Can eating a cereal really help lower your cholesterol? Are Cheerios really made with 100% whole grain oats? The language on a product package are called food claims are they are designed to make you want to buy the food. And while Federal law requires that claims are truthful, they can sometimes be confusing or misleading.
It is important to understand food claims a product is making when grocery shopping. Therefore, we will periodically evaluate claims on a popular food items. Claims with a red apple “” are claims that we believe are informative and provide useful information. Claims with a half red apple “” are claims that we believe state obvious information (ie ingredients). Claims with an empty apple “” are considered to be potentially confusing. For example, these claims could be misunderstood if they are read too quickly or have supporting information located in a different location of the package.
Evaluating Cheerios Claims
Cheerios is the fourth best selling cereal in the United States.1 They are low in sugar and are frequently recommended by pediatricians as a first solid cereal for infants.2 Below is a recent photo of the front of a Cheerios box along with an evaluation of their front-of-pack claims.
1. “Made with 100% whole grain oats”
Evaluation: Potentially Confusing. When reading this claim, does it make you think the cereal is composed entirely of oats? It is not. Cheerios also contain corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, and vitamin E. It is also worth noting that all oats (steel cut, old fashioned oats, instant oats, and oat flour) are considered to be 100% whole grain.3
2. “Can help lower cholesterol”
Evaluation: Potentially Confusing. The key words in this claim are “can help.” Consuming 3 grams or more soluble fiber from whole oats or barley, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. The FDA allows any product that contains at least 25% of the 3 grams (0.75 grams of soluble fiber from whole oats or barley) to claim “may help lower cholesterol” or “can help reduce the risk of heart disease.”4 A serving of Cheerios provides 1 gram of soluble fiber. You still have to add 2 grams of soluble fiber from whole oats or barley to your daily diet to potentially see a health benefit.
3. “Gluten free”
Evaluation: Informative. Oats are naturally gluten free. However, cross-contamination during manufacturing can occur. Cheerios are made with oats processed to ensure they are gluten-free. Also, the gluten-free status of Cheerios is verified with finished product testing.5
4. “No artificial flavors or colors”
Evaluation: Obvious. This information is readily available by reading the ingredient list. Look for “artificial flavor” and any numbers (ex. Red #40).
Remember, claims are advertising. To decide if a food is “wise” or not, you need to read the ingredient list and the nutrition facts on the side of the package.
If you are interested in learning more about cereal here is an article on how to choose a healthier cereal for your family.