Just other morning, I was stumbling about the kitchen attempting to organise my thoughts so I could organise my breakfast (am not a morning person, just in case you were unaware). Actually, I do that most mornings.
Staring into space doing something that can only be described as nothing, my consciousness kicked in and I found myself staring at the back of a cereal box. I think I was staring at it because my aim had been to empty contents of said box into the now empty Tupperware container that had only previously contained a similar substance. Only, because I hadn’t had enough coffee, I’d actually forgotten what I was actually going to do …
I digress. There I was, stating at the bright, shiny words, screaming GOODNESS! at me. It was very yellow and has lightning bolts emanating from it, so it must have been true.
Eventually, the words worked their way into their brain and formed some sort of cohesive argument … it looked like this.
Yes, this cereal contained the Goodness of Iron and Calcium! Hurrah, for these are all the things all good mothers need to function throughout their day.
As my brain cells formulated themselves into some sort of working order, I could understand why I was feeling so … off … about this statement.
I could feel my formerly, exceptionally comfortable, cow printed pyjama pants turning rapidly into Cranky Pants.
The Nutritional Facts
You see, one of the very important things I learnt when I was teaching people how to live happy, healthy lifestyles, and my subsequent study in nutrition (yes, I’m sorry I keep banging on about this – I’m not big-noting, it’s for the benefit of any newbies out there who may not be aware I actually know what I’m talking about) is that Calcium inhibits the uptake and absorption of Iron in the body.
This is why many multivitamins are rendered pretty much pointless; because they, too, contain combinations of vitamins and minerals that are not particularly friendly or supportive of each other.
It is why, a few years back, a well known milk, which will shall refer to as Rev, because that is its name, was required to pull a milk that was fortified with iron from their shelves.
Calcium is not a friend to iron. Vitamin C, on the other hand, is very, very supportive of iron, and if the two are consumed together (ideally in actual food form, not highly processed tablet form (unless absolutely required)) then the uptake and absorption of iron is increased.
Having a juice with your breaky, well, this just shows how complex the metabolism of various micronutrients are in the body.
Why would They say this?!
So why would the lovely people at all the breakfast cereal companies say such things on their packaging? I hear you cry!
Because nutrition is such a complex thing and it is really hard to get your head around at the best of times. Many, many people are far to busy worrying about other things that are of import to them and don’t have the time, inclination, or desire to wade through years and years of university study, research and the like to garner more information. Because if we have a spare $100 we are very unlikely to rush out and purchase a single text book to find out more information, only to be required to go and purchase another, highly priced tome to have it make sense … et cetera
This is not a judgement, by the way. It’s actually very, very normal, expected and understandable.
We rely on those in power to tell us what the facts are, and we kind of really do have to put a level of trust in them.
So, I’ll stick with the Calcium-Iron thing, but you could pretty well apply just about any advice from marketing and advertising execs on nutrition to this. Submit any other name of a vitamin, mineral, or macronutrient in place of either of these two and there’ll be something dodgy in it. Guaranteed.
In the Calcium-Iron case what they’re actually stating on the box is:
The GOODNESS [in big yellow letters with lightening bolts coming out of it] of Iron and Calcium
it also has a little comment, which we will call a ‘disclaimer’ because that is, essentially, what it is. It states:
To break it down, this means that the cereal contains the iron and the milk contains the calcium, so you’ll only get the calcium if we add the milk.
Which is a fair call. Because it is true. And we all know that BOTH of those substances are essential for health and wellbeing, and they are predominant in advertising because most of us are aware of their importance, and have a vague idea of what they do in the body and marketing and advertising people know we know this and know that if they placard it on boxes then our subconscious will go “oh, yeah, I need that” and we’ll grab it. Our conscious state will also do the same thing.
However, if calcium inhibits iron absorption in the body, why would they say this? Isn’t it, well, a lie?
No. Not in the slightest.
The cereal does contain iron, and the milk does contain calcium.
A bowl of cereal with milk will give you calcium and iron.
Nothing untoward there.
In the words of the McDonald’s (and no doubt many other fast food giants) “We just provide the food. People choose to buy it. It’s not our fault.”
The same applies here.
It’s not our fault that people’s bodies metabolise calcium and iron like that. We just provide the nutrition. What a person’s body does to it once it is consumed is their choice.
I’m paraphrasing, and possibly being a little smart arse here. They haven’t actually said that.
The point is, before your body deals with it, it provides two essential nutrients. Actually, it still provides them after you’ve consumed it. It is just a battle going on inside you and calcium will win.
Doesn’t it defeat the purpose then? Should we just stop putting milk on cereal?
Lots of cereals provide iron, amongst other essential vitamins and minerals. Some naturally, some not so naturally. Personally, I am not a fan of cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Essentially, they are synthetic. Like highly processed foods. Most of the goodness has gone, and although, with vitamins and minerals, they can bump the goodness up again, the body deals with it differently.
Only slightly though. In fact, it’s really not something a majority of us really need to worry about. Except that those cereals, in my humble opinion, are severely lacking in good stuff, and are mostly an excuse to each chocolate or a bowl full of sugar for breakfast (not a judgement).
You could, I guess, if you really want to, put orange juice on your iron-y breakfast.
(There are, of course, implications with that, too. But that’s for a later post.)
The thing is, well, the thing is actually two things.
1. Breakfast cereal is more than just iron. The “iron” is used to increase the chances of us purchasing it, because the advertisers know it is a ‘hook’. Cereal contains a lot of other goody-goodness, including other vitamins and minerals, in various doses, and the very essential fibre. They provide energy, again in varying forms, some more effective than others, and lots of stuff.
2. Lots and lots, far too many people, are not getting enough calcium in their day. Cereal is, in part, a portal for calcium to be delivered into the body. Even this is up to only one serve of your required dairy/calcium for the day, but it is better than nothing. If inhibiting iron uptake for half an hour means you’re getting calcium – and all the other good stuff that milk provides, for it, too, is not merely a one-nutrient product – then this is important, too.
Both iron and calcium, not to mention a heap of other vitamins and minerals and other essential nutrients, are found in a range of foods.
Restricting your iron uptake at one meal is easily rectified at other meals, snacks and times of day.
The Moral of the Story: Just be aware of where your nutrition advice is coming from, okay? Thanks.