Sunday, August 10, 2008

The "Total" Truth About Healthy Breakfast Cereal


I saw a commercial the other day for Total cereal. They were showing the Nutrition Facts panel, which you can see here on the left. They stated at the end of the commercial: "Kashi cereal doesn't have 100% of the daily value for all of these vitamins".
I take issue with this advertisement: They were definitely implying that Total cereal is more healthy than other cereals because it has 100% of so many vitamins and minerals. And that's just not true.
True, Total does have more vitamins in a serving than other cereals. But this is not because Total is some fantastic and unique grain that is so packed with vitamins and minerals that it naturally contains all you need for the entire day! It is because the manufacturers added vitamins to the cereal. In other words, you can eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast, take a multivitamin, and end up with the same nutrition intake at that meal as a bowl of Total. Okay, maybe not Frosted Flakes, because at least Total has a few grams of fiber... maybe Frosted Mini Wheats, or Grape Nuts, or Post Raisin Bran, or Kashi.
Nutrition isn't just about getting enough vitamins and minerals. It's about eating a variety of foods to get a variety of nutrients (while you keep your intake reasonable enough to maintain your ideal weight). Eating a bowl of Total is not a healthier option than eating a different brand of cereal and popping a multivitamin. It's not better than having a hot breakfast of eggs and toast, and then taking a multivitamin. It is, in fact, the same, because the makers of Total have added the equivalent of a multivitamin to their cereal.
Taking a multivitamin isn't a bad idea, especially if you know you fail to get enough fruits, vegetables, dairy, or whole grains on a regular basis. But it doesn't guarantee that you will be well-nourished: Only that you are less likely to get a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
There can also be a downside to eating highly fortified foods. How many people do you think limit their cereal intake to the recommended serving size? Most of the people I know include at least two or three 'serving sizes' from the label on the box, as one of their servings in the bowl! This means people who eat a big bowl of total may be getting 300% of the daily value for many of these vitamins. Then, of course, they are taking in vitamins naturally contained in the foods they eat during the rest of the day. Most of the time, getting 200%--or even 500%--of the daily value of a nutrient isn't harmful, but there are cases where getting "too much of a good thing" can lead to problems: especially with fat soluble vitamins; folic acid (in people with an undiscovered vitamin B12 deficiency); and some minerals. People rarely 'overdose' on vitamins from natural food sources, but taking extra vitamins in the form of a tablet (or as an added ingredient in food fortification, such as the case with Total) could result in quite large amounts being taken consistently over a period of time.
The best way to get your vitamins and minerals, of course, is by eating a balanced diet and including good food sources of these nutrients--what we call 'nutrient dense' foods. Fortified foods are misleading to the consumer when it is implied that this food is a better source of nutrition, and these foods, in fact, should be consumed in moderation.

6 comments:

SueQ54172 said...

Hi! I stumbled across your blog when I googled the question, "overdose on vitamins from eating too much total cereal?" Ha! Ha! I was just curious...I started a new diet and exercise plan (courtesy of SparkPeople.com) and in the process of buying new and healthy foods to eat, I bought a box of Total whole grain cereal. I've been doing fairly well but for some reason this morning, I decided that I was going to eat as much Total as I want for breakfast, and set my lunch and dinner around my breakfast. After almost finishing my last bowl I realized that Total supposedly has 100% of my daily vitamins included in one serving! Yikes! Do you think it will make me sick? I usually eat a whole wheat bagel or whole wheat toast with turkey, tuna, or chicken for lunch and a few leaves of lettuce and tomatoes; and, whatever my husband wants to eat for dinner. I drink 8 or more glasses of water a day. I try to do 30 or more minutes of cardio and strength training every other day. I was pretty tired the past three or so days and that's why I thought I would eat a bigger breakfast. (Just an experiment on my part I suppose) I'd appreciate your opinion and thanks for the blog!

Have a great day!

Suzette

SueQ54172 said...

Hi! I stumbled across your blog when I googled, "overdose on vitamins from eating too much Total cereal?" Ha! Ha! I just started a new diet and exercise program (courtesy of SparkPeople.com) and in the process of buying things to eat healthier, I bought a box of Total whole grain cereal. I've been diligently following my diet and usually have one serving of total for breakfast with 2% milk, a turkey, tuna, or chicken sandwhich on whole wheat toast or whole wheat bagel with lettuce and tomatoes, and whatever my husband wants for dinner. (Portion control has been the major difference here.) I thought I would have a bigger breakfast this morning because I had been kindof tired for the last few days and about halfway through my last bowl of Total, I remembered that it supposedly had 100% of my daily vitamins in one serving! Do you think I am in trouble for the rest of the day? I'd appreciate your opinion! Thanks for you blog!

Suzette

LAURIE BEEBE said...

Hi Suzette,
Thanks for reading! SparkPeople looks like a reputable site, considering they employ registered dietitians :)
Not to worry, too many vitamins from the Total cereal won't make you sick. Most of the vitamins (except for A,D,E, and K) are water soluble; this means if you get more than you need one day your body will excrete them through your kidneys. It's hard to overdose from foods, and even some one-a-day supplements have quite large doses.
Your diet plan sounds great and I encourage you to keep up the good work; be sure to include adequate fruits and veggies (you didn't mention fruit intake).
If you find breakfast isn't as filling as you would like, try including a protein source to keep you full longer: cheese, peanut butter, cottage cheese or an egg will tide you over a bit longer!

SueQ54172 said...

Thanks so much for getting back to me! You are right in mentioning the fruits and veggies. I hardly eat them at all. I occasionally have a small apple if I need a snack, but that's about it. I do usually have one ounce of cream cheese with one half of a whole wheat bagel plus one serving of Total and 1 cup of 2% milk in the morning. I guess I just got tired of the same old thing and decided to eat a bunch of cereal instead. Ha! Ha! Do you think that I should take a multivitamin (while sticking to one serving of Total of course!)? I was concerned about the fatigue, but I am starting to think that it's normal after starting an exercise plan whereas I used to do nothing before. I forgot to mention that I drink quite a few cups of coffee every day. I can't seem to get started without at least 2 cups. (I drink a 4 cup pot of coffee) I am also still breastfeeding my youngest son (1 1/2 years old) 1-2 times daily. I wasn't sure if that meant that I am eating less calories than I should. My cardio burns about 400 calories for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on which cardio workout I am doing. I am shooting for at least 30 minutes 5 days a week. I guess I should also tell you that I started this diet and exercise plan on the 8th of this month, so I realize that was only two weeks ago. I have lost 7 pounds so far.

LAURIE BEEBE said...

Hi Suzette,
Did you know breastfeeding can burn an additional 500 calories a day?! That's a good weight loss plan while you can do it! I'm sure your doctor has guidelines for you to follow to keep up your nutrition; I can't really give specific recommendations since I don't know your whole story, but I do know that four dairy servings are generally recommended while breastfeeding. And, what's up with hardly eating fruits and vegetables! Oh my--how about getting those up a bit :)
As far as feeling tired, check the post from Aug 16 "Are You Tired?"; people are rarely tired due to a lack of vitamins. This means taking more vitamins won't help you feel less tired. More likely you are not getting enough sleep--my guess since you have an 18 month old--what do you think about that!

SueQ54172 said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back. I have to answer "I agree" to your last comment. But, it's not my kids fault that I'm not getting enough sleep. I tend to go to bed late because at night is the only time I can have time to myself! :D Thanks again for your blog! Have a great day!

Suzette