Food manufacturers want you to engage in magical thinking.

But what seems to be a miracle “Cereal with as much protein as an egg,” (As Kashi claims about GOLEAN) is really a clever slight-of-hand.  Don’t be fooled.

Product claims (like magicians) never tell the whole truth, and the facts they “forget” are never trivial.

But even if Kashi’s claims were on the up-and-up, and there were no nutritional nightmares lurking in the shadows, eating cereal because it’s been pumped up on protein is kind of like drinking Coke because it’s been fortified with vitamins.  From a habits perspective, it’s never a good idea. Read Coke Beats Juice.

Here are 3 ideas to consider:

1) “Look…over there!”

You probably don’t have to think long and hard to know that what Kashi is hoping you won’t notice is that, in addition to the protein, each serving of GOLEAN cereal delivers 10 grams of sugar.  An egg?  None.

Kashi isn’t the only company that plays fast with the facts.  Researchers recently examined the labeling claims on foods marketed to kids and found that 84% of the products in their study were unhealthy.  84%. That’s not a small number!  Read The Truth About “Child-Friendly” Foods.

Sugar, salt and fat are the primary culprits. Maybe advertisers should practice a little more truth in advertising!

  • Kellogg’s: Apple Jacks: A Good Source of Fiber! Made with Whole Grains! And a good source of sugar, too! 
  • Apple Jacks: Cereal with as much sugar as a Glazed Donut!

The nutritional trade-off (getting protein—or in the case of Apple Jacks, fiber— at the cost of added sugar) isn’t worth it. Research is beginning to show that when foods are manufactured with fat, sugar and sodium they produce an addictive response in eaters. Not exactly the kind of food lesson you want your kids to learn.

2) No matter how much protein you pack in, you can’t make cereal equivalent to an egg.

It’s not just that GOLEAN cereal has sugar and an egg doesn’t.  It’s much more complex than that.  Summarizing some commentary on this topic, nutritionist Marion Nestle recently wrote:

“Nutritionists’ focus on nutrients, rather than foods, has led to the assumption that if foods contain the same nutrients, they are the same – even though it is never possible to replicate the nutritional content of foods because too much about their chemical composition is still unknown.”  Read Nestle’s comments.

In other words: 1) Foods are multi-dimensional in (currently) unknowable and irreproducible ways, and 2) It’s the interaction of all a food’s properties that produces its nutritional power. When manufacturers ask you to overlook these facts, they’re asking you to engage in magical thinking.  Science simply can’t compete with nature.

3) Giving your kids cereal because “it’s as good as an egg” won’t teach them a lick about eating  eggs, egg salad, eggs Benedict, or even egg foo yung.

For me, that’s the main point.

Avoid food products that make health claims,(Michael Pollan’s Food Rule #8) not just because they’re never as healthy as they seem, but because eating these foods will never teach your kids anything about eating healthily.

Kids eat foods, not nutrients. Giving your kids cereal teaches them to eat cereal (and sometimes even cookies), but it never teaches them to eat other foods.

So don’t give in to the hype.  Your kids can’t live on cereal alone.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Additional Sources:

Kessler, D. A., MD, 2009. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. New York, NY: Rodale.

Pollan, M., 2009. Food Rules: an Eater’s Manual. New York, NY: Penguin.

Sims, J., L. Mikkelsen, P. Gibson, and E. Warming, 2011. Claiming Health: Front-of-Package Labeling of Children’s Food. Prevention Institute. Accessed online 1/28/11.