It can start from a very early age and we are taken in by the ‘good advice’ of the suggested experts that we take at face value.
Most health visitors will tell you to wean your breast-fed baby on baby rice, which comes out of a cardboard box. This usually is a smooth mush of almost pure white starch and most of the grain’s nutrients were removed by the processing.
This is an easy route for many tired, busy, harassed mums and I can see the temptation, but babies retain a liking for the foods / tastes they are weaned on. In fact they keep their liking for foods that the mother ate while pregnant. Breast milk (similar formula) presents them to all the different flavors of the mother’s diet and that makes them more likely to try different flavors as they get older. Encourage them to sample different tastes and textures from an early age is key to developing a healthy attitude to food in later life.
But, for the food industry, it is much better to train the baby’s palate on cereal than a packet and progress to jars of baby foods, then onwards and upwards to the processed crap that most of the population now eats!
There is a natural progression from boxed baby rice to packaged breakfast cereals, with 97% of British homes having at least one box of cereal in the cupboard.
Cereals are one of the earliest forms of convenience foods, representing a triumph in packaging, marketing and foreign policy.
Unlike most of Europe, the UK has succumbed to the American cereal invention almost completely. Approx 100 years ago, simple grains, ie porridge or bread were the staple breakfast seen around the world. Today, however the British and Irish are the largest consumers of puffed, flaked, sugared, salted and extruded cereals in the world! The Mediterraneans, who we credit with a healthy diet, have not gone down this route.
Cornflakes (originally manufactured by John Harvey Kellogg as a cure for constipation and masturbation!) Are made by breaking the kernel into smaller grits and steam cooking under pressure. The nutritious germ, containing the essential fats is thrown away as it goes rancid over time and disrupts the products shelf life. Flavorings, vitamins (to replace those taken out!) And sugar are added. They are then rolled into flakes and toasted before being dried for packaging.
Frosted versions have sugar / corn syrup and vitamins sprayed on to the finished product. If you buy the economy version of cornflakes, you are actually buying the fine dust left from the milling process, which are turned into pellets and shaped into flakes!
These same processes and techniques apply to all cereals in one way or another.
Cereal shapes are made from flours, which are mixed with water and heated. They are then extruded through small holes, which allow them to expand into the final shape. This heating and processing breaks down the cell structure of the starch leading to a high GI value (some are in fact worse than sugar). Vitamins, having been destroyed in the heating process are added back into the flour mixture along with sugar salt and flavorings.
Most of the health benefits claimed for breakfast Cereals come from added fortification rather than micronutrients from the raw ingredients, which are typically destroyed in the processing or removed beforehand.
Kellog’s has consistently been the largest advertiser of cereals in this country, spending approx 50 million a year. Without advertising we would never have known that we ‘needed’ processed cereal and stayed with bread and porridge of the past.The industry is adamant that its products are a healthy way to start the day and are backed by the head of nutrition at King’s College , London, but an independent Which? Survey found that 75% of UK cereals had high levels of sugar, and one fifth had high levels of salt. Nearly 90% of those advertised directly to children were high in sugar, 13% were high in salt and 10% were high in saturated fat! Even those market as healthy got a warning light as All Bran was found to be high in salt and Special K (yes the slimmer’s friend) was high in both sugar and salt! Some high fiber bran cereals contained more salt per serving than a bag of crisps, although some have now been reformulated.
So, the next time you stand in front of the shelves, stacked high with all manner of ‘healthy nutritious, vitamin added’ breakfast cereals, think long and hard. What would our fore fathers have ateen, what do the French and Italians eat? Then step away and visit the fruit / veg and produce shelves instead!