Kellogg’s does a great job of positioning their Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal as a healthy breakfast option. I’ll give them credit for the fact that they are very persistent and very clever at positioning their product in a healthy light. However, are Frosted Mini-Wheats really healthy? Is it really part of a complete breakfast? Can we trust the marketing messages?
I figured it was time to undress Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats to see if the product and its marketing messages look good naked. I think you will be shocked by what I found when I stripped it all down.
Frosted Mini-Wheats marketing messages do not look good naked!
One thing I have seen time and time again in the cereal industry is misleading marketing messages. These are messages that in my opinion, position a product as being healthier than it really is for the purpose of increasing profits. If consumers think a product is healthy they will be more likely to purchase it and purchase it more often.
According to Michael Moss in his book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Frosted Mini-Wheats have a history of marketing trickery! He explains that in 2008 Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats put out a commercial saying “help your kids earn an A for attentiveness”. The voice-over in the commercial said “A clinical study showed kids who had a filling breakfast of Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved their attentiveness by nearly 20%. Keeps ‘em full. Keeps ‘em focused.”
The problem was that the claim wasn’t true! The clinical study cited had been commissioned and paid for by Kellogg. Not only was the study paid for by them, according to the Federal Trade Commission (who brought a lawsuit against them for misleading consumers) the study results didn’t even come close to supporting the claim in the advertisement. The Federal Trade Commission claimed that half of the kids in the study showed no improvement at all and only 1 in 7 kids showed a boost.
Eventually the court case was settled and Kellogg removed the add. Unfortunately the damage was already done and people believed the commercial. In fact, 51% of adults surveyed were certain that the claim about attentiveness was true. They even believed it was true only for Frosted Mini-Wheats and not other cereals.
Kellogg’s didn’t stop there. Months later the cereal company came out again with a new campaign. Instead of comparing Frosted Mini-Wheats to other cereals they compared the cereal to having no breakfast at all. They stated in their ads that “A clinical study showed kids who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats had 23% better memory than kids who missed out on breakfast.”
This company just doesn’t seem to let up! They seem to be on a mission to convince us that Frosted Mini-Wheats is a great breakfast food for kids because it makes them smarter, more focused, and have better memory.
As a nutritionist I can agree that it is better to eat SOMETHING for breakfast rather than nothing. It’s true that starving children have a harder time excelling. However, I can NOT agree that Frosted Mini-Wheats is a nutritious option. Let’t undress the ingredients to see why.
The Ingredients of Frosted Mini-Wheats:
Ingredients: Whole grain wheat, icing sugar, glycerin, gelatin, BHT, iron, niacinamide, thiamine hydrochloride, d-calcium pantothenate, zinc oxide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, folic acid.
A closer look at icing SUGAR and the overall sugar content
Frosted Mini-Wheats contains LOADS of sugar. In fact there is 10g in just 21 itty-bitty squares. Unfortunately, when most people sit down to a bowl of cereal they consume more than 21 squares and therefore, a lot sugar. We currently have such a massive problem with sugar intake that the World Health Organization in 2014 suggested we reduce our sugar intake to 5% of our daily intake, which for an adult results in about 25g or 6 teaspoons and it could be as low as ½ of that for kids.
The other problem with this type of sugar is that it is heavily processed and refined. It therefore provides large amounts of “empty calories”. This means that you are getting the calories without any of the beneficial vitamins and minerals that our body requires to function.
This excess in sugar is converted to fat in the body and is a major cause of obesity. It also spikes our blood sugar and can lead to many undesirable health implications like high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
White sugar is not nutritious, it is not a healthy food for adults or children, and it should be avoided as much as possible. It certainly should not be consumed on a daily basis and it is not part of a complete breakfast!
Undressing Whole Grain Wheat
Cereal companies who use whole grains in their cereal LOVE to shout this out from the rooftops. Even though it is “whole grain”, I often try to avoid consuming too much wheat (especially wheat purchased in North America). In 1943 we started to manipulate wheat to help boost profits. The goal was to increase the yield (make the plant grow more wheat).
