Breakfast cereals. I grew up on them and I suspect many of you did too. They are healthy, right? I mean, it says they are on the box! Healthy whole grains, chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Would you believe me if I told you the box may be more nutritious than what is inside it? And that the contents may actually seriously jeopardize the health of a significant percentage of the population that is vulnerable? Let’s take a close look at boxed breakfast cereals.
A process called extrusion is used to make cold breakfast cereals. Basically, grains and water are processed at high temperature and pressure to make them into cute little shapes to entice our children. Then they are sprayed with oils, sugar, and often other questionable additives. What about the cereals made by companies that use more wholesome ingredients? Even if healthy oils, sweeteners and additives, and non-GMO ingredients were used in the most wholesome of cereals, the extrusion process itself denatures proteins and fatty acids and destroys nutrients. This, my friends, means your favorite flakes just may be toxic.
Cereal boxes line the isles of every grocery store. Even the health food stores. We are so used to their intrusive presence that we don’t really give it much thought. All without a single study proving their safety in the human food supply! Maybe the tiger is wrong. Maybe they are not so grrrreat after all?
The first cold breakfast cereal, “Granula” was invented in 1863 by a vegetarian named Dr. James Caleb Jackson. Since the heavy bran nuggets he invented needed soaking overnight before they could be eaten, the cereal was deemed inconvenient and never gained popularity. And the move away from traditional foods and toward convenience foods began. This idea, however, caught the attention of another vegetarian with a name you might recognize. Dr. Kellogg created an unsoaked version of cold cereal, and an industry was born. Kellogg sold his cereal, also by the name of “granula” until he was sued for trademark infringement. The cereal was renamed “Granola” and promoted as a healthier alternative to traditional breakfast foods.
Progress? Some would say not. With the decline of health we have seen with the industrialization of food, there is a movement back to traditional foods that is gaining momentum.
Leading this movement back to traditional foods is the Weston A. Price Foundation. They are bringing the nutritional wisdom of traditional cultures back to help us restore our health. There are, as I said earlier, no published studies proving the safety of extruded grains. Out of the Weston A. Price Foundation we have learned of two very interesting unpublished studies on the subject of extruded breakfast cereals.
In one unpublished study, four groups of rats were fed different diets:
In another experiment, also unpublished, 18 lab rats were divided into three groups:
Even more interesting…
“before death, the cornflakes-eating rats developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock. The startling conclusion of this study was that there was more nourishment in the box than in the cornflakes. This experiment was designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny.”
Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry Ok, you might say that two unpublished studies don’t amount to a whole lot of evidence. Well, I agree. But it is enough to make me uncomfortable making these processed foods a regular part of my daughter’s diet. Are extruded breakfast cereals safe? The bottom line is that we don’t know. And the fact that millions are trusting them to nourish their children without realizing this is enough to make me want to share this information with anyone who will listen.
A much bigger issue I have with processed breakfast cereals is the fortification of these cereals with synthetic folic acid. Cereals have been enriched with vitamins since the 1990s in an attempt to boost nutrition and prevent serious birth defects. 
The problem with this seemingly beneficial change is the prevalence of polymorphisms in the MTHFR gene. MTHFR stands for an enzyme called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase. Yeah, it’s a mouthful. You may have heard about MTHFR; it is a big topic of conversation in the circles I run in. These changed or mutated forms of this gene affect its structure and function. There are three MTHFR mutations that are often tested for in the population I work with, and those are MTHFR C677T, MTHFR A1298C, and MTHFR 03. All 3 have slightly different implications. MTHFR C677T has received the most attention for its health implications, which include reduced ability to convert synthetic folic acid into active folate that can be used by the cells, causing high homocysteine and miscarriage among other problems. MTHFR A1298C appears to affect methylation in a different way, by disrupting the BH4 cycle. At this point not much is known about MTHFR 03, but it is less commonly tested for, and according to the work of Dr. Amy Yasko it may be the most severe of the three mutations.
A significant portion of the population is positive for at least one of these variants. The estimates I have read vary widely and I do not want to mislead anyone, but I can tell you that my family is affected, and of my clients, friends and associates that have been tested, I have honestly seen very few people without at least one copy. It is very prevalent, and it may increase cancer and disease risk.  Also, it is very interesting to know that Dr. Ben Lynch’s research shows that autism began to rise at the same time folic acid fortification began.  In his article I just referenced, Dr. Lynch shares this quote that really hits home:
It is hypothesized here that the enhancement of maternal folate status before and during pregnancy in the last 15 years has altered natural selection by increasing survival rates during pregnancy of infants possessing the MTHFR C677T polymorphism, via reduction in hyperhomocysteinemia associated with this genotype and thereby miscarriage rates. This also points directly to an increased rate of births of infants with higher postnatal requirements for folic acid needed for normal methylation during this critical neurodevelopmental period. If these numbers have increased then so have the absolute number of infants that after birth fail to maintain the higher folate status experienced in utero thus leading to an increased number of cases of developmental disorders such as Autism. Detection of the C677T polymorphism as well as other methionine cycle enzymes related to folate metabolism and methylation at birth as part of newborn screening programs could determine which newborns need be monitored and maintained on diets or supplements that ensure adequate folate status during this critical postnatal neurodevelopment period.
