First off, I'm impressed. I give a thumbs-up to General Mills for making the right choice and putting out a mainstream product that is actually somewhat good for you. It is definitely better for you than any of the breakfast cereals made with refined grains. Now, certainly there are some things that can be improved in the health of General Millsí cereals - for example, they still use refined sugars. However, this is a huge step in the right direction, and I think General Mills deserves a lot of credit for having the courage to stand up and take this step. Moving to whole grains is a very big deal.
You'll notice the other cereal companies havenít been doing it. You don't see Post moving everything to whole grains, and you don't see Kellogg's doing it. It's only General Mills.
If you look at the ingredients label on this whole grain Total cereal, you'll find that they are, indeed, telling the truth. The first ingredient is whole-grain wheat. That's what I want to see: Whole-grain wheat. Not "refined white flour," "bleached flour," or "wheat flour" -- I want to see whole-grain wheat. Of course, the second ingredient is sugar, and that's not something I'm thrilled about. However, again, this is still a step in the right direction.
Because let's face it, most consumers out there don't read labels at all. They're just going to buy the popular cereals no matter what's in them, as long as it tastes good. The fact they are now getting whole grains in these popular cereals means they're going to be getting much better nutrition even without having to change their purchasing habits or their food consumption habits. Again, that's a huge deal for all the consumers out there who don't really know much about nutrition, and that's at least 90 percent of the population.
Those of you reading this, of course, are much better educated than the rest of the population and you know about nutrition. You're probably already eating whole-grain cereals made by other companies. However, for the mass market, this is a huge move in the right direction, and that's why I think General Mills truly deserves a lot of credit for doing it. Hopefully some of the other big cereal companies will follow suit. Maybe in time they will also release whole-grain foods or switch everything over to whole grains. That would be what we'd really want to see.
In terms of the health spectrum for grains, by the way, let me give you my personal view on all of this. Over on one side, in the unhealthy category, we have processed grains or anything refined or bleached. Clearly, white flour belongs in that category. Also, there's instant rice, white rice and instant oats. Then, moving up from that, a little bit healthier, we have whole-grain products. I should say a lot healthier, actually. Whole-grain products have more fiber, they have a little bit more protein and they have a lot more of the vitamin, mineral and nutrient content of the original whole grain. Depending on how they're processed, they can also contain some of the healthy oils found in the original whole grain. The best grain to get, by the way, is sprouted grains. You've seen this at the health food store, perhaps. Ezekiel bread is a great example of this. I'm currently eating a cereal that's made with nothing but sprouted grains: Ezekiel cereal by Food For Life. This is a fantastic product.
So, if you were to stack these boxes against each other, what would happen? Let's say you have your standard Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, and that's your refined white-flour product that the mass market is going to consume. Then, a little bit above that you have General Millsí whole grain Total cereal. That's much better for you; it's a step in the right direction. Then on top of that you have Ezekiel sprouted grains. This happens to be "Golden Flax" flavor sprouted-grain cereal from Food For Life. You won't find this in mainstream distribution. You will only get this in health food stores or natural grocers who have a health food section. So, in terms of what's available to the mass market, it's really only the General Mills products. And that's, again, why this decision by General Mills is such a big deal.
You might ask, "OK, Mike, what's wrong with all of the refined grains?" This might be a review for all of you who are familiar with this information, but I've got to cover this for the new readers. What's wrong with refined grains? There's a lot wrong with them. If you take a whole grain out of the ground and then you mill it, you end up stripping away virtually all of the nutrition. As much as 98 percent of the magnesium, for example, is gone by the time it's refined. By the time it's white, bleached flour that's shipped off for human consumption, it's depleted of its nutrients. It has almost none of the original B vitamin content, almost none of the original mineral content, it doesn't have the fiber and it doesn't have the proteins and healthy oils of the whole grain.
Consuming whole grains, of course, delivers all that essential nutrition. That's why you want whole grains. There's another reason: when you consume refined grains, they actually strip nutrition out of your body. During digestion, it takes more nutrition out of your body to process those refined grains than you get from them. Basically, all you're getting when you eat white bread, white flour or breakfast cereals made with white flour is empty calories -- nothing but the carbohydrate, or technically the endosperm of the grain.
