GMO Inside Blog

Are Cheerios Really a Healthy Choice?

cheerios

“Are Cheerios Really a Healthy Choice?”

Cheerios are an iconic breakfast cereal eaten by millions of American’s every day, owned by staunch GMO enthusiast General Mills. These millions of Americans have been told by General Mills that Cheerios are a healthy breakfast and snack item that brings the benefits of wholesome oats, low sugar, and essential vitamins and minerals into their diets.

While GMO Inside recognizes that whole grains like oats, moderation of sugar, and balanced consumption of vitamins and minerals are certainly part of a healthy eating plan, a deeper look at Cheerios uncovers that their claimed benefits are also accompanied by a high risk of GMOs, surprisingly controversial ingredients, and a less than stellar overall nutritional profile.

Taking a careful look at Cheerios, GMO Inside would like to help consumers answer the question; Are Cheerios really a healthy choice?

Let us start by breaking down the ingredients for the entire Cheerios line. GMO Inside has bolded the likely GMO ingredients in each variety below.

 

box_detail_yellow

 

Cheerios: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Wheat Starch, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_honeynut

 

Honey Nut Cheerios: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Modified Corn Starch, Honey, Brown Sugar Syrup, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Natural Almond Flavor, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

MGC New


Multi Grain Cheerios
: Whole Grain Corn, Whole Grain Wheat, Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Barley, Whole Grain Rice, Corn Starch, Brown Sugar Syrup, Corn Bran, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Color Added, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_apple


Apple Cinnamon Cheerios
: Whole Grain Oats, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Corn Meal, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Apple Puree Concentrate, Salt, Cinnamon, Trisodium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate, Vanillin, Wheat Starch, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_chocolate


Chocolate Cheerios
: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Whole Grain Oats, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Salt, Color Added, Dried Corn Syrup, Corn Bran, Barley Malt Extract, Trisodium Phosphate, Vanillin. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

Dulce_Large


Dulche de Leche Cheerios
: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Whole Grain Oats, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Corn Syrup, Caramel Syrup (caramelized sugar, water), Salt, Brown Sugar Syrup, Corn Bran, Trisodium Phosphate, Color Added, Natural Flavor, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

MGC_PB_LargeBox


Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter
: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Peanut Butter (peanuts, monoglycerides), Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Sorghum, Whole Grain Barley, Whole Grain Rice, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Salt, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Peanut Oil, Color Added, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_cinnamon
Cinnamon Burst Cheerios
: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Corn Bran, Corn Meal, Soluble Corn Fiber, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Whole Grain Oats, Brown Sugar Syrup, Salt, Cinnamon, Guar Gum, Natural Flavor, Color Added, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_frosted
Frosted Cheerios
: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Sugar, Corn Meal, Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Salt, Trisodium Phosphate, Color Added, Brown Sugar Syrup, Vanillin, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshnees.

 

 

 

box_detail_fruityFruity Cheerios: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Whole Grain Oats, Corn Syrup, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Pear Puree Concentrate, Salt, Corn Starch, Dried Corn Syrup, Corn Bran, Trisodium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Color (red 40, yellow 6, blue 1, and other color added), Sodium Citrate, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) BHT and Ascorbic Acid Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_yogurtYogurt Burst Cheerios: Whole Grain Oats (includes the oat bran), Sugar, Naturally Yogurt Flavored Coating (sugar, fractionated palm kernel oil, dextrose, corn starch, dried strawberries, dried nonfat yogurt [heat treated after culturing](cultured nonfat milk), color added, soy lecithin, nonfat milk, natural flavor, maltodextrin), Corn Meal, Modified Corn Starch, Corn Syrup, Salt, Trisodium Phosphate, Brown Sugar Syrup, Color Added, Wheat Flour, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

box_detail_bananaBanana Nut Cheerios: Whole Grain Corn, Sugar, Whole Grain Oats, Brown Sugar Syrup, Corn Syrup, Canola and/or Rice Bran Oil, Salt, Dried Corn Syrup, Banana Puree, Corn Bran, Corn Starch, Trisodium Phosphate, Color Added, Sodium Citrate, Natural Flavor, Natural Almond Flavor, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) and BHT Added to Preserve Freshness.

