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Are Curtis Stone and Post Cereals ‘Health Washing’ Great Grains Cereal?

May 17, 2011

I like Curtis Stone, after all Australians are pretty amiable people and he does appear charming enough. In fact that is probably why he is known as a ‘celebrity chef’… otherwise, I can’t think of another reason, except for the fact that he was pretty good at Celebrity Apprentice.  Seriously, what has he done to become a famous chef?

Normally I don’t have a problem with relatively useless celebrities who use the public relations world to further increase their vapid sphere of influence, but some things bother me more than others and watching Curtis Stone ‘partner’ with a cereal company to promote a cereal that is disturbingly high in sugar as healthy is one of the things that bothers me the most.

Seriously, Curtis Stone is a chef…  he makes food for a living.  You give him some ingredients and he will whip them into a good breakfast, maybe even a healthy breakfast.  That is what chefs do.  What does this have to do with Post cereal though?  After all, Great Grains cereal is a prepackaged food item that wasn’t created by a chef, but more likely a chemist!  Despite the image of Curtis Stone standing in a field of wheat and walking up to a picnic table, Great Grains isn’t made in the kitchen of a country farmhouse, but instead, it is made in some factory in Battle Creek Michigan.  That is right, while Jamie Oliver is using his considerable reach and good name to teach people the value of home cooking so they can control their own nutrition, Curtis Stone is promoting pouring cereal out of a box…

So lets learn a little more about this cereal that Curtis Stone cannot get enough of…

Great Grains

Great Grains cereal is a line of cereals from Post Cereals that has been around since 1992, although it appears to be getting a rebranding as a healthy ‘whole food’ product.  [I normally wouldn’t put quotes around the words whole food unless I was trying to point out how ironic the title is, but I am actually just following Post’s own use of ironic quotes….]

In any case, lets see what Curtis has to say about Great Grains

Yes, he is selling the seam on the grain as evidence that this cereal is good for you…  Seriously… They are claiming that because it looks a little like the raw food it has to be good for you, right???  That isn’t just faulty logic, that is absurdity!

And here is where we get into the beginning of the problems for Great Grains, did you see the note in the fine print? ‘Better Nutrition is defined as no artificial sweeteners, no chemically modified fiber, or no isolated fiber.’  What?!?!  Apparently they get to define better nutrition as whatever they like?!?!  And then they chose the above as their definition?  By this very same definition a Snickers Bar is ‘better nutrition’.  Gummy Worms and McDonald’s French Fries are both ‘better nutrition’.  In fact, when you think about what they are defining, the phrase, ‘better nutrition’, is just a comparative phrase.  Almost everything on earth is better nutrition than something else, with the possible exception of cyanide.

With respect to the claim about isolated fiber, this is a strange thing to throw in the definition, but I think this is the crux of why they are arguing that Great Grains is a healthy choice.  Although there isn’t evidence to support chemically modified fiber or isolated fibers as being as good as naturally occurring fiber, this doesn’t mean that no isolated fiber is a good thing.   This is to say that adding fiber powder to food to increase the fiber may not be as healthy as eating foods that have fiber in them, but this isn’t necessarily the case and eating foods with added fiber may be better than eating them without the added fiber.  You can read about it here.  The gist of the argument against isolated fiber is that not all fibers are equal and some of the added fibers don’t do a lot of good for you, so whatever you do, don’t eat processed foods with a lot of sugar in them just because they add back fiber.  It isn’t as good as not eating the sugary foods in the first place and instead eating unprocessed foods with fiber.

Look, I think eating less processed foods is a good point, but jumping from that to calling your breakfast cereal better nutrition because it doesn’t have artificial sweeteners and no isolated fiber is insane when it contains very significant amounts of real sweeteners (sugar and corn syrup) in what is clearly a very processed food.  I have yet to see one grain cluster in the natural world!  The argument that people are making against isolated fibers is actually just an argument against processed foods that are loaded with sugar, such as packaged breakfast cereals with corn syrup added!!!  Seriously, if the best thing you can say about your product is that it is less processed than Corn Flakes you are in trouble.

