Eat Real Food : Cereal

I’m sure that most of you, like me, grew up eating boxed breakfast cereals.

Actually up until a year or so ago, I still was. While I had graduated from the frosted cereals and the ones with marshmallows, to the ‘whole grain’ or ‘healthy’ cereals, I still didn’t realize how how unhealthy they could be.

As I started to eat more whole foods, I started thinking about my cereals more and more. Especially the ones I was giving to my young son. It seemed so normal to feed him cheerios as breakfast and snacks. They’re touted as a great first finger food, and I was just doing what most mothers before me had done.

And I realize that food manufacturers have been putting more nutrition into the cereals, and in fact, a lot of them aren’t as bad as they used to be, at least where sugar is concerned. So why talk about it at all? Well, let me share an excerpt from the Weston A Price Foundation:

Dry breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Cereal makers first create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at high temperature and pressure. Depending on the shape of the hole, the grains are made into little o’s, flakes, animal shapes, or shreds (as in Shredded Wheat or Triscuits), or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each little flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.

In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt tells us that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion. This is how all the boxed cereals are made, even the ones sold in the health food stores. They are all made in the same way and mostly in the same factories. All dry cereals that come in boxes are extruded cereals.

Let me also share just a couple unpublished studies with you. I first learned about these in the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, and hard evidence is difficult to come by, so I think of these studies as more ‘stories’ since I can’t give you hard data. I would love to see this done again, especially with cereal as it’s made today (and not 50+ years ago!)

The first contained 4 sets of rats.

  • The first group was fed plain whole wheat, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. These rats lived about a year.
  • The second group of rats consumed a diet of only water and proceeded to live about a month.
  • A third group was fed only water and chemical nutrients, they lived about 2 months.
  • The fourth group of rats was fed as much puffed wheat as they wanted, water, and the same vitamins and minerals as the first group. This group lived only 2 weeks. That’s not even as long as the ones who were fed only water! Could this not mean that something changes in the actual grain of wheat while going through the extrusion process?

Another unpublished experiment was done at U of M in the 1960’s with 18 rats. They were split into 3 groups.

  • Group one was fed rat chow and water (the control group). They remained in good health throughout the experiment.
  • Group two was fed corn flakes and water.
  • Group three was fed the box the corn flakes came in as well as water.

Now get this – all of the rats eating the corn flakes died before the rats eating the box. And supposedly their behavior changed dramatically to the point of going insane and then into convulsions. So does the cardboard box really have more nutrients in it, or is the cereal really that bad?

Besides the fact that boxed cereals have improperly prepared grains, or are made with refined grains (white flours), comes the fact that they have added refined sugar in them as well. On average, cereals that are most aggressively advertised to kids (think toys, cartoons, etc.) had 1/3 of their weight devoted to sugar. Another sad average is the fact that most Americans consume about 175 pounds of sugar each year when our total shouldn’t be much over 5 pounds. A study was even done in 2005 that showed on average 2-3 year olds were consuming about 14 teaspoons of added sugar a days while 4 and 5 year olds were consuming an extra 17 teaspoons.

Here’s even more statistics recently released from Consumer Reports:

  • 58% of “kids” cereals are actually consumed by the 18 and over crowd
  • One serving of Honey Smacks, along with 10 other cereals, had as much sugar in them as a glazed donut from Dunkin Donuts.
  • 23 out of the 27 kids cereals that were tested, were rated only good or fair for nutrition
  • Most people, kids included, pour themselves more than the recommended serving size.

So what are you to eat in the morning?
If it seems odd to not have cereal in the house, you’re not alone. I’m betting a very large percentage of homes have at least one box in their house right now. Not mine. I cut out cereal over a year ago and never even think of buying it anymore. Not only is it healthier to eat fresh, whole foods for breakfast, it’s cheaper! I used to go through a box a week by myself and if I fed my toddler the same and my hubby, we’d probably be more along the lines of 2-3 boxes. At full price that’s at least $8 – $12 a week on boxed cereal.

