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Cheerios and heart health

Posted Aug 24 2008 5:44pm 1 Comment

Anna responded to the Heart Scan Blog post, Can you say "sugar"? with the following wonderfully telling comment:

A measured bowl of Cheerios and a bit of milk (whole, because it's what I had), equal to 75 grams of carbohydrate, gave me the highest ever blood glucose reading from a food (not counting glucose solution from a Glucose Tolerance Test). I was attempting a "homemade" version of a 3 hr GTT before going to my doctor with my concerns about my BG.

My BG started to rise very fast within 15 minutes after eating the cereal, peaked at about 250 mg/dL at 45 minutes, then slowly dropped. By about 60-75 minutes, I experienced strong hunger and carb cravings as the BG began to slowly drop, and by about 2.5 hours after eating, my BG had suddenly dropped quite low (in the low 70s) and I had developed a nasty hypoglycemic feeling (shaky, irritable, craving sugary foods, headache, etc.).

It's hard for me to see "heart healthy" Cheerios (or any other highly processed breakfast cereal) as anything other than a bowl of pre-digested sugar that contributes to roller coaster blood glucose and insulin levels, which a great way to start anyone's day. Certainly, I don't do well with Cheerios because I clearly have a damaged glucose regulatory system (probably a diminished or absent first phase insulin response, but I can't imagine that it is doing any good for people with healthy glucose regulation, either.

I banned prepared cold cereals from our house. If my 9 yr old son gets cereal at all at home, it's whole groats (not even rolled or steel cut because those aren't truly "whole grain" anymore), soaked overnight in some water and a tsp of plain yogurt (soaking neutralizes phytates and reduces cooking time), then cooked about 8-10 minutes (water added as necessary). Sometimes I add a bit of quinoa or almond meal prior to soaking to boost the protein content a bit. I garnish with a pat of butter, some heavy cream, and a dusting of cinnamon. If I'm feeling *really* indulgent, I drizzle about 1 tsp of Grade B maple syrup on top (Grade B is stronger in flavor and so less can be used). I don't eat this cereal myself, and truthfully, I'd rather my son not, either, but he sometimes wants cereal. It's the least damaging compromise I can come up with that we can both live with.

I have also seen diabetic effects from Cheerios: rises in blood sugar, exagerration of small LDL, drops in HDL, rises in triglycerides. Yes, it may reduce LDL a small quantity, but so what?

The Cheerios "heart healthy" claim is based on a piece of research apparently performed by Dr. Donald Hunninghake at the University of Minnesota and reported in 1998:

A study conducted at the University of Minnesota Heart Disease Prevention Clinic and published as "Cholesterol-Lowering Benefits of a Whole Grain Oat Ready-to-Eat Cereal" in the May issue of the Nutrition in Clinical Care journal in 1998, showed that people can lower their blood cholesterol by an average of 3.8% over six weeks by enjoying 3 cups of cold cereal made with 100% whole grain oats everyday as part of the meals and snacks in a healthy lower-fat diet.

(Unfortunately, I could not locate the actual publication. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist; I just couldn't locate it. Perhaps it's in a small journal not entered into the online publication database.)

The purported effects of Cheerios should not be confused with that of actual, intact oat bran, as suggested by studies such as those of Brenda Davy et al, High-fiber oat cereal compared with wheat cereal consumption favorably alters LDL-cholesterol subclass and particle numbers in middle-aged and older men , in which significant reductions in LDL particle number and small LDL (NMR) were obtained. (This study was also supported by Quaker Oats.) Several studies have shown that oat bran does indeed reduce LDL cholesterol, sometimes as much as 30-50 mg/dl. Cheerios can not even come close to this.

If Cheerios were nothing more than finely pulverized oats, then perhaps it wouldn't be so bad. But add corn starch and sugar, and you have ingredients that have potential to distort LDL particle size and yield blood sugar-escalating effects like those described by Anna.

The gravity of perpetuating these myths is brought home by a testimonial posted on the website for Cheerios :

“I had unexpected open heart surgery a year ago. As I adopted heart health habits during my recovery, I realized that I should have been eating the Cheerios cereal I carried around in a plastic baggie so many years for my kids!”


Scotch Plains, NJ

It makes me shudder.

Comments (1)
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Thanks for sharing this info! Cheerios is one of the best selling breakfast cereals of all time, if not the best selling. They are a virtual institution in and of themselves. The FDA has decided to take aim at Cheerios, for making claims that Cheerios lowers cholesterol and so have declared Cheerios a drug. That's right, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have declared the General Mills breakfast cereal a drug, because of the labeling of said benefits for several years. If what they say is true, it would mean a way to improve heart health without needing a no fax cash advance. The company will likely change the labeling, as the idea of installment loans for the clinical trials of Cheerios seems a little ridiculous.
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