By Dr. Mercola
Kellogg, the world’s largest producer of breakfast cereal, announced it will stop using artificial colors and flavors in its cereal and snacks by the end of 2018. Currently, about 25 percent of its North American cereals still contain artificial colors while about half contain artificial flavors.
The cereal giant has seen sales slow as Americans seek out more natural foods without a laundry list of synthetic ingredients on the label. The company’s second-quarter revenue in 2015 fell 2.2 percent in its morning foods division along with a 2 percent drop in its snacks division.1
The announcement comes on the heels of similar news from competitor General Mills, which announced it would phase out all artificial ingredients in its cereal products by 2017.
Artificial Ingredients Have No Place in Your Breakfast
Food giants are trying to appear as though they’re looking out for your health by removing questionable ingredients, but they really only did so after the market demanded it.
A survey by General Mills found that nearly half of US households are trying to avoid artificial flavors and colors… and the company wants their cereals to remain a steady presence in those homes. General Mills senior manager Lauren Pradhan told the Washington Post:2
"We want to make sure cereal is relevant for our families today... so we'll be on breakfast tables for the next hundred years… If these ingredients are stopping them from enjoying cereal in the morning, we want to remove them."
Really, however, these ingredients had no business being in your breakfast in the first place. As of July 2010, most foods in the EU that contained artificial food dyes were labeled with warning labels stating the food "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children."
This prompted many food manufacturers to voluntarily remove the dyes from their products. This is why if you eat a Nutri-Grain strawberry cereal bar in the US, it will contain artificial color, including Red 40, which has been found to accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children.
But that same Nutri-Grain bar in the UK contains only natural colorings. In fact, the UK branches of Wal-Mart, Kraft, Coca-Cola, and Mars removed artificial colors, sodium benzoate, and aspartame from their product lines as a result of consumer pressure and government recommendations – back in 2011.
In the US, however, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow these toxic ingredients in countless popular foods, including those marketed directly to children. At the end of March 2011, the FDA held a session to discuss the science on food dyes and hyperactivity.
They decided that warning labels are not necessary on US foods that contain artificial color because a causal relationship had not been established in the general population (although they did acknowledge that food dyes may cause behavioral problems in some children).
Yet, in 2007, a carefully designed, randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study published in the journal The Lancet concluded that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate cause some children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible.3
In 1994, researchers also found that 73 percent of children with ADHD responded favorably to an elimination diet that included removing artificial colors.4
Food Additives Lack Safety Testing
More than 10,000 additives are allowed in food when you factor in those that are added directly to your food as well as those in the packaging (which can migrate to your food).
Unfortunately, many of these additives have been linked to health concerns, while others have been granted “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status without pre-market review or approval. As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported:5
“This system makes sense for benign additives such as pepper and basil, but there are enormous loopholes that allow additives of questionable safety to be listed as GRAS.
Manufacturers can decide whether these compounds are safe without any oversight by the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] – and in some cases obtain GRAS status without telling the FDA at all.”
When you see the term “artificial flavors” on a label, for instance, there’s no way to know what it actually means. It could mean that one unnatural additive is included — or a blend of hundreds. For example, strawberry artificial flavor may contain around 50 chemical compounds.6
Some artificial flavorings have quite serious health concerns. Phosphates are added to more than 20,000 products, including fast food, baked goods, and processed meats.
They’re used to reduce acid, improve moisture retention, boost flavor, and facilitate leavening. Phosphates have been linked to some concerning health conditions, including heart disease.
The European Food Safety Authority is currently reevaluating adding phosphates to food, but the results of their study aren’t expected until the end of 2018. Mona Calvo, an expert at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, told Medicine Net:7
“There is accumulating evidence that both the high intakes [of phosphorus, from which phosphates are derived] and the poor balance of intake with other nutrients may place individuals at risk of kidney disease, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic health conditions.”
The point is we’re only beginning to uncover the health risks associated with consuming numerous food additives on a regular basis.
And while it’s definitely a positive step that food giants are removing some of the worst offenders – like artificial colors and flavors – from their products, many others still remain. Plus, the “new and improved” foods are still a far cry from healthy…
Breakfast Cereals Still Not Healthy, Even Without Artificial Colors and Flavors
Take out the artificial flavors and colors, and what are you left with when consuming a bowl of Kellogg or General Mills cereal? For the most part, sugar, grains, and a smattering of fortified vitamins.
So even though General Mills’ Trix cereal will soon be colored with turmeric, blueberries, radishes, and strawberries instead of Red No. 40 and Yellow No. 6… it’s far from health food. Michele Simon, a public-health attorney and president of Eat Drink Politics, a food-industry consulting firm, told the Washington Post:8
"These companies are desperate to keep parents buying these really unhealthy foods... and now they can trumpet ‘no artificial dyes’ as if that makes it a health food…
These kid-oriented cereals are still extremely processed, have virtually no nutritional value, and are fortified with vitamins because the real nutrients have been stripped in processing… If they really wanted to be healthier, they should stop bombarding children with messages to eat candy in a box."
