Cereals, Cold

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CEREALS, COLD. Cold cereal has been a favorite breakfast of millions of Americans for several generations. Ready-to-eat cold cereal started as a healthy snack in the early 1900s. By the twenty-first century more than 2.7 million pounds of cold cereal were consumed by children and adults each year in the United States.

Cold cereal makes a quick, nutritious, low-cost, and portable breakfast. Ready-to-eat cereal products supply important nutrients. When combined with low-fat milk, cold cereal makes a meal that is high in protein and low in cholesterol and fat. Milk and grains compliment each other nutritionally since they are from different food groups. Most cereals are fortified with at least 25 percent of the daily recommended intake of essential vitamins and minerals and may provide up to twenty-six grams of fiber per cup of cereal.

Hot, cooked grains started long ago, but cold, ready-to-eat cereals were not available until Will Keith Kellogg and his physician brother John Harvey Kellogg began experimenting with flaked wheat in the early 1900s in Battle Creek, Michigan. While John Harvey Kellogg sought a nutritious food for his patients, Will Keith Kellogg recognized the sales potential of the crunchy, flaked grains that offered taste and convenience. Based on their experiments, Will Keith Kellogg founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, later renamed the W. K. Kellogg Company. He is credited with transforming American breakfast habits and pioneering the mass advertising campaign in the United States. Competition among cereal manufacturers spurred marketing creativity. Cheerios, developed and marketed in 1941 as Cheerioats, supplied World War II soldiers with Yank Paks, special one-ounce packages available to the military. Cheerios also sponsored the Lone Ranger radio and television shows during the 1940s and 1950s and featured premiums, such as deputy badges.

Cold cereal has gone through many changes since the Kellogg brothers' time. Most cereals are made from one grain or a combination of several grains, including wheat, corn, rice, oats, and barley. Ready-to-eat cereals fall into three main categories: whole grain, enriched, or restored. Whole grain cereals include the bran, germ, and endospermparts of the grain or "seed"and the nutrients they naturally contain. Enriched cereals contain grains supplemented with vitamins and minerals above the level found in them naturally. For example, most grains are low in vitamin D, so enriched cereals have added vitamin D to meet the body's requirement. Restored cereals contain whole or refined grains plus nutrients that were lost during processing, such as B vitamins and iron. Some cereal manufacturers add 100 percent of the recommended daily value of nutrients; most add just 25 percent.

Experts disagree on the value of cold cereal. Some nutritionists feel that unfortified, natural whole grains are healthier than prepared cereals made from fortified, refined grains. Others argue that consumers are likely to eat more of the sweet-flavored cereals and therefore will eat sufficient quantities to meet dietary requirements. But cold cereals have more than vitamins and minerals. Fiber is an important part of whole grains and of the human diet. Cereal ingredients such as oats, wheat, and psyllium, contain fiber and help reduce the risk of heart disease. Scientific research indicates that a diet including wheat bran may help reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Cereal boxes note that "diets rich in whole grains and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease." When shopping for cold cereal, read the nutrition facts on the box. Most nutritionists agree that the best cold cereal contains one or more whole grains, no partially hydrogenated oils, no added sugar, no added salt, and plenty of fiber (at least 3 grams of fiber per 100 calories or 3 to 5 grams of fiber per 1-ounce serving). Some cereal makers add BHT or other artificial ingredients to preserve flavors. Other companies avoid artificial ingredients and depend instead on heat processing at low temperatures or the addition of oil to preserve cereal quality.

Responding to customer concerns, cold cereals are likely to begin to include more plant-derived ingredients, such as cornstarch or herbal blends. Cornstarch helps keep cereal flakes crunchy in milk and helps hold together clusters of fruit, nuts, and grains. Some consumers want their breakfast cereal to supply herbal extracts, such as gingerroot, elderberries, or green tea, as well as whole grains. Look for nontraditional cereal grains, such as triticale, spelt, kamut, quinoa, flax, and soybeans. Sprouted grains offer a sweet, maltlike flavor. Substitutes for refined sugar include honey and fruit-juice concentrates; however, these ingredients add sugar, too. Cereals have also become more portable for on-the-go consumers without the time for a sit-down breakfast.

See also Breakfast; Cereal Grains and Pseudo-Cereals; Kellogg, John Harvey; Wheat: Wheat as a Food.


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Leonard, David. "How Healthy Is Your Breakfast Cereal?" University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Service. Available at http://ceinfo.unh.edu/Common/Documents/gsc10130.htm.

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W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Available at http://www.wkkf.org/WhoWeAre/Founder.asp.

"Will Keith Kellogg." Available at http://www.netstate.com.

Patricia S. Michalak