By TARA ROBERTS
For Inland 360
Start reading the ingredients label on a box of cereal, and chances are the first few will be a mundane mix of grains and sugars. But, unless you’re eating plain oatmeal, the end of the list probably features some strange-sounding additives.
Some turn out to be unusual ways of describing the familiar. For instance, cocoa processed with alkali. It sounds like a chemistry experiment — and it is. Don’t let that freak you out: this is the same thing as Dutch-process cocoa. To make it, regular cocoa powder, which is acidic, is mixed with an alkalizing ingredient, like baking soda. According to the blog Food52, alkalizing cocoa powder reduces some of its harsh bitter notes and makes it darker colored.
The tongue-twister list of chemical compounds on many cereal ingredients lists turns out to be familiar, too. Pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin? That’s vitamins B6, B1 and B2.
While some manufacturers don’t add vitamins, Hydee Becker — a registered dietician nutritionist and assistant clinical professor at the University of Idaho — said she seeks out cereal fortified with vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, Vitamin D and potassium.
“To me, it’s like a multivitamin in a bowl,” Becker said. “It’s a lot less expensive, and it’s a lot more enjoyable for the kids.”
Another vitamin is sometimes used to help keep cereal fresh on grocery store shelves: Vitamin E, which can appear as mixed tocopherols. Some cereal manufacturers are phasing out synthetic preservatives (like BHA and BHT), and Vitamin E is a naturally derived alternative.
Many manufacturers are also doing away with artificial colors, which means they have to find alternatives to turning your cereal milk a pleasing pinkish shade. This includes using fruit and vegetable juices and less-familiar ingredients like annatto. According to Smithsonian magazine, annatto is made from the dark-red seeds of the achiote, or lipstick tree. If you’re a cheddar cheese fan, you’ve had it before: It turns foods bright orange.
But when it comes to choosing cereal based on ingredients, Becker is less concerned about the end of the list than the beginning: those easy-to-pronounce ingredients like whole grains and sugar.
She recommends finding a cereal with a whole grain listed as the first ingredient and 5 grams of fiber or more.
“We don’t tend to get enough fiber, so breakfast is a good opportunity to get fiber,” she said. “It’s going to keep you full longer. It’s not just going to leave your stomach really quickly.”
For sugar, Becker makes the opposite recommendation: Seek out brands with less. Added sugars will be noted on the FDA’s new Nutrition Facts labels, which will be on all major brands by January 2020.
American dietary guidelines recommend fewer than 10 percent of a person’s calories should come from added sugar, Becker said. For an adult, that’s about 50 grams a day — but whether that comes from cereal is up to you.
“If you don’t eat many sweets or added sugars from other sources, then it’s totally fine to get that in the morning,” Becker said. “It’s in the context of the whole diet.”