This was accomplished, however, it also made it too top heavy and the plant would fall over. It was at this time that wheat was further manipulated by a geneticist named Norman Borlaug. His efforts yielded a shorter plant that wouldn’t topple over (referred to as “dwarf” and “semi-dwarf” varieties). For this discovery he won many awards including a Nobel Peace Price in 1970.
Today, Allan Fritz, PhD, professor of wheat breeding in Kansas State University, estimates that more than 99 percent of the wheat grown worldwide is of the dwarf and semi-dwarf variety.
This new form of wheat has been manipulated so much that it can’t even survive on it’s own in the wild anymore without human support (nitrate fertilization, pest control, etc).
The question I often get from people at this point in the story is: “So what’s the big deal? Aside from the fact that wheat can’t grow without our assistance, most of these changes seem like a good thing.”
According to Dr. William Davis in his book Wheat Belly, when we create a hybridized version of the plant, approximately 95% of the proteins in the new plant are the same, however, roughly 5% of the proteins are completely unique. When you continue to hybridize the plant over and over again, the resulting product can actually be entirely different from it’s original parents. This is important because the new forms of wheat actually contain higher amount of gluten, which is a protein that has been causing a number of health concerns recently. Most likely because we are consuming WAY more of it than we ever have before. This is due to the increased amount in our wheat, in addition to the increased consumption of wheat. To find out more about the problems with gluten check out my article: Is gluten bad? Is it really the devil it’s been made out to be.
In addition, new research is showing that many children and adults with undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease may show symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) when they consume gluten. When gluten was removed from their diet their behaviour improved significantly.
What the heck is BHT
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a preservative commonly found in cereal and many other processed foods. It helps to preserve the fats (so they don’t go rancid) as well as flavor, color, and odor. According to the European Food Safety Authority BHT has been shown to cause lung and liver tumors, developmental effects, and negatively impact the thyroid in animal studies.
In addition, the Centre for Science in The Public Interest and the Environmental Working Group both caution consumers against consuming this potentially harmful preservative.
While there are no conclusive studies showing concrete evidence that BHT is harmful to humans, there are also no studies concluding that it is safe. According to a wellness report by Berkley University, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes BHT as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), however the report indicates that BHT never underwent a pre-market review and that subsequent reviews supported their general safety but concluded that “uncertainties exist, requiring that additional studies be conducted.”
I’m not so keen on being the science experiment and don’t want to put myself and my family at risk. You?
What’s The Bottom Line
After undressing Frosted Mini-Wheats it’s clear to me that this is not a product I would eat or feed to my kids. In addition, I am personally offended by the misleading marketing efforts of Kellogg. According to Michael Moss, food manufactures spend nearly twice as much on marketing than they do on the ingredients that go into their products. Using cheaper ingredients and convincing you to consume it more often is great for profits. It keeps shareholders happy (and our kids sick).
In fact, Kellogg stated in a memo that “television advertising of ready-to-eat cereals to children increases children’s consumption of these products.” They know they have power over our buying decisions and they appear to be using that to their advantage. It’s about time we stop letting them. Make sure you #VoteWithYourFork by eating food that fuels you rather than just feeds you.
One more note on sugar in Mini-Wheats
Food companies know that sugar is one (if not the biggest) culprits in the cause of obesity (especially childhood obesity) and many other chronic health conditions.
You would think if they cared so much about their consumers they would try to reduce the amount of sugar in their products?
That’s not always the case…
In 2011 the Environmental Working Group examined the sugar content of 84 children’s cereals. They found that these cereals contained high amounts of sugar. In fact there wasn’t a single children’s cereal that was sugar-free and on average children’s cereals contained more sugar than adult cereals.
In addition, the EWG re-examined these 84 cereals in 2014 and found that even in light of all the recent information about the child obesity epidemic and sugar being the main culprit, companies have not made much of a change to their ingredient composition.
In fact, only 11 of the 84 children’s cereal brands decreased the amount of sugar (and only by a very small amount – in 10 cases by only 1 gram and in 1 case by 2 grams). The majority made no change at all. Accept for (drumroll please!) Frosted Mini-Wheats Big Bite which actually increased the sugar content by 20%!
Does this seem like a cereal brand you can trust? Does it seem like a healthy breakfast food?
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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