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The Danger Of “Healthy” Cereals For Kids

In order to avoid the high levels of sugar that are contained in kids’ cereals, many parents are choosing what they believe is the healthier option of fortified breakfast cereals. However, these cereals could be causing more harm than good due to the dangerous amounts of certain nutrients that are contained in them.

According to a new report by the Environmental Working Group, young children are at risk of consuming quantities of niacin, zinc and vitamin A that are too high for their bodies to cope with. The numbers of children affected are extremely high. The combination of vitamin supplements and food intake mean that over 13 million children in America are ingesting too much zinc, almost 5 million are taking in too much niacin, and over 10 million are ingesting too much vitamin A.

The main reason for the excess is that all three of these nutrients are added to fortified foods in amounts that have been calculated for adults, not for children. Because age-appropriate labeling on products that are specifically targeted to children is not a requirement, and because the daily values for the majority of minerals and vitamins on food labels have not been updated by the FDA since 1968, the nutritional information on food labels adds to the confusion for parents. Many parents do not read the labels and are instead swayed by the prominent marketing claims on the packaging of cereals that could be potentially misleading, promoting high fortification levels in order to give the impression that their products are more nutritious.

The EWG identifies in one component of the report, 23 cereals that have the highest added doses of niacin, zinc and vitamin A. For children of 8 years old and younger a single serving of one of these cereals would exceed the safe limit recommended by the Institute of Medicine. A few of the well-known, popular cereals included on this list were: Kellogg’s All Bran Complete; Kashi U With Black Currants And Walnuts, and General Mills Total Raisin Bran.

What Is The Danger In Overdoing These Nutrients?

Routinely ingesting too much vitamin A can, in time, lead to a variety of health problems including peeling skin, skeletal abnormalities, hair loss, brittle nails and liver damage. Zinc levels that are too high can impair the body’s ability to absorb copper. Copper is already low in the diets of many Americans and low levels of copper can lead to fatigue and anemia. High levels of zinc can also have a negative effect on the immune function and on red and white blood cells. Although niacin is not as toxic as zinc and vitamin A, too much of it can cause short term symptoms like vomiting, nausea and rash.

Clinical dietitian and director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital, Roberta Anding says that the EWG’s report highlights the fact that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. She also reports that she sees an equal number of patients with nutrition poisoning to the number she sees that have nutrition deficiencies. She points out that many people are unaware that minerals and vitamins can act like drugs inside the body; and that in the same way you would not take three times the recommended dosage of an antibiotic in order to benefit from three times the protection – in fact that level of dosage would cause harm to your body – taking more than the recommended amount of nutrients can have a similar effect.

How To Get Your Kids To Eat Healthy

The first step is to make sure that your children are eating a well-rounded diet of a variety of whole foods. Anding says that the idea is to put together a combination of beautiful food on a plate that consists of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains.

Be wary of foods in packaging that have flashy marketing claims, and pay more attention to the food labels. Anding recommends avoiding foods that contain more than 25% of the recommended daily value of any nutrients. She also points out that it is not only cereals that are to blame. Many products are fortified, including snack bars, yogurts, juices and waters; and any of these could send your child’s (or your own) nutrient levels beyond the healthy point.

Regarding daily multivitamins for children, according to Anding these should only be used when an aversion, allergy or fussy eating results in a major food group missing from your child’s diet.

Mary D. Jordan / February 6, 2015 / Choose food wisely