Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are Cheerios Really the Preferred Cereal to Lower Cholesterol?

This is a different format for a Whistle Blog .  Instead of spot- lighting a questionable diet/health  story that appeared in the media this week….I want to illustrate how VERY clever advertising can elevate an average product to a top seller…based on clever presentation.  In that regard, we’ll start The Whistle with factual, credible information about fiber.  The following is the real-deal…….no hype here:

Fiber Friendly Foods
Soluble Fiber vs Insoluble Fiber

Everyone has heard that there are tremendous benefits to increasing the fiber content of their diet.  The daily recommendation is over 25 grams of fiber/day.  As you look at total dietary fiber grams on a label, deduct the listed amount from the 25 grams/day recommendation.  So, a wrap containing 8 grams of fiber would leave you with about 17 more grams/day needed to meet the minimum.   

 Fiber not only promotes health, it also helps reduce the risk for some chronic diseases. For instance, fiber prevents constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis. It is also linked to prevent some cancers especially colon cancer as it moves food through the GI tract instead of it sitting in the gut for longer periods of time.  (Unfortunately, many of our foods are exposed to chemicals, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics that were never meant to sit in the GI tract.)  In addition, fiber helps lower LDL cholesterol and  total cholesterol thereby reducing the rise of heart disease. Fiber can also help lower blood sugar spikes as it does not convert to blood sugar and allows food to leave the stomach in controlled amounts .  Fiber is part of the total carb content of a food but does not translate into blood sugar and insulin requirements.

Types of Fiber: Soluble Fiber and Insoluble Fiber

There are two types of  fiber: soluble and insoluble.  Both types go undigested and neither enters the bloodstream.  Although some food companies choose to show the grams of soluble and insoluble fiber separately, both types are very beneficial. Soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with liquid.  I think of it as a sponge that soaks up and carries waste “out the door” and moves bulk along through the intestines.   Insoluble fiber passes through our intestines largely intact. I think of insoluble fiber as a toothbrush that travels down the intestines cleaning as it moves along. 

Insoluble Fiber

Its Functions: 
Promotes the development of bulkier stool to help prevent constipation.
 Helps balance the pH in the intestines forming a  healthy GI environment and preventing microbes from producing cancerous substances.
Helps move toxins through the colon in less time

Best Food Sources of Insoluble Fiber
Vegetables like green beans and dark green leafy vegetables
Skins from fruit or potatoes
Whole wheat products
Wheat bran, corn bran

Soluble Fiber

Its Functions:
Lowers total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol
Helps decrease blood sugar spikes
Binds with fatty acids

Food Sources of Soluble Fiber
Oat bran and oats
Dried beans and peas (legumes)
Flax seed
Psyllium husk
Just a note:

When you are choosing a food based on fiber content, look for total fiber grams.  There is no need to separate soluble or insoluble fiber as they are both very healthful.  And…many foods: oats, oat bran, psyllium husk, and flax seeds are high in soluble and insoluble fiber. 

Now that you have read facts about fiber….let’s take a look at a product that capitalizes on ITS fiber content as it relates to lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease….CHEERIOS

The Cheerios boxes used in advertising  have a banner across the front of the box that reads:  HELPS LOWER CHOLESTEROL.  The presentation of the product is built around how adding Cheerios to a healthy diet will help lower cholesterol and decrease heart disease.  The bowl of cereal is pictured inside the outline of a heart.  Commercials are “heart warming” and show families of young children and their parents or grandparents.  Ask any TV-watching child to point to the box of cereal that tastes great AND is “good” for their parents’ and grandparents’ hearts….and they will automatically point to a box of Cheerios. 

We have been programmed to equate Cheerios with heart health. ….as if there is something very special about the box of cereal that will make us healthier.


But is CHEERIOS really “special” in its ability to lower cholesterol…is it better than other cereal choices?  Or….has a perfect marketing campaign been devised to steer consumers to buy a cereal they “believe” is in their best interest, exclusive of other choices, for heart health? 

From the beginning of this article, you already know that the type of fiber recommended to lower cholesterol is soluble fiber.  With that in mind, I checked out the soluble fiber content of cereals.  The serving sizes of each is comparable:

 1 cup All Bran  “Bran Buds”  = 9 grams soluble fiber

1 packet Weight Control Oatmeal = 4 grams soluble fiber

1 cup Oat Bran Flakes = 3 grams soluble fiber

½ cup dry Oatmeal  =  2 grams soluble fiber

1 cup Fiber One Cereal = 2 grams soluble fiber

1 cup Raisin Bran Cereal = 1.3 grams soluble fiber

1 cup Wheat Chex = 1 gram soluble fiber

1 cup Cheerios = 1 gram soluble fiber

1 packet Oatmeal = 1 gram soluble fiber

In 1 cup of Cheerios, there is 1 gram soluble fiber.  In fact, if you read the small print on their box,  in their advertising, on their website is the notification that it will take 3 servings of Cheerios….3 cups/day…to give you 3 grams of soluble fiber.   This is the amount that might make a small difference in your cholesterol.  In order to get those 3 grams of soluble fiber (the amount that maximally dropped total cholesterol by 7 points)…you need to consume 3 bowls of cereal/day.

There is a growing school of thought, based on current research, that for many people, carbohydrate intake drives their LDL cholesterol  and triglycerides up and HDL cholesterol down.   If you look at having 3 cups of Cheerios and non fat milk, you will be adding over 80 grams of carbohydrate to your daily carb intake

I have three comments:  
I am not a believer that any cereal with or without fat free milk will significantly lower cholesterol levels or lessen the risk for heart disease….In fact, I believe adding 3 cups of any cereal to your day significantly increases your carbohydrate intake and can actually increase blood sugar, insulin release that leads to higher LDL cholesterol and triglycerides

I believe there are many sources of soluble fiber , many with much higher amounts than Cheerios…and there is no reason to separate Cheerios as a cereal that will improve your cholesterol or lower risk of heart disease.
  Finally, the person who headed the marketing campaign that spotlights Cheerios as THE cereal that makes your heart healthier…..deserves to be sitting on the beach with an umbrella drink.  Cheers!!!!!