It really does appear that Great Grains, Post Cereals and Curtis Stone are just creating their own definition of healthy to shoehorn their cereal into it.  They are creating their entire marketing plan from current market research that shows that people believe that eating less processed foods will reduce the disturbingly high obesity rates, and people are right.  We need to eat less processed foods.  Of course, Post has taken this to mean eating more ‘less processed’ foods (and by ‘less processed’ they mean slightly less processed) rather than eating less ‘processed foods’ and instead eating whole foods made at home.  The former isn’t going to do anything for our health and obesity, the latter will actually help.

How Great Grains Stacks Up

All it really takes to determine if Great Grains is a healthy breakfast alternative is to look at its competition in the breakfast arena and compare the nutrition labels.  How does it stack up to other cereals.

*per 51 grams of cereal

When you compare the nutrition of Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch to a handful of other cereals including Froot Loops, Honey Bunches of Oats, All Bran and Quaker slow cooked oats you can see that from a nutritional point of view it doesn’t come out as better at all, but worse.  In the chart above all of the measurements have been adjusted to the 51 gram serving size of Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch.  While the protein for each of these cereals varies from a low of 2 for Froot Loops to a high of almost 7 for All Bran, none of these cereals is a significant source of protein.  The same can be said for fat which varies even less.  Breakfast cereals are essentially carbohydrate delivery devices, and this is true even for Quaker Oats.  All of these cereals have about the same number of calories (It appears that Kelloggs is misrepresenting the calories in All Bran.  By my calculation, using 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein and 9 calories per gram of fat, the overall calories are 201 for All Bran which would make sense.  This error appears to be in all of their literature).  The real difference in the nutrition of these cereals is in the amount of sugar added.  Froot Loops is clearly the worst with 21 grams of sugar for 51 grams of cereal.   The cereal is about 40% sugar!  Next worst is Great Grains which is 25% sugar.  Honey Bunches of oats is about 20% sugar, All Bran is about 15% sugar and Oatmeal is just under 2% sugar.

You can clearly see when you peruse the nutrition list that Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch is worse than Honey Bunches of Oats and no one thinks of Honey Bunches of Oats as a healthy food!  Another comparison highlights how far from ‘better nutrition‘ Post has landed with this cereal entry:

*per 51 grams of cereal

Kashi is respected as being a truly less processed cereal.  Still it is a cereal and as such it is still quite highly processed.  When you compare Kashi 7 whole grain flakes cereal to Post Great Grains Cranberry Almond Crunch you end up with a shocking comparison in which Kashi appears to be better nutritionally in every category, especially in the sugar category.  Kashi Whole Grain Flakes is only 8% sugar.

The Problem Here

So what if Great Grains are just a marginally worse cereal nutritionally than Honey Bunches of Oats.  So what if the only comparisons of better nutrition it wins are up against Froot Loops and Fruity Pebbles?  The problem really comes from the massive advertising campaign that they have launched with Curtis Stone at the helm.  In this ad (shown below), we get more of the health claims of the cereal:

The ad includes a quote from Curtis Stone that says, “I love the combination of beautiful whole grains that have been simply topped with some fruit and some nuts.  It’s an absolutely delicious start to the day”.  I agree Curtis, but this is exactly the constant misinformation that your campaign is selling.  Great Grains cereals are not whole grains topped with just fruit and nuts.  Quite often I eat whole grains (oatmeal) topped with blueberries, raisins and slices of almonds and find that delicious.  You are advertising grains topped with sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, sunflower oil, natural flavor and a little BHT!   To add to the ‘health washing’ of this campaign are tips for healthy eating including getting to know your local farmers’ market and reading nutrition labels.  This along with the ominous question, ‘Is your whole grain cereal really whole?’  The real question should be how much sugar do you need to get your spoon full of grains down?

