Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lucky Charms Tops List of Healthiest Breakfast Choices

Recently, I signed my name to a petition that was sent to various cereal manufacturers. I wanted them to know that I strongly oppose them in their fight against a proposed, voluntary set of nutrition guidelines for foods that are marketed specifically to children. These guidelines contain recommended guidelines for calories, unhealthy fats and sodium for foods marketed to kids, as well as minimum thresholds to ensure that the foods provide things of value to kids' diets like fruit, vegetables or whole grains.

Remember that I said these proposed guidelines are voluntary, they can be adopted or ignored as each company sees fit. In response, the food industry has developed their own, far inferior set of nutrition standards for foods marketed to kids. The really strange thing is that even though the proposed guidelines are completely non-binding and contain no regulatory force of any kind, they are pulling out all the stops to get the government to withdraw their marketing recommendations. Following is a letter that I received from General Mills (my comments in bold).

Thank you for your email regarding the Interagency Working Group proposal.  Please allow me to respond. Your email notes that we have lobbied against the Interagency Working Group (IWG) proposal.  That is correct.  We have serious concerns about the IWG proposal. 

Our most advertised product is cereal – and we stand behind it. Cereal is one of the healthiest breakfast choices you can make
(Reese's Puffs, Cookie Crunch and Lucky Charms are at the top of my list of healthy foods).  Ready-to-eat cereal has fewer calories than almost any other common breakfast option (fewer calaries and zero nutrition). Cereal eaters consume less fat, less cholesterol and more fiber than non-cereal eaters.  If it is a General Mills cereal, it will also be a good or excellent source of whole grains (whole grains to start that have been cooked to mush, high heat dried and forced through a sieve to create fun shapes and then sprayed with vitamins and nutrients as there is nothing nutrionally left after processing).

Childhood obesity is a serious issue – and General Mills wants to be part of the solution.  But if the issue is obesity, cereal should perhaps be advertised more, not less
(yes, because more artificial, processed ingredients with sugar and trans fat is THE solution to childhood obesity).  Because frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights  – including people who choose sweetened cereals. It’s true of men. It’s true of women. It’s true of kids.

Data published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, based on the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), found that frequent cereal eaters tend to have healthier body weights overall, including kids who eat sweetened cereals.  To be precise, kids who eat four to seven servings of cereal over a 14-day period are less likely to be overweight than kids who eat fewer than four servings of cereal. Kids who eat cereal more frequently, or more than seven times in 14 days, are even less likely to be overweight than kids who eat cereal less frequently. (As compared to what....non breakfast eaters, those eating bacon and eggs, poptarts, pancakes and syrup?)

Another study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association followed 2,000 American girls over a 10-year period.  It found that girls who demonstrated a consistent cereal-eating pattern had healthier body weights and lower body mass index (BMI) than those who did not.
(Again as compared to what? You cannot make a broad sweeping statement like that without context.)

General Mills’ ready-to-eat cereals are America’s number one source of whole grain at breakfast, and fortified cereals provide more iron, folic acid, zinc, B vitamins and fiber than any other conventional breakfast choice.  Eating cereal also has the added benefit of promoting milk consumption
(milk treated with antibiotics and hormones and pasturized at such high temperatures that it has a shelf-life of forever).  Forty-one percent of the milk children consume is with cereal – and the figure is even higher for African American and Hispanic children.

Many things have been written about the proposed IWG guidelines in the media and–many misstatements have been made. You can be assured than food and beverage companies have studied every letter, comma and period in the proposal.  We know what it says, and what it does not.  For example, we know that 88 of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages could not be marketed under the IWG guidelines.  The list of “banned” items under the guidelines would include essentially all cereals, salads, whole wheat bread, yogurt, canned vegetables, and a host of other items universally recognized as healthy
(Thunderous applause!!!! Maybe we will finally get real, healthy food versus the processed garbage you and other companies like you produce)

Despite the characterizations used to advance them, the IWG guidelines would not be voluntary, in our view.  The IWG guidelines are advanced by two of the agencies most responsible for regulating the food industry, as well as the agency most responsible for regulating advertising.  Ignoring their “voluntary guidance” would not be an option for most companies.   Regulation has already been threatened (even demanded) should companies choose not to comply – and litigation would inevitably follow. 
It's about time the food industry was held responsible for the lies and cover ups that have been propagated upon us for years.

The IWG guidelines also conflict with most existing government programs and definitions relative to food.  For example, many products that meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current definition of “healthy” could not be advertised under the IWG guidelines.  Many products included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fail the IWG standards, as do most products encouraged and subsidized under the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children Feeding Program (WIC)
(probably because they are processed garbage to begin with).  Even low-calorie, nutrient dense foods of the type specifically encouraged by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines broadly fail to meet the unique stringency of the proposed WIG restrictions.  In fact, it is readily apparent that the new IWG guidelines have no parallel whatsoever – from a nutrition or science standpoint – with any other U.S. government food or nutrition program (again, thunderous applause!!!! It is time to move away from BigAG and the status quo).
Curiously for guidelines purportedly developed to address obesity, the IWG guidelines fail to include any reference to calories. The inexplicable omission of a measure as important as calories also works to the disadvantage of cereal products (that's what this is really about isn't it, the poor light with which cereal will truly be shown), which are inherently low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods (low calorie does not necessarily mean healthy).  Importantly, this is true of both unsweetened cereals and sweetened cereals, because both tend to have roughly equal numbers of calories per serving – most being about 120 calories per serving – whether sweetened or not.

Finally, your email suggests companies should focus on providing feedback via public comment.  We agree.  We have reviewed every detail of the IWG proposal – and we remain opposed, as our public comment explains. Thank you again for your email, and for allowing us the opportunity to respond.

Tom Forsythe
Vice President, Corporate Communications
General Mills

Here is the ingredient list for Reese's Puffs:
Corn (whole grain corn meal), sugar, Reese's creamy peanut butter (roasted peanuts, sugar, contains 2% or less of: mono- and diglycerides, peanut oil, salt, molasses and corn starch), dextrose, modified corn starch, canola and/or rice bran oil, corn syrup, salt, Hershey's cocoa, tricalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, red 40, yellows 5&6, blue 1 and other color added, trisodium phosphate, zinc and iron (mineral nutrients) vitamin C (sodium ascorbate), a B vitamin (niacinamide), artificial flavor, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin mononitrate), vitamin A (palmitate), a B vitamin (folic acid), vitamin B12, vitamin D, wheat flour, vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and TBHQ added to preserve freshness. Contains Peanuts and Wheat ingredients. Two questions - 1) If this cereal is made from "whole" grains and is so healthy, why does it need to be fortified? 2) Where is the healthy in this ingredient list?

I guess I don't need to tell you that my blood was boiling after I read his response. Please tell me what you think.

See the Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Guidelines here.

This Post was shared on Real Food Wednesday.


  1. Wow they the big food corps never surprise me any more that is not good. Lucky Charms must be healthy look how fit the leprechaun is. They should make him over weight and having a hard time paying attention lol. My blog was on vacation for the last week getting a make over. I was very stubborn and insisted on writing my own WordPress theme. I was getting traffic from blogging but no one was commenting. I have employed a professionally designed theme that let me make the changes I wanted and now I would love anyone that has a minute to check it out and let me know what you think in the comments. Organically Thought

  2. Hello Leon! Thanks for stopping by. I checked out Organically Thought and I love the look of it - great job! I look forward to reading more...