“Natural”…doesn’t make it “healthy”!

Reading ingredient information is the key to understand what is in our food.  It is important to understand the nutritional breakdown or the “Nutrition Facts,” but truly, the best way to know what we are putting in our bodies is to read the ingredients!
At times, this may be challenging.  It may seem as if only an etymologist (one who studies words J) would be able to understand what the specific ingredients mean or how they are pronounced.  However, we should review what is in our food every time we decide to purchase a new product.

A case in point…
Breakfast cereals are a huge source of vitamins and minerals in our food supply.  One of the top providers of our daily iron requirements, ready-to-eat cereals are a great way to provide good nutrition, rather quickly in the morning.  With that said, it may be easy to be misguided based on the information on the front of the box.

Let’s compare two cereals.
Marshmallow Oaties®
“Sweetened whole grain oat cereal with marshmallow pieces for a healthy and delicious breakfast”

No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
No hydrogenated oils. No HFCS.
Wind-generated electricity credits for 100% of the electricity used to make cereals.
14g whole grain
Low fat/cholesterol free
Available exclusively at Whole Foods Markets

Per serving (1 cup): 120 Calories, 1g Fat, 1g Fiber, 13g Sugars, 2g Protein, 10% Calcium, 4% Iron, 8% Thiamin, 2% Riboflavin, 2% Folate, 2% Zinc

INGREDIENTS: Whole grain oat flour (includes oat bran), marshmallows (evaporated milled sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, blueberry, pumpkin and carrot concentrates for color, natural flavor), evaporated milled sugar, corn syrup, wheat starch, salt, calcium carbonate, trisodium phosphate, citric acid.

Fantastic attempt at helping the environment, yet the product is full of sugar (approximately 2½ teaspoons per serving), very low in fiber, and very poor vitamin/mineral fortification.

Lucky Charms®
Magically delicious…features frosted oats and colored marshmallows.
Made with whole grain.
Fortified with 12 vitamins and minerals and good source of calcium.
11g whole grain

Per Serving (3/4 cup): 110 Calories, 1g Fat, 2g Fiber, 10g Sugars, 2g Protein, 10% Vitamin A, 10% Vitamin C, 10% Calcium, 25% Iron, 10% Vitamin D, 25% Thiamin, 25% Riboflavin, 25% Niacin, 25% Vitamin B6, 50% Folate, 25% Vitamin B12, 4% Phosphorus, 4% Magnesium, 25% Zinc.

INGREDIENTS: Whole grain oats, marshmallows (sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, calcium carbonate, yellow 5&6, blue 1, red 40, artificial flavor), sugar, oat flour, corn syrup, corn starch, salt, trisodium phosphate, color added, natural and artificial flavor, and vitamins/minerals.

The prototypical “sugar” cereal, Lucky Charms® actually has a decent nutritional profile; providing 2 g fiber from a whole grain oat source, and only 2 teaspoons sugar/serving.  Yet when compared cup for cup, Lucky Charms® actually has the exact amount of grams of sugar as Marshmallow Oaties®.  The biggest benefit is the vitamin/mineral enrichment.  Lower in whole grain (11g vs. 14g), but serving size is also 25% less.

Some tips when choosing a breakfast cereal:
1.) Look for higher fiber – at least 3-5 g fiber per serving

2.) Avoid cereals without any enrichment – specifically iron.  Choose cereals with a large amount of vitamins on the Nutrition Facts panel – bonus if there is close to 100% DV of vitamins and/or minerals

3.) Make sure to check serving size – cereals, such as granola or higher caloric cereals, have a lot of fat and/or calories.  Measure out the cereal once in your bowl to see what a serving actually looks like. Too frequently, we are eating more than one serving.  For those cereals that contain nuts or oils, this may lead to an overconsumption of calories/day, which may lead to weight gain.

Take-home point: Read the ingredient panel WHENEVER you purchase packaged products.  Just because the product is available at your neighborhood “natural” food store, doesn’t mean it is a “healthy” product.  

For more questions on what is in your food products, contact FEED at lara@feednutrition.com or www.feednutrition.com.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.