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Kellogg’s Misleads And, Yes, Farmwashes

Time to check in with one of Big Food’s latest campaigns. In this instance, we turn our attention to Kellogg’s, which has rolled out quite the online defense of their various cereal lines.

How do you make sugary, genetically modified, minimally nutritious products appear wholesome and a “great start to the day”? Behold:

Sweet Deception

Classic Big Food tactic: downplay your less-than-stellar nutrition information by comparing it to something seemingly worse. It’s akin to a burglar claiming innocence by saying: “What’s the big deal? It’s not like I murdered someone!”.

In Kellogg’s case, they set out to “put sugar in perspective” by stating that the tablespoon of added sugar in each serving of Froot Loops:

  • Only contains 48 calories
  • Is minimal in comparison to the sugar in an 8 oz glass of orange juice (21 grams) or 8 oz of yogurt (43 grams)

Let’s examine those claims.

While empty calories in added sweeteners are a concern, there are other issues.

An increasing amount of research, for instance, has linked added sugar to increased heart disease risk. So much so, in fact, that the American Heart Association recommends children ages 4 to 8 consume no more than 3 teaspoons (12 grams) of added sugar a day. In other words, a serving of Froot Loops contains the daily added sugar limit for young children.

While they may “only” be 48 calories, bear in mind that those 12 grams of sugar per serving of Froot Loops means that 44 percent of the neon-colored cereal’s calories come from added sugars. Let’s not even get into the partially hydrogenated oils and four artificial dyes.

The comparisons to orange juice and yogurt, meanwhile, are misleading.

Unlike added sugars, which don’t deliver any nutrients, orange juice (and by this I mean you squeezing an orange in your home) comes bundled with potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and B vitamins. Eating a whole orange provides more nutrition, of course, but orange juice is not a source of empty calories.

In the case of yogurt, the USDA’s “43 grams of sugar in 8 ounces” figure listed on Kellogg’s page seems inaccurate and highly inflated.

Consider, for example, that 8 ounces of sweetened yogurt with M&M bits (undoubtedly the most sugary of all commercial yogurts) contain 40 grams of sugar. Remember, though: of those 40 grams, 16 are naturally present in the yogurt’s lactose (so, really, that amounts to 24 grams of added sugar — a very high number, equivalent to two servings of Froot Loops, but nowhere close to 40 grams).

Kellogg’s conveniently leaves out that there are plain and unsweetened yogurts (dairy or otherwise) available, as well as flavored yogurts that contain less added sugar than a serving of Froot Loops (like Siggi’s, Stonyfield, and Nogurt).

Besides, yogurt provides significantly more nutrition than a bowl of Froot Loops.

But… It’s Got Vitamins!

Another way in which Kellogg’s pushes their cereals:

Fortification is the process of adding vitamins and minerals to foods that do not contain them. By fortifying our cereal with nutrients like riboflavin, iron, thiamin and folic acid, we can better help you to meet the daily dietary recommendations of these vitamins and minerals.

This completely goes against logical nutrition advice, which recommends we get as many nutrients from foods that naturally contain them as possible.

There are specific reasons for such advice. First, foods that intrinsically contain nutrients also come bundled with other healthful compounds like phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants. We also know that many nutrients are absorbed more efficiently when they are in their intended “food matrix”.

Fortification is also troubling because it provides health halos to foods that don’t deserve them. Like Froot Loops.

The Familiar ‘Farmwashing’ Ruse

Domino’s, Frito-Lay, and McDonald’s have taken a stab it. Now, it’s Kellogg’s turn to farmwash their products. In their page titled “From Seed to Spoon” (clearly a take on “From Farm to Fork”), we learn that:

[Kellogg's cereals] start with the goodness of a single grain — Nebraska corn, Louisiana rice, Michigan wheat.

That Nebraska corn is genetically modified (Kellogg’s has made no secret of this).

With those simple grains, we create a variety of Kellogg’s cereals, like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes®, Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies® and Kellogg’s® All Bran®, that are made with a handful of ingredients, plus vitamins and minerals your body needs.

Notice that while they single out their least processed cereals, the overall message is that all Kellogg’s cereals are also made with “a handful of ingredients”. Let’s see what some of these ingredients are:

  • Corn Flakes: high fructose corn syrup and BHT (“for freshness” — a petroleum-derived antioxidant that lengthens a product’s shelf stability)
  • Rice Krispies: Refined rice, BHT
  • Frosted Rice Krispies: Partially hydrogenated oils and artificial flavors
  • Apple Jacks: modified cornstarch, 3 artificial dyes
  • Honey Smacks: Hydrogenated oils, caramel color, BHT

For decades, the American public has been marketed cereal as a healthful breakfast choice. While there are some exceptions, the vast majority of offerings — particularly those from large food companies — are nutritionally mediocre, even with tacked-on vitamins and minerals.

I understand food companies need to sell products to stay afloat, but that doesn’t mean we have to buy their disingenuous, misleading, and inaccurate representations.

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