The Cheerios Myth

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Cheerios claims to be clinically proven to help lower cholesterol: as much as 10% in 1 month! As I don’t hate Cheerios — and they’re far faster to make in the morning than oatmeal — I thought it warranted investigation.

An April 2009 research study conducted by the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition (which is owned by General Mills, the maker of Cheerios) did indeed prove that eating 3 cups of Cheerios per day “as part of a reduced calorie diet low in fat” lowered LDL or “bad” cholesterol about 10 percent in one month.

Pretty impressive.

Except it’s not, really.

What it is is marketing muscle. General Mills created a positioning for Cheerios and went after it — brilliantly.  It’s completely true that Cheerios as part of a healthy diet can lower cholesterol.  So, um, can apples and broccoli.

The real rub is this: to eat 3 cups of Cheerios per day would be a LOT for a Cheerio-lover, which I am not. And even if I were, 3 cups is 3 SERVINGS of Cheerios per day (!) to get to the 3 grams of soluble fiber that is behind all that cholesterol lowering. Three servings of cereal per day is not just a lot of food, it’s also a lot of calories (380 with 1 cup of skim milk, according to the Cheerios box).

Let’s compare that with a measly HALF-cup of oatmeal.  One-half cup (a very reasonable – some might even say small serving size) of Quaker Old Fashioned or Quick oatmeal delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber.  So to get to 3 grams of soluble fiber, all you need to do is eat 3/4 cup of oatmeal rather than 3 cups of Cheerios.

Oatmeal not your thing? That’s OK, there are other cold cereals that are better than Cheerios at delivering soluble fiber. In fact, the UMass Medical School published a handy spreadsheet comparing breakfast cereals: How Does You Cereal Rate? That link is no longer active, but this searchable list is great. A Calorie Counter published, Breakfast Cereal Compared: Cereals from Post, Kellogg’s & General Mills. You can sort the cereals listed by fiber or other nutritional elements.

So yes, technically, Cheerios can help lower cholesterol. They’ve proved that and are marketing it well.  But there are other cereals (and other breakfast choices) that do it better…other choices that deliver more soluble fiber in a reasonable serving size.

As for me, since I don’t love cold cereal, I’m sticking with my daily 1/2 bagel with lox for breakfast. Alongside my bagel, all I have to do is chug down one and one-half glasses of Metamucil, since just 1 Tbsp of Metamucil delivers 2 grams of soluble fiber. Takes about, um, 30 seconds – versus what would feel like days for me to eat 3 cups of cold cereal.

Take THAT Cheerios.

And now I need to find that Metamucil bottle, since I seem to have stopped taking Metamucil this summer.  Gotta’ get back on that efficient lo-co bandwagon.


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