A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that added sugar isn’t the only thing to watch out for…
The manufacturers of sugary cereals marketed to children sure know how American parents think. Although many of their products have as much sugar as a candy bar, somewhere along the line these companies figured out that labels that scream “fortified with vitamins” make Mom and Dad feel better about pouring a bowl of sweetened grain for Junior. Being jam-packed with nutrients must compensate for all that sugar, right?
Well, the age-old warning against “too much of a good thing” also applies to the vitamins and minerals infused in cereal. According to the latest report from Washington, D.C.–based health advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, companies are adding micronutrients to cereal in amounts that are appropriate for an adult, not a child. That can have negative consequences for a kid’s well-being.
When you look on the side of a cereal box for the nutritional information, it seems awesome that a kid can get 100 percent of the vitamin A she needs from a bowlful. After all, many Americans struggle to eat enough nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. At a time when nearly one-fourth of kids in the U.S. are living in poverty, with their families relying on food stamps, ensuring kids get more vitamins sounds brilliant. However, “more than 10 million American children are getting too much vitamin A; more than 13 million get too much zinc; and nearly 5 million get too much niacin,” write the report’s authors.
But can too much of a good thing really be all that bad?
“With some vitamins, there’s a limit to what’s healthy for you, but it’s very hard to ever reach that limit. With others, there’s really no limit,” Renee Sharp, research director for EWG and a coauthor of the report, told The Guardian. However, “the window between what’s good for you and what’s potentially toxic is actually quite narrow,” added Sharp. The consequences of these nutrients vary. Too much vitamin A can irreparably damage the liver, while too much zinc can cause stomach pains and vomiting.
Kellogg spokesperson Kris Charles dismissed Environmental Working Group’s claims. “The report ignores a great deal of the nutrition science and consumption data showing that without fortification of foods such as ready-to-eat cereals, many children would not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets,” Charles said in a statement.
“We are not trying to be alarmists and say ‘your kid is going to die because you’re feeding him or her fortified foods,’ ” Sharp told The Guardian. “But it’s a concerning issue, and we believe it’s one that could be easily solved by a combination of dual labeling (with recommendations for both children and adults) and basing those labels on current science.”
Updating food labels to reflect age-appropriate nutritional levels isn’t on the FDA’s proposed label revisions. But because the new labels are still open for public comment, perhaps some public pressure can encourage this addition.