published* studies that look into the impact that extruded foods have on health. Obviously, a lot more research needs to be done. These unpublished studies should give us pause, however. As we move farther and farther away from food in its natural state, does it remain “food?”

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