 

 

Once again, all of the Bolded ingredients above are likely GMOs.

Analysis

Currently on the Cheerios website, General Mills claims their Cheerios varieties are a part of a healthy diet because they are low in saturated fat, naturally cholesterol free, can help lower cholesterol, are made with whole grains like oats, and provide essential vitamins and minerals.

Over the years public perception has been shaped by these and similar claims so that Cheerios cereals have become widely considered to be a healthy choice that is low in sugar, unprocessed, and made with natural ingredients.

But what is true, and what is fiction? Let’s break it down.

Are Cheerios Made with Wholesome Grains and Oats?

Originally called “Cheerioats”, the Cheerios name was selected so the cereal would be associated with the taste and wholesome appeal of oats. One of the main nutrition angles that General Mills exploits is the use of natural oats in Cheerios, however, in seven out of the twelve Cheerios varieties currently sold in the U.S. marketplace, oats are not even listed as the first ingredient (remember, ingredients are listed in order of abundance by weight within a product).

All Cheerios cereal varieties are made with whole grains and do have at least 8 grams per serving, but whole grains ground into flour, do not have the same health benefits as unprocessed whole grains. On the Cheerios website they say that their process is simply mixing, cooking, forming, and toasting. While that sounds nice, the final product – uniform and indistinguishable O’s – bears little resemblance to whole oats or any other whole grains. Cheerios are indeed made with whole grains, but “processed whole grains” would be a more appropriate listing.

Are Cheerios Low in Sugar?

In terms of Sugar – Only Regular Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, and Dulche De Leche Cheerios have less than 9 grams of sugar per serving. The nine other Cheerios varieties have a sugar content that is much too high to be considered low or healthy when compared to other accessible breakfast cereal options. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day, and no more than 38 grams for men.  The average amount of sugar per serving (1 or ¾ Cups depending on variety) across all varieties of Cheerios is 7.92 grams per cup or quarter cup.

According to the nutritional information on the Cheerios website, the serving sizes are not consistent across the whole Cheerios line. The serving size is 1 cup for both regular Cheerios, which has 1 gram of sugar serving, and for Multi Grain Cheerios, which has 6 grams of sugar per serving.

Conversely, the more sugary varieties of Cheerios: Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter, Fruity Cheerios, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios – have a smaller serving size of ¾ Cup. This is not something that Cheerios advertises as broadly as the other aspects of its cereals, probably because it would draw attention to the fact that even though you are supposed to be eating less of these Cheerios varieties, you are still getting more sugar. Since this is not as widely publicized, then there are almost certainly consumers who are unaware of these different serving sizes and are starting their days off with an even higher amount of unexpected sugar.

Do Cheerios Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease and High Cholesterol?

Cheerios are infamous for their heart healthy claims and for being low in saturated fat and cholesterol. The brand in the past pushed these claims so heavily that in 2009 the FDA had to send a letter asking General Mills to alter Cheerios marketing strategies because of “unauthorized health claims” and because said claims would mean that Cheerios would fall under the label of an “unapproved new drug”. Cheerios has since reworked their marketing and health claims into the message that Cheerios CAN be a part of a healthy diet that COULD reduce the risks of heart disease.

It is important to note that part of what allows Cheerios to claim that it can be part of a diet that could reduce the risk of heart disease is the cereals’ fiber and whole grain content. We already covered the whole grain aspects of Cheerios, and when looking at fiber it appears that ONLY Regular Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios contain soluble fiber, with Cheerios having just 1 gram per serving, Honey Nut Cheerios having 0.75 gram per serving, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios with “less than 1 gram of soluble fiber”.

Concerning insoluble fiber, listed on the boxes as dietary fiber – Only Regular Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter, and Cinnamon Burst have over 2 grams of Dietary Fiber. The remaining 8 out of the 12 varieties are only at an inadequate 2 grams per serving.

The bottom line for this is that if you are eating cereal for breakfast and we were only paying attention to fiber numbers, then regular Cheerios is the only variety of Cheerios that would provide an adequate amount of fiber to start your day in a healthy way.

What about the other ingredients in Cheerios that are not bolded because of a high risk of being GMOs?