You also get some things you don't want in white flour. Sometimes you get pesticide, solvents or other contaminants. I don't want to be eating anything that says "bleached." If you look at the ingredients label on a lot of these boxes, it says, "enriched bleached flour." Do I want something bleached in my body? Gee, I don't think so. What's this "enriched" anyway? The truth about "enriched" is that white flour is so dangerous to human health and will cause such obvious nutritional deficiency diseases that, by law, food manufacturers have to add back in certain minimal quantities of specific nutrients. Then they can call it "enriched". This is what prevents diseases like beriberi.
So they have to add these things back in, but not everything they took out. When they're refining grains they may take out 100 different nutrients, and then they put only five back in. These are just the five that prevent the most obvious nutritional deficiencies. Then the cereal companies say, "Okay, this meets the minimum Federal nutrition standard. "Eat this up kids!" Then we wonder why our kids go off to school and can't learn, can't concentrate, get diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), get put on powerful narcotics or are given terrible labels of diseases they're going to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
The truth is, it all begins at the breakfast table. That's right. If you feed these kids right, they won't have these behavior problems, and they won't have these learning disabilities. Eighty percent of children diagnosed with ADHD can be symptom-free in a period of weeks simply by changing their diets. If you think about what we do for ourselves as adults, and for our children, most of us have a breakfast that promotes chronic disease and blood sugar swings. Any time you have refined grains for breakfast, you are setting yourself up for a terrible day -- a day of mood swings, a day where your concentration wanes, a day where your mental function is impaired, your memory isn't working correctly and your creativity just isn't up to speed.
You know what I'm talking about: After the midday maybe you get this kind of lull and you don't feel very good any more, or you feel hungry. It's because you ate too many refined carbohydrates for breakfast. For a lot of people, breakfast is nothing but refined carbohydrates. Think about it: Toasted white bread is nothing but refined carbs. If you put some jelly on it, again, itís nothing but sugar with a little bit of fruit flavor. Then they get some hydrogenated oils in the margarine that's put on toast. You might eat some pancakes and there's some more white flour for you, just in case you didn't get enough from the toast. What do you put on top of the pancakes? Syrup, of course, which is liquid refined carbs that go into your bloodstream even faster.
On top of that, people sometimes eat bacon or sausage, and these have cancer-causing ingredients. Sodium nitrite is prominent in these foods. It's the number one preservative used by meat manufacturers to make sure their meats have a long shelf life. Then, just to make sure they're really awake and jazzed up, people will chug down some coffee with some caffeine as well. So, they go off to work in this jazzed-up state, right? They've got this blood sugar spiking. They've got this caffeine jazzing up their nervous system, and their pancreas is working overtime because it has to produce all this insulin to counter the blood sugar rise caused by the consumption of all these carbohydrates. At the same time, their heart has to pump harder because they've got these hydrogenated oils in them. And if they drank milk, by the way, they've got these homogenized milk fats to deal with as well, which is another form of unnatural fat.
So, they take all of this, they put it in their bodies, and they go off to work in this kind of nervous wreck state where their organs are stressed out and overworked. They're good for about an hour? Then, pretty soon, mid-morning comes and BOOM! They're crashed out. "What am I going to do? I'm crashed out." That's because you're having this whiplash effect from all of the sugars you consumed. That caffeine's going to wear off as well. All the white flour is going to wear off. So what do most people do? They reach for a candy bar or soda, because they need that sugar high again. That's the only way they know how to have any kind of brain function. They reach for that, and they repeat the whole cycle over again. During this cycle, they're getting mood swings and they're getting irritable when blood sugar levels dip down too low.
If you do this long enough, you're going to get insulin sensitivity problems, where you're no longer sensitive to your own insulin. It's called "Syndrome X" or metabolic syndrome. Itís a precursor to adult onset type-2 diabetes. This is especially true if you combine this behavior with a lack of physical exercise. So, if you're sitting behind a desk and you're starting off your morning with all these refined carbohydrates, liquid sugars or liquid carbs, and you're dosing yourself mid-morning with soft drinks, carbonated beverages, sugary juices or candy bars, then you're likely going to end up with diabetes. Then you're going to have a serious medical problem, of course. Not to mention the fact you've also created a hormonal system where your body is going to force the storage of body fat. How's that for a bonus side effect? Not only do you get diabetes, mood swings and lack of cognitive function, you also pack on excess body fat by the hour.
Wow! To think it all started out with breakfast. That's right, that box of cereal with refined white flour, or what they call "enriched, bleached white flour." It's all in the diet folks.