Instead of pouring a bowl each morning, you do need to think outside the box. It might take a few more minutes of prep, but once you get used to it, it’ll seem normal.
Some ideas:

  • eggs (fried, scrambled, omelet style)
  • oatmeal (soak overnight first for greatest health benefits)
  • whole wheat muffins or pancakes (these can be made ahead and simply warmed up) with natural sweeteners (honey/maple syrup)
  • smoothies
  • fruit salad (again can be made the night before for a quick morning)
  • homemade sausage patties on whole wheat toast
  • leftovers from last nights dinner
So how many of you enjoy a daily bowl of cereal and/or feed it to your families? And for those who don’t, what do you do for breakfast w/o cereal?
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About Donielle

Donielle is an amateur herbalist and natural momma to two littles (with another babe in heaven) after dealing with being less than fertile. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health.


  1. Thanks for the post. Cereal for breakfast is such a part of our culture that many never even think twice about it. Realy most don’t think much about anything they eat. I am so glad that the truth is comming out about the dangers of convinience food as well as the truth about the benefits of real food.
    Oh and smoothies with homemade bread and butter is another great option.

  2. I agree homemade is always better for you than processed food. I like to read labels to know what I'm buying and feeding my family. That said, we eat cereal-not every day-but I buy it when it's on sale & the kids may snack on it. I would like to find a way to make a homemade batch of kid cereal. That may be my next endeavor!

  3. ~Babychaser~ says:

    Very informational! Thanks! I’ll be tossing the last little bit of cheerrios we have. We generally make our own granola these days, though we’ve recently begun cutting out dairy, so eatting cereal was going to be hard anyway. :)

  4. Katie Talbott says:

    I’ve been trying to stay away from cereals from the health factor as well as the cost factor.

    I would add to that list of breakfast options; bread pudding. I have remade a recipe so that it’s pretty healthy as well as very tasty. And it’s a great way for me to use up the crusts of bread and extra toast that I accumulate throughout the week.

    All that said, we do eat cereal on Saturday and Sunday… I don’t like to deal with breakfast prep and clean up on the weekend. 😉

  5. Of all the things in our diet that I’ve worked to modify, breakfast has been the hardest! I keep telling my kids about these little tidbits from W.P. and offering more and more choices for breakfast. I think they put addictive additives in those cardboard boxes!

  6. My Year Without says:

    What a great post! It is too easy to just eat our traditional cereal in the morning…even the “healthy” cereals at health food stores can be full of sugar! They sneak it in there using words like “dried cane juice” or “organic evaporated cane juice” but they both mean white sugar.

    In an effort to wean myself off of cereal last year, I actually found a brand that is awesome. They make breads, tortillas and cereals using sprouted wheat. They are called Ezekial. When I’m going to be somewhere out of town where I have less control over my diet, bringing this little box of cereal is very comforting. It’s the best, healthiest cereal I’ve found. Besides the bulk grains you can buy, of course!

  7. I eat steel cut oats with raisins and a diced apple. I make a bunch every few days and just microwave it.

    If I am in a rush I stop and get an egg and cheese sandwich- maybe once every two weeks. The rest of the time it’s oatmeal.

    Sometimes I have a bowl of cereal, but I think of it as a treat more than anything else and put fresh fruit on it.

  8. [email protected] says:

    Wow. I didn’t know this. I’ve been buying Cascadian Farms cheerio type cereal and other “healthy” organic cereals. Definitely puts a kink in my breakfast food plans. So, the “healthy” stuff is pretty much a waste of money?

  9. Melissa – I’m sure it’s better than the chemical and sugar laden junk cereals, but….it’s not as good as real whole foods. :-)Plus, extrusion aside, they still have sugar in them.

  10. I wrote a post similiar to this… now I make my own cereal and love it! I don’t feel yucky anymore. If you want… stop by and read it:

  11. Loved this post, and remember reading it (and being shocked!) when you first posted.

    When I read it today, the thing that stood out to me was the study you mentioned with 18 rats. As far as “good” science goes, a noteworthy experiment needs to have THOUSANDS of trials – not just 18. I say this, because I’ve been doing research on vaccines and some drug companies come to BIG conclusions based on small control groups. When I know that bit of information, I’m inclined to ignore their findings.