BHT is Butylated Hydroxytoluene a food additive used to preserve freshness in some products, but in scientific studies it has been shown to be possible carcinogen. As shown above, BHT is used in Chocolate Cheerios, Dulche De Leche Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, and Banana Nut Cheerios.

Other ingredients used in some or all of the Cheerios varieties that have raised red flags for health conscious consumers include: Trisodium Phosphate, Artificial Colors, Natural Flavors, Vanillin (synthetic Vanilla), Corn Syrup, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, and Glycerides. Each of these ingredients have been possibly linked to negative health impacts by studies in recent years and many health conscious consumers have put these ingredients on their do-not-eat lists.

Do Cheerios Contain GMOs?

The most common GMO crops to look out for in the U.S. are Soy, Corn, Cotton, Canola, Sugar Beets, and Papaya. Foods that clearly have these words in their ingredient lists are all at risk of being GMO if they are not certified organic or Non-GMO.

General Mills sources its corn from the United States, where 88% of the crop is genetically modified, and our ingredient breakdown showed that corn-based ingredients are a common ingredient in all Cheerios varieties. While the corn ingredients are easy to spot and flag, some other high GMO risk ingredients that have been bolded are a little more inconspicuous. For example, Vitamin E is in each and every one of the Cheerios products, and is a hidden GMO ingredient that many consumers are unaware of. Vitamin E in Cheerios comes from Mixed Tocopherols which are most commonly derived from soy, corn, or cotton –the most extensively genetically engineered crops. For a list of other GMO ingredients that are commonly hidden in processes foods, Non-GMO Shopping Guide has built this highly useful list.

As a refresher, If you were to sample each and every Cheerios product –since General Mills does not make organic Cheerios or allow GMO testing – the following are the likely GMOs you would be consuming: Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), Honey, Brown Sugar Syrup, Canola Oil, Natural Almond Flavor, Whole Grain Corn, Corn Starch, Corn Bran, Corn Syrup, Dried Corn Syrup, Caramel Syrup made from Caramelized Sugar, Natual Flavors, Peanut Butter made with Monoglycerides, Dextrose, Corn Meal, Soluble Corn Fiber, Sodium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin.

Multi Grain Cheerios are the only Cheerios variety that has just one likely GMO ingredient in its first three ingredients listed. The likely GMO ingredient however is its first-listed and most abundant ingredient: Whole Grain Corn. This Whole Grain Corn is almost certainly genetically modified.

Besides Multi Grain Cheerios, the ingredients list for every single other variety of Cheerios starts with at least two out of its most abundant ingredients as likely GMOs. Taking this a step further – each of the first three ingredients for both Chocolate and Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter are likely GMOs, and all of the first six ingredients in Cinnamon Burst Cheerios are very likely to be made from GMOs.

Conclusions

Cheerios of all types are loaded with likely GMOs, and the brand across the board does not live up to the positive public perception and nutritious message that General Mills has cultivated through years of advertisements, loose health claims, and public relations strategies.

For people interested in eating for optimal health, consuming whole foods and staying away from processed products are good basic guidelines to follow. The lengthiness of the Cheerios ingredient lists and the inclusion of unrecognizable synthetic ingredients, unnecessary and controversial food additives, cheap sweeteners, and unwholesome ingredients are directly inconsistent with those basic health rules.  After reading the labels, it should be clear that there are definitely safer and less processed sources for your breakfast fiber, vitamins, and whole grains.

What Can We Do?

If you are an individual concerned about the risks of GMOs and the health of your families and the environment,  GMO Inside invites you to reach out to General Mills through our petition and let Cheerios know what you think of their use of GMOs on their Facebook Page.

We also invite you to become a GMO Insider by signing up for our e-alerts about GMOs or by connecting to us on Facebook.

If you have any questions about GMOs or comments about how some of these ingredients are at high risk of being a GMO, please leave a comment below!

 HoneyNutCheeriosFacebook_1

 

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

28 Awesome Comments So Far

Don't be a stranger, join the discussion by leaving your own comment
  1. Pamela Joy
    July 2, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    I Do not want GMO’s in my food! I would at least want them labled so I can choose not to eat them and I would like a choice not to eat them. I love Cheerios and I would like a non GMO Cheerios to choose. If you make one for Europe why can’t you make one for us in the USA?