So it is a very complex situation, where the supplementation of synthetic folic acid seems to have helped the survival rate of the infants in this study, but is not enough to sustain these children. This definitely correlates with my own experience, given the rate of miscarriage in my family, and that my own folic acid supplementation during pregnancy was enough for my daughter to survive but not thrive. Dietary changes that eliminated foods enriched with synthetic folic acid and boosted her intake of natural folate did wonders for her.
For years I have wondered if many of the children that improve on diets like The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, Body Ecology Diet and GAPS can credit the removal of processed foods with synthetic sources of folic acid and their replacement with foods containing natural folate for some of their healing. I also wonder if people on these diets that are taking multivitamins with synthetic folic acid are being hindered in their healing by the very pill that is intended to boost their nutrition. Fortunately, as testing becomes more available and there is more awareness around this issue, using cheap synthetic folic acid in foods and supplements may come to an end in favor of more natural forms of folate.
Talk to your doctor before you make any diet or supplementation changes. With methylation, balance is the key, and supplementing without knowing what you are doing is not safe. Ask your doctor to test you for MTHFR. While MTHFR 03 is not regularly tested by physicians, more and more of them are testing for MTHFR A1298C and MTHFR C677T. You can test for many different MTHFR polymorphisms as well as many other methylation mutations and health risks and as a very cool bonus learn more about your ancestry through 23andme:
Get your 23andMe DNA kit for $99, all additional kits are 20% off.
Well, here are a few ideas!
Coconut Flour Pancakes from Peeling Back the Onion Layers
Almond Flour Pancakes from Mommypotamus
Apple Pancake Rings from Food Renegade
Banana Waffles from Real Food Forager
Coconut Bread French Toast from Real Food Forager
Butternut Squash Pancakes from My Cultured Palate
Peach Blueberry Clafoutis from Nourished and Nurtured
Breakfast Bars from Elana’s Pantry
“Oatmeal” Eggs from Peeling Back the Onion Layers
Southwest Chicken Frittata from Premeditated Leftovers
Pumpkin N’Oatmeal from Girl Meets Paleo
Grain Free Porridge from Elana’ Pantry
Grain Free Cold Breakfast Cereal from The Healthy Home Economist
Morning Sausages from Comfy Belly
Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes from Allergy Free Alaska
Gluten Free German Puffed Pancake from Allergy Free Alaska
German Apple Cranberry Puff Pancake from Lexie’s Kitchen
Easy Gluten Free Granola from Lexie’s Kitchen
Soaked Zucchini Carrot Millet Muffins from Peeling Back the Onion Layers
Soaked Buckwheat Pancakes by Milk for the Morning Cake
Soaked Oatmeal Pancakes by Modern Alternative Mama
Soaked Rice Pancakes by Milk for the Morning Cake
Whole Grain Gluten Free Waffles by Fuel My Family
Soaked Granola Cereal by Whole Intentions
Soaked Baked Oatmeal by Mutritious Nuffins
Soaked Apple Cinnamon or Cherry Almond Baked Oatmeal Bars by Kitchen Stewardship
Soaked Muesli Porridge by Whole Intentions
Sprouted Brown Rice Porridge by Nourishing Gourmet
Homemade Gluten Free Cereal from The Coconut Mama
Soaked Millet Zucchini Pancakes from Peeling Back the Onion Layers
When it comes to nourishing our children, I like to stick to foods that stand the test of time. Packaged breakfast cereal has been around, well, long enough to see the decline of health in our population. I hate to say it, but cold cereal, and vegetarianism for that matter, have not yet proved that they can stand the test of time. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but I do think it has to be done carefully. While we are on the subject, large quantities of nuts or coconut in the form of flour replacements for grains do not stand the test of time either. So I believe that even those recipes above that use such ingredients, even though they are real food, should be eaten in moderation.
I think there is much to be learned from tradition. My goal is to encourage people to think for themselves. Dietary fads come and go. And you don’t want to gamble the health of your children on one of them. As it turns out, butter is not a dangerous food. But margarine is. Eggs are not evil after all. And bacon? Eat up. As long it is real bacon, not this chemicalized stuff you may find on the shelves. The fully cooked, shelf stable, prepackaged bacon and bacon in a can scares me more than just a little.
It isn’t rocket science. Eat real food. In a natural state. Things your great-grandparents would recognize as food.
Hopefully I have provided you with enough ideas to help you kick the cereal habit. I would love it if you would share your favorite breakfast recipes in the comments! And I would really love it if you would help me share this message with other parents, who have the best of intentions but may be unaware of the potential danger in these seemingly innocent boxes.
You can learn more about the Real Food Movement in Nourishing Traditions:
The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats