Can Cheerios Really Reduce Cholesterol?

July 29th, 2009

Cheerios, Cholesterol and Heart DiseaseGeneral Mills has successfully marketed their Cheerios brand of cereal to the point of it becoming widely recognized as a healthy breakfast food that helps to prevent heart disease. Are their claims for real, or are they nothing more than marketing hype?

One thing we can be sure of is that General Mills is pushing Cheerios as a “heart healthy” food very aggressively. The Cheerios box proudly boasts it’s cholesterol lowering capabilities and prominently displays the very expensive American Heart Association seal of approval, and just in case you overlook them, there are plenty of Cheerios commercials to make sure that you get the message.

Is Cheerios a Cereal or a Drug?

For several years, the Cheerios box proudly proclaimed that the cereal can lower your cholesterol by 4% in 6 weeks. The FDA took exception and sent General Mills this warning letter back in May indicating that such a claim is in violation of FDA policy and classifies Cheerios as an unapproved drug. This is in spite of the reputation that the FDA has earned for succumbing to political and corporate influence.

According to the FDA, General Mills can still promote Cheerios as a product that reduces the risk of heart disease, and as expected, they’re taking full advantage of the remaining opportunity. Despite how little television I watch, I saw two Cheerios commercials just in the past week, both of which were entirely based on the claim that it reduces the risk of heart disease.

Can Cheerios Really Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease?

According to General Mills:

Oats contain soluble fiber that can help soak up some cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can build up in your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease. Think of oats as tiny sponges that can help soak up some cholesterol and naturally remove it from your body. The soluble fiber in oats binds some of the cholesterol in your digestive tract. This cholesterol is “trapped” and some of it is removed from your body naturally.

This perspective is seriously flawed and based on a symptom chasing mentality. According to the most up to date and unbiased beliefs, heart disease is typically caused by inflammation within the artery wall. In contrast, cholesterol doesn’t stick to artery walls and cause atherosclerosis simply because it’s circulating in the blood stream. A thorough investigation of heart disease research reveals that there is little to no correlation between saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, and heart disease.7-20 For more information on how we’ve been misled in regard to cholesterol and heart disease, read about The Cholesterol Myths and the Fat Head documentary.

As a crucial part of the cell membrane, cholesterol acts as a repair agent for damaged cells. As such, when cell damage occurs in the artery wall, the body produces additional cholesterol to repair it. Despite the fact that conventional medicine views high cholesterol as the cause of heart disease, it’s typically just a symptom of a deeper underlying problem that’s causing cell damage. Artificially lowering cholesterol hampers the body’s ability to repair itself, and by neglecting the true cause of the problem, allows it to get worse.

Even if it were a good thing to intentionally lower cholesterol, which it is for only a small percentage of the population, General Mills claims that Cheerios can lower cholesterol by 4%. If your total cholesterol is 300, 4% of that is 12 which isn’t much of a difference at all. In fact, this change is small enough to be considered a testing variance.

Cheerios Can Actually Increase Your Risk of Heart Disease!

There’s good reason why diabetes and heart disease are associated. The high blood sugar that’s characteristic of diabetes also causes the artery damage and inflammation that can lead to heart disease.5,6 Excessive consumption of carbohydrates is the primary cause of the blood sugar fluctuation that promotes these problems. As a grain based product, Cheerios is fairly high in carbohydrates, and when combined with other common breakfast foods, the amount of carbohydrate increases substantially.

The primary ingredient of Cheerios is whole grain which is another reason why it’s promoted as a healthy cereal. Although whole grains are healthier than refined grains, they’re still carbohydrates and can still convert into blood sugar rather quickly. Furthermore, Cheerios contains sugar and refined grain in addition to the whole grain which adds to the potential for blood sugar fluctuation.

A 1 cup serving of Cheerios contains 20 grams of carbohydrates. However, 1 cup isn’t much and most people are likely to eat 2 or more cups in one sitting which at least doubles the amount of carbohydrates. By adding a cup of milk and a modest 8 ounce glass of orange juice, the meal quickly approaches 100 grams of carbohydrates which for many people is enough for the entire day! Although many people would consider this type of breakfast to be healthy, it’s bound to cause blood sugar fluctuation and have a negative impact. In comparison, it would be quite a challenge to get this much carbohydrate from a truly healthy meal based on natural whole foods such as meat, fish, fruit, and vegetables.

Carbohydrates Aren’t the Only Concern

Partly due to the misguided criticism of saturated fat, grains have become the most popular food in the modern diet. However, they’re not as healthy as food manufacturers would like you to think. Grains have only been part of our diet for about 10,000 years which is less than 1% of our history. Research has shown that our height and brain size have decreased during this transition. There’s also evidence of impaired growth, weaker bones, altered facial structures leading to malocclusion, and an increase in tooth decay and tooth loss.1-4 Although some people can do well on whole grain foods, many people have trouble digesting grains, particularly the gluten that many of them contain, and encounter significant health problems as a result.

Do Your Food Choices Pass This Simple Test?

With all of the misleading marketing and conflicting information that exists in regard to food and health, trying to make healthy food choices can be overwhelming for the average person. Fortunately, there’s a simple way to get around this. If a food doesn’t come from the ground, an animal, a tree, or a plant and was unlikely to be consumed by humans more than 10,000 years ago, then it’s most likely not a healthy food. Considering how common processed food has become, most people are shocked by how much food this eliminates. As a result, they often fail to realize that there’s still a wide variety of delicious meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables to choose from. In contrast to Cheerios, these are the foods that a truly healthy and natural diet is based on.

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