    • Rosanne
      July 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      I for one want to know what I’am eating. Please at the very least start labeling your product for GMO’s!

    • Leslie
      September 26, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

      Exactly! I don’t understand why GM can make non-GMO foods for countries that ban GMO-laced foods, but refuse to offer the option here in the US. I have family in Spain; perhaps I should starting asking them to ship me multi grain Cheerios… I like to eat them, but not at the risk of putting GMOs in my body. At the very least GM, LABEL your food that contain GMOs and allow the consumer to make an educated purchase!

  2. Brent Williams
    July 2, 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    It sickens me to discover so many foods are at risk of being contaminated. Something as seemingly harmless as eating a bowl of cereal could be introducing GMOs into my body without my knowledge. Truth is, I don’t trust the safety of consuming genetically modified foods. No more cheerios until these GMOs are surely out of the American diet. As it is well known, Europe has this luxury, so I except the same courtesy.

  3. Michelle
    July 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I have stopped buying all General Mills Cereals (which I used to only buy)and look for the Non-GMO label on most things I buy now. Thanks GMOInside.org for keeping us informed.

    • Shireen Karimi
      July 10, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      Thank you, Michelle, for thanking us. :-) I’m glad we can help.

  4. Joycerine Clark
    July 7, 2013 at 12:51 am #

    I loved Cheerios but now I will have to start eating some other kind of cold breakfast cereal. Please look into changing your ingredients. I would love to have my Cheerios back healthy for us consumers. Thanking you in advance.

  5. Tyler
    August 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    I don’t understand the anti-GMO crowd. No research have some it to be harmful. It seems to me a bunch of people think they know what they are talking about, when in fact they have not got a clue.

  6. Patty
    August 9, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    I’m very concerned after reading this, this cereal I give my 6 year old daughter for breakfast almost every single day!!! thinking that it was a healthy option!! and it is nothing but garbage. Thanks for the info.

    • Corinne Molz
      August 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      No problem Patty! We’re happy we could help you and your family pick healthy options!

  7. Jeanette Monthye
    October 4, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    My daughter alerted me to the problems with my favorite cereal. I will not be buying Cheerios until General Mills fixes this staple of a lot of families. I will be talking to all my friends about this as I am sure they are not aware of the dietary faults in GM products.

  8. Kathleen
    December 27, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    You provide a lot of information, but do not list your sources. Where did you find your information?

  9. Tyler
    February 10, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Please do your own research on this subject. Do not buy in to the paranoia propaganda until you are completely informed from both sides of the subject. Without GMOs you would not have your modern medicine.
    I suppose, you could just start your own garden, get your own livestock, and only come out at night…because again, I hear the sun can cause cancer too. Don’t want to take any chances.

    • Michelle Kim
      February 11, 2014 at 10:08 am #

      Thanks for your feedback, Tyler! GMO Inside works to educate consumers about the negative environmental, social, and health-related impacts of genetically modified foods. Our concern stems from increased herbicide use on GMO crops that pollutes soil and water resources, the increased incidence of superweeds due to herbicide resistance, and the corporate-controlled seed supply and limited benefits to farmers. Also, since GMOs were commercialized in the mid-90s, there have not been enough independent, long-term studies to ensure safety of GM-foods. Please feel free to read more at our info page: http://gmoinside.org/faqs/.

  10. Brent
    February 12, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    You forgot one big thing. The claim of being heart healthy falls apart when you look at the Omega-3 to Omega 6 fatty acid ration. The ratio in honey nut cheerios is 1:25, but humans should consume a 1:1 ration, but a 1:4 or 4:1 ratio is okay. Omega 6 fatty acids cause inflammation, Omega 3 fatty acids counter this. This 1:25 ratio increases your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. I smell a future false advertising lawsuit.

  11. Asia
    February 23, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

    I’ve eaten Cheerios since I was a baby! Cheerios=death!!!!

  12. Rixtr
    March 3, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    GMOs are bad mmmkay

  13. M Gossum
    March 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    What does it really matter if Cheerios are GMO free. The milk isn’t.

