There is a sunny yellow box inside the homes of countless families' kitchens. There is a single product that is ubiquitous among children of all ages. There is a cereal so friendly it ranks high on the list of 'first foods' for babies without teeth all over the United States.
My brother ate so many of these oat circles growing up that I could hardly stand the smell of them by age 9. When I was a child, sugar cereal was a treat not to be eaten at breakfast. If it was really bad or had marshmallows in it, we could choose to buy it instead of another treat, but it could not be eaten for breakfast. It had to be for an afternoon snack. But we could get non-sugar cereals, and it seemed a popular choice was often the oat circles in the yellow box. But I really didn't like them. So I ate toast or something else.
Then after my kids were born this cereal was everywhere. Now all of a sudden it seemed like it was a household staple. The kids loved them, they made little mess when they feed themselves (Except when you step on them after they have fallen to the floor. I swear half of the dust in my vacuum is cereal dust sucked out of the area rug.), and they were healthy enough to feed to a 7 month old right? What was in it? OATS!! Right? Isn't it oats? I know it doesn't look like oatmeal, but that shouldn't matter.
Then after two years of feeding these brand name oat circles to my kids, I finally picked up the box. This is what it said:
Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phopsphate, Oat Fiber, Wheat Starch. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.
There is also a long list of added vitamins and minerals. Aaaaahhhh, enrichment. This enrichment is no different than the flour enrichment I discussed last week.
Now to be fair, this large manufactuerer of brand name cereals puts out alot more dubious products laden with sugar and marketed directly at children. Like I said, my own mother was exasperated by our constant pleas for sugar cereal when my brother and I were children. She put limits on what and how much she would buy and how much we were allowed to eat. This one particular brand of oat circle cereal is not the biggest threat to health out there. It probably does more harm than good when compared to all the highly processed foods heavy with salt and sugar that are so commonplace these days. But still, the long ingredient list surprised me, and one can hardly put it in the whole foods category. So what is all that stuff?
Modified Corn Starch: This additive is a starch derivitive. It is just like a starchy corn flour that the processor adds acids and other chemicals to break down the starches until it becomes almost like a powdered geletin (except it is not animal based geletin at all, it is plant starch based). It's purpose is to act as a thickener or stablizer. I am not a cereal maker, but I would guess it is what helps to keep all that ground up whole wheat oat flour together.
Tripotassium Phosphate: This is a water soluable ionic salt (huh?). It is also used in the food industry as a stabilizer and emulsifier. Oh, and it can be used as a fertilizer (a fertilizer with no nitrogen, but hey when you are eating fertilizer who is counting).
Oat Fiber: Just the germ and bran of the Oat Groat.
Wheat Starch: Exactly like Modified Corn Starch only made from the wheat plant.
Tocopherols: I learned something new recently. I always knew that when you see the word tocopherol you knew they were refering to Vitamin E. Well apparently there are 8 different kinds (read 8 different molecular structures) of vitamin E. Four of these kinds are classified as tocopherols. Beyond that, I guess I just wasn't paying close enough attention in my 11th grade chemistry class. The info is all there, but alot of the true chemistry stuff I just don't get.
By the way--I have been slacking on the bibliography feature of late. All information for today's post came from Wikidepia.org
So what does all this mean? Upon diving deeper, these oat circles probably do more good than harm as I said. They are mostly oats and they are WHOLE oats, which is way better than eating sausage breakfast sandwiches and pop tarts. But, they do contain salt and sugar and the highly processed starches and stabilizers leaving me wanting something better for my family. I love oatmeal the way it is. I was never looking for a shelf stable version of the thing I love. I gave my kids these oat circles because I am like everyone else out there, I never questioned them.
So I have switched to New Morning Oatios. This brand is organic, lists their ingredients online (try looking for the big guys, their nutritional page is empty) and the nutritional profile is largely the same as the big guys. There is slightly more sugar (2g vs 1g--which is almost nothing anyway) but in New Morning's product sugar is not listed as an ingredient which makes me feel better. And they taste more real to me, more grainy like a whole grain product should.