    Love your blog. Keep up the good work.

    donielle Reply:

    @Julie, I know what you mean about the study, I sure someone would do it again on a larger scale to rule out genetic problems, things they may have been born with, flukes, etc. There just have been so little studies ‘against’ the large food companies, nobody wants the big companies to sue them. It’s sad that this day in age so many aren’t really known because of big business and lobbyists.

  12. Thank you for this post!! We cut WAY back on what we were buying for cereals. We used to always have 2 or 3 different kinds a few years ago. For the past year, you’d only find Honey Nut Cheerios in our house — for the girls. Last week, though, I had decided we were DONE with cereal … I’d make granola instead. I wasn’t sure if it’d be a hit with our oldest (she’s almost 6), but it was! SCORE!!

    I had my husband read this post, though … and you know what he did? We had about 1/8th of a box of cheerios in the cabinet. He walked over and threw it out and said “we’re done with this junk”. YEAH!! 😀

  13. My husband and I make breakfast together every morning. We each have two eggs, and steel cut oats. I also love homemade granola, but that’s just a once in awhile treat – and usually not for breakfast.

  14. When I first read Nourishing Traditions, those were the quotes that grabbed my attention too! Cereal was the first thing to go at our house. It’s probably been over 2 years since I last bought a box. Our favorite “fast” breakfast is either muffins and hard boiled eggs or pancakes reheated in the toaster oven. I always make a double batch on Sat. morning so we’ll have a quick breakfast another morning.

    donielle Reply:

    @Ann, Your quick breakfasts are the same for us too! I just pop a couple pancakes right in our toaster and it’s good to go! I should remember hard boiled eggs more often, I usually think of those for lunch….

  15. Try adding chia seeds to pancakes and smoothies for a quick way to add some nutrition and fibre into your kids’ breakfast.

    Has anyone heard of yacon syrup? It is a natural sweetener made from root crops and has prebiotics built into it. It is great for diabetic diets as well.

    I love breakfast food!

  16. I stopped buying breakfast cereal too, and I don’t even go down that aisle anymore. It’s just not an option, and my family has adjusted, reluctantly, but they did. :-) We eat oatmeal, eggs, pancakes, waffles, or toast (homemade bread).

  17. I eat Ezekiel brand bread, tortilla, or english muffins with coconut oil (and sometimes a dab of honey on top…Yum! 😀 ). I often eat a servings of crispy nuts or nut butter (soaked overnight in sea salt and water and then dehydrated), or leftover vegetables from the night before.

  18. I just gave my 8-month-old a handful of Cheerios because it’s what he can get into his tiny fist and pop into his mouth! The rat study is really disturbing. Even with only 18 rats, it’s enough to take note. If only 6 children were noticeable affected by cereal what would the government do? If a handful of children die from sleeping in a certain crib or bassinet, they’re pulled off the market and recalled…food for thought.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I eat a slice of bread made with all natural ingredients, my mother mills wheat and I get my bread from her. I add an omega 3 enriched or free range egg or a veggie “sausage” patty to it. Sometimes if I am feeling really hungry I add a bowl of stonyfield organic plain yogurt that I eat with fresh fruits and a little bit of organic raw agave nectar.

  20. Jill Pahl says:

    Would you post your bread pudding recipe?

  21. Wow. I had already pretty much stopped buying processed cereal because of the outrageous cost. We usually have oatmeal or musli and coffee.

  22. This post confirms what I suspected. I actually just gave up my “healthy” cold cereal a couple of months ago. Most days I eat oatmeal with a touch of raw honey. It just feels better in my belly!

    Thanks for sharing!

  23. I called Enjoy Life the other day about their Cinnamon Crunch gluten-free “granola” and learned that the rice-flour in it is extruded.

    It was very good, but I’m glad I just had that little sample of it. I would honestly expect better from a healthfood company. I also learned that Nature’s Path “Mesa Sunrise” cereal is also high-temp extruded.

    I’m hoping that more people start calling companies about this, because as the organic products -movement grows (organics are often /higher/ in protein, the major component which may be capable of producing toxins during stream-extrusion) this is going to become /more/ of an issue, not less.

