Thursday, June 10, 2010

Chocolate Cheerios, Corporate Growth, and Obesity


Posted: 09 Jun 2010 04:45 AM PDT

Once upon a time there was "Cheerios". For almost 40 years, up until the late 1970's, consumers had only one Cheerios flavor to choose from. And then General Mills, corporate owner of the Cheerios brand, introduced Honey Nut Cheerios. It was an instant success. Sweeter (mostly due to sugar, not honey) than it's elder sibling, it quickly conquered the hearts and taste buds of children across America. In the next decade, the two Cheerios brands were served in hundreds of millions of breakfasts across the nation.

But as competition grew, and the need to grow profit too, GM had to continuously innovate to stay ahead. And thus, in the past 15 years, we have seen no less than 15 variations on the "O" theme including Multigrain, Berry Burst, Yogurt Burst, and now Chocolate Cheerios.

Unfortunately, none of the innovations over the years produced a healthier or more nutritious product. Usually a new product meant more sugar added, less fiber, and in some cases additives such as artificial food colorings. But the health claims kept getting better, usually in inverse proportion to the true nutritional value of the product.

So as General Mills has grown, so have our waistlines. We're not picking specifically on this manufacturer. The phenomena is not limited to GM or just the cereal category. It is the story of the food industry as a whole. Cut throat competition and quarterly earning reports mandate "growth! growth! growth!" in sales.

But on the demand side, there's only so many calories people can consume in a day. Or maybe this is the reason we're packing on the pounds?

Anyway, we got a bit carried away. Let's get back to CC (Chocolate Cheerios) and see how this new product stacks up nutritionally.

What you need to know:

The nutrition facts panel tells an interesting story. At 100 calories per serving (before adding milk), CC is on the lower end of the breakfast cereal calorie count. Nice. But as with most cereals, the 3/4 of a cup serving size does not represent what most people truly consume.

Despite the prominent "whole grain guarantee" by manufacturer General Mills, there is only 1 gram of fiber per serving in here. What a let down. Honey Nut Cheerios has 2 grams of fiber. Not to mention regular Cheerios with 3 grams.

Sugarwise, we're talking about 9 grams or just over 2 teaspoons per serving. That's not as high as Cocoa Puffs, but it's nine times more sugar than in regular Cheerios.

Here is the ingredient list:

Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Corn Meal, Corn Syrup, Whole Grain Oats, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Color Added, Salt, Dried Corn Syrup, Corn Bran, Barley Malt Extract, Trisodium Phosphate, Vanillin, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness. Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), Zinc and Iron (Mineral Nutrients), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3.

Yes it's made with whole grain corn, but also with corn meal. Notice that sugar is the number 2 ingredient. There are four appearances of sugar synonyms in the product.  The Cocoa Processed with Alkali – Also known as Dutch Processed Cocoa – helps to remove the natural acidity of the cocoa bean. Unfortunately, it also removes the beneficial flavanoids found in the cocoa beans. BHT (E321) is a controversial additive that keeps a product fresh for longer, but at the potential price of hyperactive kids or cancer.

The most maddening aspect of Chocolate Cheerios though is not what we have discussed so far, but rather the bold health claim that appears inside the red heart:

May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

You can't miss it on the box. This claim is qualified in tiny print at the bottom of the box:

Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease. Chocolate Cheerios is low in fat, saturated fat free, and naturally cholesterol free.

This is such BULL. Of course this product is cholesterol free, it's not made from any animal products. And obviously a breakfast cereal is not going to be high in fats – it's a C E R E A L for heaven's sake. How will all the added sugars help the heart?

As for the logic FAIL. It's the same as saying diets low in salt are heart healthy; candy is low in salt; pig out!!!

Bottom line: Chocolate Cheerios may be a tasty treat, but not a mainstay nutritious breakfast cereal.

What to do at the supermarket:

If you're going to buy a Cheerios product, your top choice should be the original. Number 2 should be the multigrain followed by Honey Nut. Leave Chocolate Cheerios product be.

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