5 Natural Cereals That Aren't

Pop quiz: Which of the following can be legally labeled "natural"?

a. Foods with chemical preservatives
b. Foods with artificial sweeteners
c. Foods with added color

Answer: All of them. It's true. When it comes to packaged foods like cereal, the FDA makes no stipulation about the use of the term "natural." Food scientists can cook up anything they want, out of the creepiest of chemicals, and sell it to you as something that’s as natural as rain.

Makes you kind of mad, huh?

But here's something even worse: When the Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, recently analyzed so-called "natural" cereals, it found that not only were many made with ingredients Mother Nature couldn’t pronounce, but they were often contaminated with pesticides and warehouse fumigation-chemical residues, genetically modified ingredients (GMOs), and ingredients grown in sewage sludge.

"These companies are using conventional ingredients to produce their 'natural' cereal, most likely produced with pesticides and fumigants," explains Charlotte Vallaeys, director of farm and food policy at Cornucopia. Read on for 5 popular cereals that promote themselves—explicitly or not—as natural. (And don't miss our entire list of "Natural" Cereals That Aren't.)

#1: Nutritious Living Hi-Lo

Consumer polls show that 93 percent of Americans believe products containing GMOs should be labeled, but under current laws, they aren't, leaving food shoppers in the dark. In fact, many natural products, like this cereal, are laced with genetically engineered ingredients. GMO technology has been linked to skyrocketing food allergy rates, digestive troubles, infertility, and even accelerated aging! In Cornucopia's tests, the soy content of Nutritious Living Hi-Lo was 85 percent GMO—meaning the soy was manipulated on the molecular level to withstand heavy sprayings of the weed killer Roundup, which often winds up inside the food you eat.

Organic Alternative: Ambrosial Granola Venetian Vineyard
DID YOU KNOW: All fish labeled "Atlantic salmon" are raised on farms! And, as you know if you follow me on Twitter, they're fed pellets that contain pink dye—that's how they get their color. Gross!

#2: Mother's Bumpers

Nearly 30 percent of the corn in Mother's Bumpers was found to be genetically modified. A 2011 Canadian report published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology revealed that the pesticides used on genetically modified crops and, in some cases, the genes used to create GM crops are able to survive in our digestive tracts, move into our bloodstreams, and—in pregnant women—show up in developing infants.

Pepsico owns the Mother's brand. One of its processing plants emits 19,000 pounds of sulfuryl fluoride, a greenhouse gas and fumigant, annually. The toxic gas is used post-harvest to kill pests in non-organic wheat, almonds, oats, corn, rice, barley, raisins, and peanuts. Fumigated food products can then be distributed to consumers 24 hours after gassing, according to the Cornucopia Institute.

Organic Alternative: Cascadian Farms Honey Nut Os 
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#3: Back to Nature

Back to Nature's "natural" granola products contain conventional ingredients that are produced on conventional farms with the use of pesticides and other synthetic inputs that would be prohibited on organic farms. "Conventional grain ingredients destined for processed foods like granola can be fumigated in the warehouse," explains Vallaeys. "The USDA has tested ingredients like wheat flour for toxic fumigant residues, and has found some samples to be contaminated with levels higher than the maximum acceptable level for children. Organics, which prohibits these fumigants, offers a level of protection that 'natural' products don't."

Organic Alternative: Laughing Giraffe granola

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#4: Grape Nuts and Post's "Natural Advantage Line"

Grape Nuts may carry that crunchy, earthy image—and food industry giant Post did form the "Post Natural Advantage Line," which includes Grape Nuts, Shredded Wheat, and Raisin Bran—but the ingredients used in these cereals are grown with chemical pesticides. USDA data shows that wheat is often contaminated with residues of malathion, chlorpyrifos methyl, and chlorpyrifos, toxic bug-killing chemicals that could harm neurological development. "They are 'natural' only in the sense that they do not appear to contain artificial preservatives," explains Vallaeys. "But the ingredients are conventional ingredients, from crops grown on conventional farms which can use toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, genetically engineered crops, and a whole host of other inputs that are strictly prohibited on farms growing crops for organic cereal." For that reason, Post landed rock bottom on the Cornucopia Institute's Cereal Scorecard.

Organic Alternative: Cascadian Farm Organic Raisin Bran

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#5: Kellogg's Low-Fat Granola

Don't let this granola's earthy-looking packaging or claims of whole grains fool you, warns Cornucopia. This granola contains harmful high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors, and other hard-to-pronounce ingredients that sound like they belong in a lab, not your mouth. "There is nothing natural about this product. Given that Kellogg's policy is to source GMOs, consumers should also assume that the corn, cottonseed, and soy ingredients in this granola are genetically engineered," says Vallaeys. Luckily, high-quality, organic granola is readily available.

Organic Alternative: Lydia's Organics Grainless Apple Cereal

One of the best things about the brand-new Eat This, Not That! 2012 is that it helps you find healthy, fat-fighting food no matter where you are: movie theater, coffee shop, vending machine. We've also identified the most bloating beverages in gas stations, bars, smoothie counters, and coffee shops across America. Click through the Worst Drinks in America to see what drinks are safe to sip—and which you should skip.

Additional reporting by Leah Zerbe


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