  24. Arthur Evans says:

    These are pretty shocking revelations, indeed. The breakfast cereal we’ve been eating all of our life–poisonous? It’s amazing we’re here to blog about it at all. But let’s step back and look at the evidence. I’ve seen this basic message repeated in many places on the internet, and in every single instance, the same three pieces of evidence are cited:

    1) Paul Stitt tells us that the extrusion process destroys the nutrients in cereals,and turns amino acids into “very toxic” compounds. Extrusion is apparently so powerful, it even destroys the vitamins that are sprayed onto the cereals *after* they’re extruded.

    2) An unpublished study, the source of which no one can identify. Some sources claim this study was performed “by the cereal companies.”

    3) A second unpublished study, with no source other than, “The University of Michigan.” And again, no documentation whatever, because of course it was not published.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one is ever going to produce the name of the scientists who performed these studies, because they have all of the classic features of urban legends. The details change from telling to telling, no one knows exactly who did the studies, but every time they are related as gospel truth.

    To address the first point: from reading other studies, it appears that extrusion does change the structure of the molecules in food. It does denature proteins. Of course, when you cook an egg you’re denaturing its proteins–that’s why it changes from liquid to solid. But this excerpt doesn’t present any evidence or cite any studies demonstrating that any of these changes are harmful in the case of breakfast cereal.

    I did find one (food industry) study that mentioned that extrusion reduced the amount of lysine available in grain. But grain isn’t high in lysine to start with. (The milk you eat with your breakfast cereal is, which should make up for the deficiency.)

    I searched in vain for any source corroborating the other two studies. Here’s what I came up with.

    – Mythbusters tried to replicate this experiment with mice, feeding one group rat chow, one group Froot Loops, and one group cardboard pellets. Discovery Channel refused to air the experiment because after a week, one of the mice in the cardboard group ate all of the other mice in that cage. (The Froot Loops mice were reportedly fine.) Hear Adam tell about this here:

    This isn’t even remotely a scientific study, but it does show an obvious flaw in the cardboard box story: Group 3 would never have made it two weeks. Starving rats will eat anything, including other starving rats.

    – I found several studies related to cholesterol that involved feeding extruded grain products to rats (Wang and Klopfenstein, 2003) and hamsters (Kahlon, et al. 1998). In the case of the 2003 study, one group of rats received a diet of 50% extruded wheat for 6 weeks (others received extruded oats or barley, while other groups received raw grains). Results were similar for the groups fed extruded vs. raw grain.

    Now, neither of these studies tested corn flakes. But if extrusion really eliminated all of the nutrients and created “very toxic” compounds, the rats in the extruded grain group should be faring dramatically worse than the raw grain group after 6 weeks.

    None of this is conclusive, but put together it very strongly suggests that the two studies cited were never actually performed.

    I’d be the first to say that oatmeal is probably a better nutritional deal than processed cereal. But unless you can produce some actual evidence, please back off the fear mongering. Your readers should feel free to dig into a breakfast of shredded wheat or cheerios without guilt or fear. Better that than the Starbucks muffin or no breakfast at all.

    donielle Reply:

    @Arthur Evans, First of all, I’d like to thank you for leaving such a well thought out reply. And in many counts you’re right – is cereal a better bet than a sugary donut? Probably. But then again I highly advise people to stay away from those as well! Worse than oats? Depends on who you ask! Actually there are many that warn against the consumption of unsoaked grains because of the phytic acid issue. It’s all about learning how each food interacts with your own body and making the best choices you can.

    My goal here on the blog is to only share information that I’ve come across in order to inspire people to move to a diet of whole foods. I try and stay away from the fear mongering. 😉 Sorry if it came across like that!

    Dana Reply:

    @Arthur Evans, personally, I’ve been amused to read this whole discussion unfolding. This is a great blog, and the people who participate here largely mean well, but I’m watching people condemning breakfast cereal because it’s extruded, then extolling the virtues of eating *other* high-starch, high-grain, high-sugar breakfasts instead. I’m also seeing agave syrup being recommended, and agave syrup is exceedingly high in fructose, which is strongly associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and *that* is strongly associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cirrhosis. (Yes, Virginia, you can get cirrhosis without catching hepatitis or ever touching a drop of alcohol.)

