Is Cereal a Good Breakfast for Cyclists?

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Food Coloring

That "Rainbow of Fruit Flavors" may just be making your kids crazy! Think there is real fruit in that cereal? Think again! Most are simply "colored" like "strawberries", yet a real strawberry never came close to that box! Colors and dyes are used to brighten up the bland colors of processed foods and certain hues have been linked to more serious ailments.

A Journal of Pediatrics study linked Yellow-5 to hyperactivity in children. Canadian researchers found Yellow-6 and Red-40 to be contaminated with known carcinogens, and Red-3 is known to cause tumors. Many people have allergic reactions to food dyes. How about we just stick with cereal based on ingredients instead of colors? Who are we kidding? If you are looking at the stamp on the Froot Loops box that says "Source of Fiber" as your guiding light...keep reading.

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Because the food coloring isn't quite enough toxins for one box, manufacturers will also load in the sugar to slam your body into a dazed food coma after a "healthy" bowl of cereal. We all know that plain old sugar has no nutrients. Yet it tops the list of ingredients. Often disguised as sucrose, dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, maltodextrin, cane sugar, brown rice syrup or molasses to name a few. Most cereals have several.

Try finding a cereal without sugar listed on the label. Not a simple task. Now don't get me wrong, sugar is not always a poor choice. For the athlete, sugar is essential for performance. But when off the bike I would limit added sugars. If I'm going to eat sugar off the bike I'd prefer it to be from fresh fruits where they are consumed in tandem with fiber and nutrients—the way nature intended them to be.

Look for minimum amounts of added sugars on the ingredient list; a serving size with under 10 grams of sugar per serving. Ideally the serving size is 3/4 to one cup. If it's 1/4-cup size serving, chances are you will be eating at least double that amount. The examples at the end of this article will be close to this recommendation.

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Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)

Ah! It's not just the chicken balls and egg rolls giving you headaches! HVP is a flavoring agent. It's produced by boiling foods such as corn, wheat or soy in hydrochloric acid, then neutralizing it with sodium hydroxide. This breaks down the protein in the vegetables into building block amino acids; so far not so bad.

The problem is that the remaining liquid is glutamic acid. We are more familiar with this in the form of its sodium salt, MSG or monosodium glutamate. I'm sure you've seen many Chinese restaurants with signs saying "NO MSG". Not everyone is sensitive to MSG; however it is an established cause for triggering headaches. MSG intolerant people can also experience rapid heart rate, nausea, chest pain and facial pressure or tightness.

According to the FDA, product labels have to identify MSG as an ingredient only when it is directly added to food. It does not have to be identified as an ingredient when it is a by-product of another process, in which case the FDA allows it to go unrecognized. The word "hydrolyzed" is what you should be seeking. Why not just skip the "flavor enhancer" and choose a cereal that has a flavor of its own, from its actual ingredients? Imagine that.

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Brace yourself for this one folks...that berry flavor comes from the delicacy of beaver anal scent glands! Yes my Canadian National Symbol, the beaver, has secretions in your cereal box! And we apparently can't get enough of it! Castoreum is one of those "natural ingredients" used to flavor food. It's not necessarily harmful (time will tell!), but let's just say the idea of consuming copious amounts of this doesn't sit well with me.

I included it for interest's sake. Castoreum is a substance made from beavers' castor sacs, or anal scent glands. The beaver glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. Don't ask me how the food industry figured this one out? I mean seriously, "hey, do you think those beaver gland secretions could add a nice raspberry flare to our cereal?" But they did. The food industry uses 1,000 pounds of this ingredient annually in foods; often vanilla or raspberry flavored foods. In other words stay away from the raspberry flavored cereal, unless you consider this normal cuisine?

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