Even efforts to reduce sugars in such foods are nothing more than marketing gimmicks. General Mills, for instance, reduced the sugar in its Cookie Crisp and Lucky Charms cereal from 12 grams per serving to 10 grams… but they’re still high in sugar and not a lot else. Simon continued:9
"What they're looking to do is trim around the edges, doing whatever they can do that doesn't change their business model but looks like they're making a change…[That's because real health-aimed improvements] ‘like not marketing them to children or to parents who probably shouldn't be feeding their kids candy for breakfast... would take too serious a toll on sales.’"
In a report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it was even revealed that many popular children's cereals contain more sugar than snack cakes and cookies. For instance, one cup of Kellogg Honey Smacks, which is nearly 56 percent sugar by weight, has more sugar than a Twinkie, while a one-cup serving of 44 other children's cereals analyzed contain more sugar than three Chips Ahoy! cookies.10
If you need a recap of why sugar is a health disaster, you can find one here. In addition to acting as a root cause of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and numerous other chronic diseases, excessive intake of refined sugar, like grains, can upset the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract, encouraging damage to your intestinal lining that can lead to leaky gut.
Sugary children's cereals are a double-edged sword, assaulting your fragile gastrointestinal tract with both damaging sugar and grains. Please do your kids a great favor and offer them a healthier breakfast instead.
The Dorito Effect: How Artificial Flavors Make You Lose Your Taste for Healthy Foods
In his book The Dorito Effect, author Mark Schatzker explains how artificial flavors in foods have not only made people crave them, but at the same time have programmed us to believe that’s how all foods should taste. The end result is that our taste don’t appreciate the natural flavors in fresh foods the way they once did, and our brains are fooled into thinking our bodies are getting the same nutrition from, say, orange “flavor” as they do from an actual orange. As reported in Mashable:11
“‘Americans now use 600 million pounds of flavorings every year,’ he [Schatzker] says. ‘We have made bland, high calorie food taste thrillingly delicious. And we can’t stop eating it. And to make matters worse, whole foods, like tomatoes, chickens, and cucumbers, are getting blander and blander. In short, everything that’s gone wrong with food and our eating habits can be understood through flavor.
Flavor and nutrition are linked. For millions of years, the different flavor components of foods told our bodies about the nutrients in them, and we craved those foods when we needed their associated nutrients. ‘Now we’ve created foods that taste delicious, but unlike foods in nature, these foods aren’t backed up by nutrients,’
Schatzker says… [W]e have fooled our brains and bodies into thinking that the fake stuff is giving us what the real stuff does. Schatzker says, ‘Now that we’ve broken that connection between flavor and nutrition by creating synthetic flavors, we have created foods that tell a thrilling but deceptive nutritional lie.’"
The good news is it’s possible to “rewire your palate” simply by ditching processed foods and focusing your diet on the freshest, most flavorful ingredients you can find. When you eat this way (check out my nutrition plan for a step-by-step guide), you’ll realize that real food tastes delicious while processed foods are nothing more than chemical imitations. If cravings are a problem for you, please see my tips on how to eliminate junk-food cravings.
One of the most effective strategies to eliminate sugar cravings is intermittent fasting, along with diet modifications that effectively help reset your body’s metabolism to burn fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel. If your carb cravings are linked to an emotional challenge, a psychological acupressure technique called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can rapidly help you control your emotional food cravings. If you're currently sustaining yourself on fast food and processed foods, cutting them from your diet is one of the most positive life changes you could ever make.
Let’s Start with Breakfast…
One of the first places to start swapping out processed foods for real foods can be for your breakfast. Ditch the breakfast cereal – even if it’s a “healthy” variety – and focus on protein, healthy fats, and vegetables for breakfast instead, such as easily digested whey protein. Look for high-quality whey protein derived from grass-fed, non-hormonally treated cows that's been minimally processed.
This ensures it still contains beneficial immuno components, including immunoglobulins, bovine serum albumin, and lactoferrins, in addition to all the key amino acids and other beneficial nutrients you typically get from a high quality whey protein. You can blend it with some fresh berries, spinach, kale, organic psyllium, chia seeds, or flax seeds. Organic, pastured eggs are another excellent breakfast food, as long as they’re consumed as close to raw as possible (either raw, poached, or soft-boiled).
Avoid scrambled eggs, as cooking destroys many of the beneficial nutrients. Depending on your health and health goals, you may even opt to skip breakfast entirely, but that’s a topic for another time. For now, remember that starting your day off with a bowl of cereal – even one that’s naturally flavored and colored – is still starting your day off with processed junk food, when what your body’s really craving is real, unadulterated food.