    I spend a lot of time in the Paleo blogosphere as well as the low-carb one. LCers tend to condemn most carbs as dangerous. Paleo take a more nuanced view, pointing out that a LOT of traditional, Paleo-level diets contain generous amounts of tuber-based foods. Both camps agree that grains are tremendously detrimental to the health, and even if you soak or sprout them prior to consuming them, that’s an awful lot of work and processing to make something palatable when you could just cut something up and throw it into a pot with some broth or water and cook it instead.

    The gluten grains are particularly heinous. Even if you take care of the gluten fraction by way of sourdough fermentation (and you have to use sourdough fermentation, nothing less will work), in wheat you still have wheat germ agglutinin, which is believed to encourage gluten sensitivity and also tends to cause or aggravate insulin resistance and leptin resistance. It literally gums up insulin and leptin receptors on cells. As far as I know, nothing breaks down WGA in food preparation, though I admit I haven’t looked very far on this, since my body shows signs of wheat intolerance and I really shouldn’t ever eat the stuff in the first place. And again, that’s an awful lot of work just to have a meal, even if you could break WGA down in food preparation.

    From another angle, breakfast cereal is a terrible value for the money. Grain is CHEAP to grow, because grain farmers receive USDA subsidies. The reason the food industry produces things like breakfast cereals is because it couldn’t make a worthwhile profit off selling straight grain. They call it “value-adding.” I call it paying $3-$5 for a box of air with some starch and sugar and fake flavoring added in.

    When I was still eating cereal, years ago now, I was appalled at the way I could never make a box of cereal last longer than two or three days. And that was just me, and that was when I was being good. The stuff is not filling, no matter how much fiber you put in it. It’s definitely not satisfying. And I’m sure it is no coincidence that when I was eating this stuff on a regular basis, my blood sugar was all over the place, as evidenced by my constant and severe mood swings.

    A dozen eggs, store brand, large size, at Kroger is less than a dollar. Not even ninety cents. If I ate a dozen eggs in three days, that’s four eggs for breakfast per day. I get full on two eggs and four slices of bacon. Four eggs in one breakfast, with no bacon, would fill me up as well or better. That’s more protein, more vitamin A, more saturated fat and cholesterol (which, contrary to propaganda, *are* healthy), and more naturally-occurring selenium, not to mention a whole lot of choline, which unlike fructose keeps the liver healthy as well as assisting brain function. And I don’t wind up with totally fouled-up blood sugar.

    I don’t need to read about some obscure study to be scared of cereal. Anybody in their right mind would be scared of cereal. I don’t know why it is legal to manufacture or sell at all. Cannabis is far less harmful than Froot Loops, and *that’s* outlawed–you cannot even grow the low-THC version for the seeds and fiber. Our country’s priorities are seriously backwards.

    donielle Reply:

    @Dana, Now you’re talking my language! Ditto, ditto, agree, and yes! :-)

    Agave syrup has never seen the light of day in my home and we eat at least 80% grain free and completely gluten free for many and most of the reasons you stated.

  25. I LOVE this article. I have a facebook page called Real Food for Today’s Familes (!/pages/Real-Food-for-Todays-Families/163257737021511) and was doing some research on breakfast cereal and came upon this article. It is the best I’ve seen all morning!!! The only thing that would add to the awesomeness, is to have references for the rat studies. I have heard of those before and they are very interesting.

    I, too, struggled w/ infertility and found that changing my diet helped tremendously. I had my 1st child at 19, years later got married, and then could not get pregnant. After changing my diet for over a year, I got pregnant & went on to have 3 more children. I mention my story of health problems & infertility in the “Introduction to Me” note on my Real Foods page.

  26. amy cushing says:

    You MUST list where the experiments were done and by who; otherwise, it is equal to lying. Didn’t we find out some of those “professors” just sit there and make up those numbers while abusing tax payers money? What a shame.

    Donielle Reply:

    @amy cushing, Sorry – that was kind of an old post I’d forgotten about. :-) I wrote that soon after starting the blog and haven’t had a chance to go back and update and fix the old posts yet!


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