So now, let's take a look at a healthy person, someone making wise food choices, and starting off their morning right. What do they eat? Well, they're going to eat whole grains; slow-burning complex carbohydrates. Maybe it's this Ezekiel cereal, or maybe it's the whole grain Total cereal. If it were me, I'd eat this Ezekiel cereal sweetened with stevia, because stevia is not going to have a high glycemic index load and it's not going to spike your blood sugar, whereas the sugar in this Total cereal will have more of a glycemic load on your body. So, I would prefer an unsweetened cereal that I sweeten myself with stevia, which is an herbal sweetener.
In due time, these carbohydrates are going to slowly get converted into blood sugar, so they're going to give you a steady, slow stream of fuel. Fuel to power your brain (remember, your brain runs on blood glucose), fuel for the organs in your body, fuel for the physical movements you need to engage in just to get to work and get to your desk and so on. This is going to be a slow, steady source of fuel. By the way, if you combine it with some healthy oils and some quality proteins at the time of breakfast, then you will further slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream. So you will absorb your meal slowly and steadily.
This is the way to start your day right. This is the way to power your brain so you have ongoing mental function, creativity and mental acuity. Power your brain with low glycemic index foods.
I don't mean they're zero carb foods. I think you need carbs. In fact, I'm writing a book on this called The Food Timing Diet based on the idea of using macronutrient cycling to use these complex carbs throughout the day at frequent intervals in order to keep your brain functioning at its peak performance level. At the same time, you donít get so many carbs on this diet that you overload your pancreas or suffer from wild blood sugar swings.
In fact, in my experience, if you eat more frequently, and if you eat smaller portions, you get this incredible boost of energy throughout the day without any stimulants whatsoever. Forget about the caffeine and the coffee, forget about refined carbohydrates, forget about refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup or carbonated beverages. You don't need those things when you follow the "Food Timing Diet." I didn't mean to make this a plug for the "Food Timing Diet;" I'm just excited about what it can do for you, how it works and how it keeps your brain functioning at optimum levels.
Let's get back to the whole grain Total product here, because I want to wrap this up for you. I know a lot of readers out there say, "Look, I understand what you're saying Mike. Intellectually I follow it, I want to do it, but I've got kids. They won't eat the stuff that you talk about. How do I feed my kids?"
This is your answer, folks: General Mills cereals. These are brand-name cereals available everywhere. They are now made with whole grains. They are not my number one choice for cereal, but they are a great improvement over everything else on the popular market. So if you want to get your kids into a healthier lifestyle, improve their nervous system function and even, I believe, help prevent any diagnosis of ADHD, behavioral disorders or learning disorders, then you need to start with nutrition. These whole-grain cereals from General Mills are a good part of that outstanding nutrition.
You would be even better off making sure your kids don't eat any other bleached, refined, processed white flour at all. Don't buy white bread; buy only whole-grain breads. Don't buy toaster pastries made with this refined white flour; go to the health food store and get whole-wheat toaster pastries. Donít feed your kids syrup made with nothing but sugar and flavors, or any of these other things like jellies or jams made with refined sugar and a little bit of fruit flavor. Go get the real thing. Go get some real fresh fruit in a jar. That's what you should be shooting for. If you do that, you can give your kids a huge advantage, not just each and every day, but also for the development of their nervous systems, that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
So, once again, General Mills is demonstrating some courageous leadership out there. Hopefully consumers will continue to buy these products and we will see increased demand for these whole-grain food products. I believe companies that introduce whole-grain products deserve to be financially rewarded for having the courage to make this wise nutritional choice. And although I could dish out a whole lot of criticism directed at General Mills for selling such sugar-laden cereals to children over the years, I personally think it's more productive to point out the few things they're doing right and try to create more consumer demand for their healthier products.
General Mills is probably never going to be a health food company, but at least they can play a positive role in avoiding the most egregious nutritional mistakes (like making breakfast cereals with white flour and refined white sugar). What would the next huge improvement be for General Mills? How about making zero-sugar cereals with stevia as the only sweetener? I'd be floored, and I'd rave endlessly about General Mills if they went straight to natural herbal sweeteners.
Of course, to do that, the FDA has to give up protecting the Nutrasweet monopoly and actually legalize stevia as a safe food ingredient, and that's another story altogether. It seems to take an act of God just to get the FDA to do anything for the public good these days, so don't expect miracles any time soon on this front.