If you need more evidence of health washing, here is the the whole press release from Post.  Some of the more disturbing quotes include:

  • Curtis Stone tells the WHOLE Story about Breakfast and Calls on Americans to Join Him in Movement to Eat More Whole Foods
  • at the start of each day, Stone is a breakfast lover. He is passionate about using quality ingredients and teaching others about cooking and eating for better health.
  • “Curtis’s personal food philosophy is central to the mission of Post Great Grains — that great tasting, nutritious food starts with less processed, quality ingredients,” said Joahne Carter, Associate Director of Marketing for Post’s Adult Brands.
  • In addition, consumers can also find on-pack promotions for 24 Hour Fitness in June, including a 24 Hour Fitness 7-day free trial.

All of this for a cereal that is quite high in sugar, and includes at least 4 different added sugars including corn syrup (I have pointed out in past the trick that companies use to keep sugar from the top of the ingredients list.  They add multiple different kinds, each one in less quantity than the sum total of sugar they would add if it was only one kind)!

Eating refined sugars that are added to foods appears by all current evidence to be bad for your health.  The best article on the subject was written by Gary Taubes and can be found here.

This is precisely what health washing is.  The glossing over of the unhealthy aspects of a food and highlighting the healthy aspects and doing this to the point that you are actually appearing to claim that your food is healthy when in fact it probably isn’t.

My Battle with Obesity

Why I feel so passionate about health washing is that I suffered with being obese for most of my thirties.  I thought I was eating well and I was getting fatter and fatter.  I tried a bunch of diets and I wasn’t losing any weight.  I was trying hard and I was failing.  It was a tremendously frustrating time in my life.  The fact is that losing weight can be a brutally difficult task but that task is made infinitely harder when we are misinformed about what is healthy.  During this period in my life the low fat craze was underway.  Companies were quick to sell reduced fat products, but they were increasing the sugar.  It was likely that they knew they were making unhealthy products, but they were advertising them as healthy because the push to lower fat was the goal at the time and people were literally eating it up.  This misinformation made losing weight so hard for me, so when I see cereals with too much sugar trying to suggest that they are a healthy choice I know families are going to go out and pick up this cereal and honestly think that by eating it they are eating healthy.  Post knows this too.  They most likely have taste tested their cereals with considerably less sugar and found that people didn’t enjoy the taste and in turn wouldn’t buy them.  I sympathize with the fact that Post has to sell their products into the same market that that Fruity Pebbles and Froot Loops is in, because getting people to pick up  unsweetened high fiber cereals is hard, but it is necessary for our health.  Still, the whole grain fad appears to me to be no different from the low fat fad and will result in the same outcome if we are compensating for flavour with added sugars.  People really believe this stuff (here).

Post Cereals

The fact is Post doesn’t care about your health.  They sell Fruity Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles Marshmallow Treats.  They have game websites for their cereals to get your kids hooked on tasty sugary snacks.   Seriously, they even advise the kids to go out and play after they get their daily dose of pebbles points.  You can get cheat codes in the cereal boxes for cool power ups!  Other brands include Alpha Bits and Honeycomb.  This isn’t a company that sells Great Grains because it is bothered by the obesity problems in the developed world (a problem that they are helping to create), but because they think that they can turn a profit after paying off Curtis Stone and convincing everyone that Great Grains is a healthy breakfast choice.

Post is owned by Ralcorp, which owns many companies, one of which is called Ralston foods, which, in turn, sells a value brand of cereals that includes knock offs of their competitors, such as Apple Cinnamon Tasteeos, Honey & Nut Tasteeos, Magic Stars, Apple Dapples, and Cocoa Crunchies.  Their website even lists the brands they are knocking off.   It is good for a laugh, but make no mistake, it is also very profitable.  The company is worth at least $4.9 billion, at least it is to ConAgra who would like to buy them.

