Gluten-Washing and the Value of Real Food

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What do you think of when you read “organic cereal”? Hippies and Birkenstocks? Good-for-you cereal that takes a good chew before swallowing? Maybe granola: toasted oat flakes with raisins and nuts? Perhaps all of the above? For me, granola tends to come to mind, after my brain calls out “Yum!”

For those of you new to the gluten-free life, granola can pose a bit of a problem. While oats in and of themselves do not contain gluten, they are often processed in facilities with wheat and suffer from cross-contamination. This puts most store-bought granola on the no-go list, further restricting an already restrictive diet. For someone trying to eat healthy, organic breakfast fare, this creates a problem. So you can imagine my delight when I came across this item at my local big box store:

Sunrise Crunchy Vanilla Gluten-Free Cereal


Yes, I know that it is not granola. It doesn’t say granola. It just says organic, gluten-free, crunchy vanilla with corn, rice, flax, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. Sounds pretty healthy to me! I put the box in my cart and felt darned pleased with myself.

Until the next morning that was. Perhaps I needed to learn that reading the label carefully also means looking at the pictures. Shame on me. I suppose the organic label plus the list of healthy grains led me to expect a granola-like cereal. What poured into my bowl looked and tasted more like Cap’n Crunch: blown and extruded processed bits of grain coated in sugar. In this case, the extruded bits were made from organic flours and the sugars were granulated sugar cane juice (2nd ingredient) and molasses (2nd to last ingredient).

Melanie Warner states in her recent book, Pandora’s Lunchbox, “Extrusion is undoubtedly the harshest and most nutritionally devastating way to process cereal. … The process is often referred to as “plasticization”—which neatly sums up the nutritional gist of what happens inside an extruder.”

I am left asking myself “Just because it isn’t bad for me (doesn’t contain gluten), is it really good for me?” In spite of the idyllic Nature’s Path logo, the organic certification, the presence of healthy whole grains, and an inspiring quote on the side of the box from the founder of Nature’s Path, I must answer a resounding no. When someone takes those healthy whole grains and puts them into industrial machinery and proceeds to apply heat and pressure to the point that the starch molecules explode, they have destroyed the very thing that made those whole grains healthy in the first place. A quick look at the nutrition facts label bears this out:

  • Vitamin A—0% Recommended Daily Value
  • Vitamin C—0% Recommended Daily Value
  • Calcium—0% Recommended Daily Value
  • Iron—4% Recommend Daily Value

Note that Thiamine (Vitamin B1) isn’t even listed, even though cereal grains are one of our most important sources of this nutrient. I suspect that the 4% RDA for iron comes in part from the molasses, a known source of iron. So one of the sweeteners is the nutritious bit in this concoction. Awesome. Not.

Just because something is labelled gluten-free, or organic doesn’t mean that it is healthy or good for you. Companies realize the marketing power of the gluten-free brand and will happily co-opt the usage to make themselves some money. Unfortunately, gluten-free often equals highly-processed. And highly-processed does not equal good for your body. Something to remember on your next shopping trip.

What’s a reluctant cook to do? Well, after some trial and error, and a lot of taste-testing, I now make my own granola! It’s much easier than I thought and tastes so much better. More importantly, it’s real food. I can identify the what is going into my body and I know that it is wholesome food that hasn’t been extruded, blown, or pelletized. Because extruded, blown, and pelletized just isn’t for breakfast anymore!

Click the tasty-looking photo for a link to the recipe (coming soon!):

Yummy homemade granola

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