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Berginski: Need to overfortifying cereal?

By Staff | Jul 18, 2014

Despite what some say is the most important meal of the day, I don’t always eat breakfast. When I do, I have a couple standbys, PB and J (The peanut butter has to be creamy, the jam has to be strawberry and the bread has to be toasted. I’m very demanding.) or cereal.

A recent report by a Washington, D.C.-based health research group found that some cereals in your cupboard could be dangerous to your kids. (Excuse me one moment, there’s a bowl full of cereal next to me that’s starting to get soggy and it’s calling my name.)

Environmental Working Group’s study found that children may be consuming too much vitamin A, niacin and zinc (chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp), and the bowls of cereal they have in the morning may be to blame. Oh, come on! First we have to worry that our kids are getting fat from eating totally-not-nutritious, yet oh so tasty, junk food, and now we have to worry about them getting too much nutrients. Can we make up our minds here?

In all seriousness though (chomp chomp chomp), as the old adage supposedly goes, too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing. Someone dropped the ball and we need to figure out a way to fix it without it being detrimental to someone-you-love’s health.

The report found that while the Food & Drug Administration sets the “daily value” things you see on nutrition facts labels (you know, those things on the back of cereal boxes that not everyone reads), the values have been figured for adults, not kids, and they haven’t changed since 1968. The Institute of Medicine, according to a CNN article, recommends children 4-8 years of age – who it is assumed consume a bunch of cereal – take in less than 0.9 mg of vitamin A, 15 mg of niacin and 12 mg of zinc a day. Consumers have started becoming more health conscious recently, and if something’s packed with nutrients they’ll buy it, right? Heck, they’re buying dietary supplements that supposedly do all sorts of things, so why not buy nutrient-rich breakfast foods?

In the EWG report, several varieties of bran, whole grain and whole wheat cereals, including off-brand cereals, and familiar names like Total, Cocoa Krispies, Krave and Wheaties Fuel were listed as overly-fortified to the point where a cup serving could expose kids to too much of either zinc, niacin or vitamin A.

In the short-term, according to the report, overdosing on vitamins can cause gastrointestinal distress. But the long-term effects of overdosing on vitamins are scary, nasty and potentially lethal. Too much vitamin A can cause skeletal and liver damage and hair loss. Too much zinc can impair both immune system function and how the body absorbs copper, and it can also cause anemia. Too much niacin can cause nausea, skin reactions – particularly flushing and rashes – and it can also be toxic to the liver. (Gulp.) If some of you just read that and want changes to be made, I don’t blame you.

But what happens if cereal companies have to change their formula? Does this mean they have to add more sugars and sodium and what not? (Neither of which are good for people in large doses.) Does this mean they have to add a whole bunch of other crap with names we can barely pronounce, let alone spell correctly? What’s to say any of those things they add will be good for kids? Or even for adults who eat cereal, since we all know they’re out there? Do we need to separate cereals between kids and adults, like they do with multivitamins?

We don’t want our kids dying because of food companies’ major oversights. But we also don’t want our kids to be cheated out of valuable nutrients either; nutrients they will need to grow into healthy adults.

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