  14. Phoebe Schwartz
    March 23, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    So what’s your recommendation for a morning delight, instead of Cheerios? Any recommended cereal?

    • Michelle Kim
      March 24, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      Hey Phoebe! Thanks for your comment. We recommend Nature’s Path Organic Whole O’s.

  15. Bonnie
    April 6, 2014 at 12:12 am #

    Can you explain how “natural almond flavor” is potentially GMO? Thank you.

    • Michelle Kim
      April 9, 2014 at 11:40 am #

      Hey Bonnie! Thanks for your comment. The word “natural” doesn’t mean much these days. Sadly, “all-natural” labeled products can contain GMOs. The FDA refuses to determine if GMOs belong in all-natural products. Look for “USDA Organic” and “Non-GMO Project Verified” labels instead! Then, the products are guaranteed to have no GMOs.

  16. pregan
    May 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

    Your blog is dated June 2013, and there is an article in USA Today dated January 2014 that says:

    “Under pressure from consumers and activist groups, General Mills says it will stop using genetically modified ingredients to make its original Cheerios cereal.

    While the oats used to make Cheerios have never contained any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the company did make changes to its sourcing — and now, for example, only uses non-GMO pure cane sugar instead of beet sugar.”

    And this is from the Cheerios website today:

    “We don’t use genetically modified ingredients in original Cheerios. Our principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats – and there are no GMO oats. We use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. But our corn starch comes from non-GMO corn, and we use only non-GMO pure cane sugar.”

    So, if the main health concern of ORIGINAL Cheerios (I’m not referring to any of the other sugary varieties which I wouldn’t give my children) was the presence of GMOs, would you now consider original Cheerios to be a healthy choice? I have given my son original Cheerios and Purely Os which are organic. He really doesn’t like the Purely Os and barely eats them. I think the original Cheerios are softer in texture. I haven’t tried the other organic brand you mentioned. But, if Cheerios no longer contain GMOs, then perhaps it’s okay to go back to them?

  17. Beau
    May 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    Please make your products completely nonGMO! Please don’t try and hide ingredients be honest with your consumers, thank you!

  18. Georgiana
    June 20, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    The way I see things, these big companies never have the consumer’s best interest in mind, no matter what they might declare! They are just relying on the fact that people are uninformed and easily fooled. I would never “go back to Cheerios” just because they said they have quit GMO. Rarely do these companies change their politics, they just modify it in order to be appealing to consumers. And I also think that because I am not from the US, but from Romania, I can see better what these big companies are trying to do. We have mostly consumed farmer’s products, like dairy, vegetables and fruits, but recently they are trying really hard to stop the farmers from selling their goods, or they are trying to get the poison inside those as well. So now we read labels carefully and actually take with us lists of bad ingredients, ingredients that, for an untrained eye, are easily mistaken for harmless ones (example: vegetable oil = most of the time is palm oil). What I’m trying to say is open your eyes and your mind, try to buy products with the least amount of ingredients and make sure you know what they are. If it has some sort of crazy name, don’t buy it. Become informed and if possible, replace what you would normally buy with home-made alternatives. Don’t say you don;t have time, where there’s a will there’s a way!

  19. Kerry
    July 16, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    The regular Cheerios is now GMO free.

    http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/18/gmo-free-cheerios.aspx

    • Nic
      September 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

      Thank you, I just had a baby and I see as they get older like a year I see a lot of parent give this brand thinking its a healthy choice. Thank you for the information now that I’m a parent I’m very protective of what goes into my baby body since I don’t really trust the U.S government to protect us from these big companies that just want to make a buck . I take my time now when I’m in the supermarket and read the ingredients.

  20. WRR
    November 3, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    If anybody thinks that sugar laced and lab made products are healthy they are sadly mistaken. It is no wonder that people and especially children are getting fatter and unhealthy. Do you think a company that would make a chocolate coated cereal really cares about the health of consumers. They will never change unless they are forced to by regulation because most people eat for the taste not for the health and there is the main problem. All processed food is garbage in my opinion, but for now it is legal to sell as actual food, but hopefully that will change.

Leave a Comment

Remember to play nicely folks, nobody likes a troll.