See Real? Not in Your Cereal

Lucky Charms and Frosted Mini Wheats were not what Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother had in mind when they devised cold breakfast cereal as a healthy alternative to the usual white bread and meat diet of the mid-19th century. Two hundred years later, cold (pre-cooked) breakfast cereals are the most commonly consumed breakfast food in North America. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if your breakfast cereal tastes like candy, it probably is candy and not the wholesome start to your day you’ve been led to believe.

jordan's muesli cerealI’m all about convenience for weekday breakfasts, but I haven’t eaten cereal at home since back in 2006 when I did my first “real food” experiment. Turns out, I couldn’t find one that fit the bill. Since then, I’ve dug up a few all-star cereals that do actually contain all-natural ingredients – Jordan’s Organic Muesli, for example.

And I couldn’t be happier. I realized that when I ate cold cereal I never felt full. In high school I filled the biggest bowl in the house with Vector “meal replacement” cereal and was still hungry by second period (sure, I was a growing girl, but my blood sugar was probably all over the map – simple carbohydrates plus skim milk does not make a balanced or filling meal). Worse yet, I would often have a bowl of cereal before bed as well, and snack on the dried cereal between meals. Again, if it tastes like candy…it’s probably some sort of refined-flour dough mixed with sugar (or several types of sugar) and fortified with vitamins to make it sound healthy. No matter how much I ate, I could always eat more. I never felt full.

I don’t think you should have to learn to decipher nutrition labels in order to eat well. So I’m going to show you the ingredient lists of some cereals I used to eat. Instead of breaking things down into carbohydrates, protein and fat (oversimplifying the issue and masking the real problem with cereal), I’m going to pull out these key indications your cereal isn’t real food:

  • Added sugar (unnatural that it’s there and most often processed into unnatural forms)Cheerios Cereal Box
  • Artificial colours/flavours (what are those doing in the most important meal of the day anyway?)
  • Vitamins and minerals (which don’t have to be added to foods that aren’t missing anything)
  • White flour (refined and heavily processed)
  • Health claims (to illustrate how deceptive the marketing tactics are). These are often made because the cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals, not because its raw ingredients have any redeeming features.

I am continually surprised at the ingredients these companies manage to sneak into foods masquerading as healthy. Remember, the point is to not look at the amount of calories, carbs, protein or fat, but to look at the bigger picture.

To see the full ingredient list, click the links in the “cereal” column.

Cereal Added sugar? Artificial colours and/or flavours? Preservatives? Added vitamins & minerals? Health claims Whole grain?

(I couldn’t find the ingredient listing online. This is the worst website I’ve seen in a long time!)

Yes No Yes (vitamin E,tripotassium phosphate)
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Niacinamide
  • Vitamins B6, A,  B2, B1, B12, D3
  • Folic acid
“The easy way to lower your cholesterol” (based on oat fibre) Yes
Mini wheats Yes
(icing sugar)
No Yes (BHT)
  • Iron
  • Niacinamide
  • thiamine hydrochloride
  • d-calcium pantothenate
  • pyridoxine hydrochloride
  • zinc oxide
  • folic acid
A high source of fibre, trans fat free, low in fat, sodium free and a source of 9 essential nutrients. Yes

(Dis)honourable mention: contains vegetable oil shortening

(sugar/glucose-fructose, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, honey and molasses)
Yes (artificial flavour) Yes (BHT)
  • sodium l-ascorbate
  • d-alpha tocopherol
  • niacinamide
  • ascorbic acid
  • zinc oxide, iron
  • biotin
  • d-calcium pantothenate
  • copper oxide
  • vitamin a palmitate
  • riboflavin, thiamine hydrochloride, folic acid, pyridoxine hydrochloride
  • potassium iodide
  • cholecalciferol
“Meal replacement in a bowl” No (rice)
Lucky Charms Yes (sugar, corn syrup) Yes (Yellow 5 & 6; Blue 1; Artifical Flavor) Yes (vitamin E, trisodium phosphate)
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Niacinamide
  • Vitamins B6, B2, B1, A, B12, D3
  • Folic acid
“11 grams whole grains per serving”“Whole grain first ingredient” Yes
Jordan’s Organic Muesli No No No No No Yes


Most cereals are engineered for our convenience rather than our health. Stop buying into it…then stop buying it!


  1. Lesley Beavan says:

    I totally agree with everything said, however, what about castorium ? This is a natural flavoring alright but definitely not vegetarian. It’s used for vanila and strawberry flavor and comes from the anal secretions of beavers. As a vegetarian, I have a vested interest in avoiding beaver secretions. I’ve tried to find out if any candy is truly vegetarian, without much success. The words ” natural flavors ” set off alarm bells. If it doesn’t state vegetarian, I’m not eating it.

    • Hi Lesley,
      Same thing for “natural colour” (or “colour”) which can be made from crushed beetles (cochineal/carmine). Another good reason to avoid added flavours for sure!

  2. By the way, this is the best quote I’ve seen in a long while: “As a vegetarian, I have a vested interest in avoiding beaver secretions.”


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