So instead of thinking of Curtis Stone standing in a field of wheat when you think of Great Grains cereal, think instead of the business behind this cereal, the manufacturing, the marketing, the packaging and the corporate deals.  Instead of eating packaged cereals for breakfast, start eating slow cooked oatmeal.  Don’t add any sugar, just add a few blueberries or raisins.  If you need some texture add a small handful of All Bran or All Bran Buds.  You need to add a breakfast protein as well as all of these selections are way to high in carbohydrates.  You can find some great and healthy breakfast recipes in You Are Not A Fit Person along with detailed instructions on how you can win the personal battle with obesity like I have done.  Also the Zone Diet and the GI Diet have some good breakfast selections.  By the way, slow cooked oatmeal grains are very inexpensive to buy and prepare.  If you were wondering why you paid so much for cereals based on these grains, think about how much it costs to buy a celebrity chef?  That is really what you are paying for when you buy this cereal, that and the sugar.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. MoHub permalink
    May 20, 2011 12:02 pm

    Maybe it’s time to be honest and return high-sugar cereals to their original names. When I was a kid, cereals were called Sugar Crisp, Sugar Pops, Sugar Smacks, and Sugar Frosted Flakes. Then the cereal companies decided to take the word Sugar out of the product names to convince folks the items were somehow healthier. Mind you, they didn’t change the recipes, just the names, and they may have fooled some, but they didn’t fool me.

  2. Billy Bradshaw permalink
    October 14, 2011 1:40 pm

    Great post, love it. seeing that commercial makes me sick. I have been a farmer all my life. If you know anything about food and where it comes from, you know what Curtis Stone is saying is a lie. I don’t think he knows as much about food as he would have you think.

  3. January 22, 2012 8:34 pm

    Thank you so much for taking the time to break this down and share your thoughts. I had never heard of Curtis Stone until visiting my father in Iowa where he is a spokesperson for a local grocery story chain. On looking him up he appeared to be a Jamie Oliver wanna-be. However, I wanted to trust that he had something going for him, but now it seems he is just another faux-celebrity looking for some quick cash at the expense of his integrity and the sanity of people who want to trust anyone in media.

    • YouAreNotAFitPerson permalink*
      January 23, 2012 4:02 pm

      Thanks so much for the comments! I could not have said it better. It is ironic that the Jamie Oliver wanna-be’s are essentially the exact opposite of him. He has integrity, a cause and a mission, the rest of these people… not so much. Just a desire to be famous and cash in.

  4. Jane Thorwald permalink
    November 29, 2012 7:28 am

    I do understand what you are saying here. I can’t stand sugary cereals and have been that way my entire life and all but one cereal in the Great Grains family are too sweet for me. YUCK! With that said, I do like Great Grains Crunchy Pecans which comes in at 8 grams of sugar, equal to All Bran which I can’t handle eating at all. Wish I could but I also can not eat cooked oatmeal, it’s consistency makes me gag and once you cook it isn’t it then “processed” as well? Crunchy Pecans is also very generous with it’s pecans which are the third ingrediant after whole grain wheat & oats and we all know nuts are good. Although far from perfect it does seem manufacturers are trending in the right direction health wise. 🙂

  5. Ethan B. Ruben, MD, FAAP permalink
    June 19, 2015 9:04 am

    From a retired pediatrician with a 20 year history of Type 2 diabetes mellitus, now insulin dependent. I found your website while looking for the glycemic index of Post Great Grains Cereals. I must admit I too love the sweet taste, especially of Cranberry Almond Crunch.
    Fortunately I also enjoy slow cooked oatmeal, sweetened with Splenda and with a tablespoon of butter.

    When my FBS of 81 jumped to 199, 50 minutes after one cup of C/A Crunch, it was time for a bit of research! Post doesn’t list glycemic index for its products. In any case, without shedding a tear, I took my two unopened boxes of Great Grains cereals to our neighborhood food bank where, incidentally, I am usually careful to deposit only healthy foodstuffs.

    Tomorrow it will be slow cooked oatmeal with a few cranberries and a spoonful of chopped

    Ethan B. Ruben, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics

  6. Matt permalink
    September 11, 2015 6:39 pm

    what is the GI of post great grains protein variety? Thanks


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