Surprising ingredients lurking in the box

Beyond loads of sugar, a look at common kids' cereal ingredients that are anything but nutritious — from petroleum-based food coloring to nutrient-stripped grains.

Girl eating colorful cereal

Artificial colors

If a bowl of rainbow-colored cereal conjures up visions of your childhood, here’s another visual for you — petroleum. Surprisingly, in addition to gas, asphalt and plastics, many artificial food colors are also created from petroleum. If opening your eyes to The Rainbow of Risks is enough to make you rethink artificial colors, know that you have options. Look for cereals that use natural food coloring, derived from fruits and vegetables.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs)

An estimated 60 to 70 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients. Some argue that the food industry has been genetically manipulating food since the dawn of agriculture — and that not all GMOs are bad. However, if you’re inclined to avoid GMOs in your family’s diet then you definitely want to read up on your cereal options. Since corn is one of the country’s biggest crops that is frequently genetically tweaked, GMOs from corn, high fructose corn syrup and more are commonly found in breakfast cereals. A recent study by The Cornucopia Institute found that some cereals — even those marked natural — contained anywhere from 25 to 100 percent GMOs.

Natural does not equal organic

To make things more complicated, buying cereal with boxes marked natural doesn’t necessarily mean that you're getting a spoonful of healthy ingredients. It’s important to note that natural and organic are not the same. According to The Cornucopia Institute’s report, Cereal Crimes, unlike the organic label, no government agency or certification group defines or sets requirements for the term natural on food packages (other than meat).

Refined grains versus whole grains

Don’t be fooled into thinking your cereal is healthy because the label touts grains. Not all grains offer the same health benefits. According to Mayo Clinic, refined grains are milled — a process that strips out bran, germ and, in the process, many nutrients, including fiber — to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. Refined grains are common in processed breakfast cereals. Instead, opt for cereals with whole grains. They're unrefined and not milled, which makes them better sources of fiber, potassium, selenium and magnesium.

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Comments on "What's really in your kids' favorite cereals?"

Debi@TheSpringMount6Pack November 05, 2013 | 6:31 PM

It is scary to think of the things that are in my kids foods.

Jenn November 05, 2013 | 2:35 PM

Great post! I was diagnosed with celiac disease two years ago so I'm constantly readying labels to see if they have gluten. I was shocked to read the OTHER things that are hiding there that I never noticed!

Mama to 5 Blessings November 05, 2013 | 2:22 PM

Thank you for this post, I try to be so careful what cereal I buy, my kids love cereal, it's hard.

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