9 Natural Cereals That Aren’t
Question: Which of the following can be legally labeled “natural”?
b. Foods with chemical preservatives
c. Foods with artificial sweeteners
d. Foods with added color
Answer: Every single one of them. It’s true, outside of the meat counter, the FDA makes no stipulation about the use of the term “natural,” leaving manufacturers to abuse it however they see fit. Gross, right? But here’s something even worse: When the Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, recently analyzed so-called “natural” cereals, it found that they’re often contaminated with pesticides and warehouse fumigation chemical residues, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) and ingredients grown in sewage sludge.
“It’s important for consumers to know that these companies are using conventional ingredients to produce their ‘natural’ cereal, most likely produced with pesticides and fumigants,” explains Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at Cornucopia. Despite the fact that over half of the population believes “natural” means no pesticides or GMOs, it’s nothing more than a fancy label, she adds. Read on for the cereals that promote themselves—explicitly or not—as natural alternatives to traditional cereals.
9. #1: Kashi GoLean:
Most corn and soy ingredients come from genetically engineered crops, which have never even been proven safe. In fact, scientists have linked GMOs to serious health problems. In Cornucopia Institute tests, researchers detected GMO material in 100 percent of the soy in Kashi GoLean. “It is clear from the percentages that this was not accidental contamination, but deliberate use of GMOs,” says Vallaeys.
Kashi is owned by food industry giant Kellogg Company, which also markets Bear Naked, a non-organic granola. The Cornucopia Institute also points out that the cereal-making giant has no policy against the use of toxic pesticides, hexane, a harmful solvent used in non-organic soybean processing, and GMO ingredients.
Organic Alternative: Nature’s Path Organic Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon
8. #2: Nutritious Living Hi-Lo:
Consumer polls show that 93 percent of Americans believe products containing GMOs should be labeled, but under current laws, they aren’t, leaving food shoppers in the dark. In fact, many natural products, like this cereal, are laced with genetically engineered ingredients. GMO technology has been linked to skyrocketing food allergy rates, digestive troubles, infertility, and even accelerated aging! The soy content of Nutritious Living Hi-Lo was 85 percent GMO—meaning the soy was manipulated on the molecular level to withstand heavy sprayings of the weed killer Roundup, which often winds up inside the food you eat.
Organic Alternative: Ambrosial Granola Venetian Vineyard (Named Prevention magazine’s Healthiest Cereal of 2011.)
7. #3: Kix:
Mothers may stop approving this breakfast cereal in light of GMO testing: 56 percent of the corn content was genetically engineered, according to the Cornucopia Institute analysis. GMO corn and soy crops have actually led to a major problem in the fields that affects your health—weeds are becoming resistant to certain pesticides, causing farmers to apply heavier doses of even more dangerous chemicals. Certain pesticides are believed to be hormone-disruptors that can lead to obesity and diabetes, and other developmental problems.
Organic Alternative: Envirokids Organic Gorilla Munch Cereal
6. #4: Barbara’s Bakery Puffins:
Barbara’s Bakery got called out because, over the past few years, they’ve slowly been decreasing their USDA-certified organic cereal options and increasing their selection of uncertified “natural” products. Between 2007 and 2011, the company’s organic choices dropped from 55 to just 20 percent—shortly after the company was acquired by a private investment firm. That’s misleading to customers who think the company is staying true to its organic roots, and think they’re still buying organic cereals. Today, 55 percent of the corn used in Puffins is genetically engineered, not even close to being natural. “Consumers should continue to look for the organic seal as their assurance that the foods were produced without deliberate use of GMOs by farmers,” says Vallaeys.
Organic Alternative: Nature’s Path Organic Corn Puffs
5. #5: Peace Cereal:
Until 2008, all Peace Cereal products were certified organic or labeled “made with organic ingredients,” meaning at least 70 percent of the ingredients were organic. Today, none of the products are, which can be confusing to customers who initially trusted the once-organic brand. Strawberry-containing Peace Cereal options could contain the carcinogenic pesticide Captan, which is detected in 55 percent of conventional strawberries tested.
“We were surprised to see some companies, like Peace Cereal, reducing organic options in the cereal aisle,” says Vallaeys. “Peace Cereal has no organic options left, but its prices remained the same.”
Organic Alternative: Nature’s Path Flax Plus Red Berry Crunch (It’s about 2 cents cheaper per ounce, too.)
4. #6: Mother’s Bumpers:
Nearly 30 percent of the corn in Mother’s Bumpers was found to be genetically modified. A 2011 Canadian report published in the journal Reproductive Toxicologyrevealed that the pesticides used on genetically modified crops and, in some cases, the genes used to create GM crops are able to survive in our digestive tracts, move into our bloodstreams, and—in pregnant women—show up in developing infants.
Pepsico owns the Mother’s brand. One of its processing plants emits 19,000 pounds of sulfuryl fluoride, a greenhouse gas and fumigant, annually. The toxic gas is used post-harvest to kill pests in non-organic wheat, almond, oats, corn, rice, barley, raisins, and peanuts. Fumigated food products can then be distributed to consumers 24 hours after gassing, according to the Cornucopia Institute.
Organic Alternative: Cascadian Farms Honey Nut Os
3. #7: Back to Nature:
Back to Nature is owned by Kraft Foods and comes in nine varieties, with only one being organic. Its “natural” granola products contain conventional ingredients that are produced on conventional farms with the use of pesticides and other synthetic inputs that would be prohibited on organic farms. “Conventional grain ingredients destined for processed foods like granola can be fumigated in the warehouse,” explains Vallaeys. “The USDA has tested ingredients like wheat flour for toxic fumigant residues, and has found some samples to be contaminated with levels higher than the maximum acceptable level for children. Organics, which prohibits these fumigants, offers a level of protection that ‘natural’ products don’t.”
Organic Alternative: Laughing Giraffe granola
2. #8: Grape Nuts and Post’s “Natural Advantage Line”:
Grape Nuts may carry that crunchy, earthy image—and food industry giant Post did form the “Post Natural Advantage Line,” including Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Raisin Bran—but the conventional ingredients used in these cereals are still grown with chemical pesticides, and USDA data shows that wheat is often contaminated with residues of malathion, chlorpyrifos methyl, and chlorpyrifos, toxic bug-killing chemicals that could harm neurological development. “They are ‘natural’ only in the sense that they do not appear to contain artificial preservatives,” explains Vallaeys. “But the ingredients are conventional ingredients, from crops grown on conventional farms which can use toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically engineered crops, and a whole host of other inputs that are strictly prohibited on farms growing crops for organic cereal.” For that reason, Post landed rock bottom on the Cornucopia Institute’s Cereal Scorecard.
Organic Alternative: Cascadian Farm Organic Raisin Bran
1. #9: Kellogg’s Low-Fat Granola:
Don’t let this granola’s earthy-looking packaging (like the green leaf?) or claims of whole grains fool you, warns the Cornucopia Institute’s Cereal Crimes report. This granola contains harmful high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and other hard-to-pronounce ingredients that sound like they belong in a lab, not your mouth. “There is nothing natural about this product. Given that Kellogg’s policy is to source GMOs, consumers should also assume that the corn, cottonseed and soy ingredients in this granola are genetically engineered,” says Vallaeys. Luckily, high-quality, organic granola is readily available.
Organic Alternative: Lydia’s Organics Grainless Apple Cereal