Maybe Getting Too Much Iron? Then, Pick These Cereals and Not Those Cereals!

Iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children.  Iron deficiency can cause a range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children.  Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many of our foods are fortified with iron to lessen the public health risk of too little iron.

Cereals are probably the most widely iron fortified food in this country.  For infants, iron fortified baby cereal is an excellent way for babies to get the iron they need to grow.  For older children and adults, a single serving of cereal can provide 100% of the recommendation for iron.

But what happens if a lot of this highly fortified cereal is eaten by men and older women who have significantly lower iron requirements than younger women and children?  Women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron, but men and  women in menopause need only 8 mg of iron.  While a healthy body can actually exert some control over absorbing too much iron, once in the body, it can be problematic to excrete. If too much iron is absorbed on an ongoing basis, it can cause a range of symptoms from increased infection to organ failure in susceptible individuals.

If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals-including some of the healthier high fiber whole grain varieties- are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of the recommended 18 mg suitable for younger women.  So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day?  They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run.

Let’s look at how some popular cereals stack up per serving with regard to the 18 mg iron requirement:

  • Cheerios have 6.3 mg
  • Special K has 6.3 mg
  • Corn Chex has 9 mg
  • Corn Flakes have 9 mg
  • Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
  • Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
  • Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
  • Total has 18 mg

For those who love their cereal, but need less iron, there are some lower iron choices such as:

  • Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
  • Puffins have less than 1 mg
  • Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
  • Fiber One has 4.5 mg
  • Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
  • Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
  • Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg

Given that many people eat more than the standard  ½-1 cup serving size, there is little doubt that some of you are consuming very large amounts of iron from cereal.  Couple large serving sizes of iron fortified cereal with a glass of orange juice, and the iron absorption triples from the vitamin C in that orange juice!

Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements?


23 thoughts on “Maybe Getting Too Much Iron? Then, Pick These Cereals and Not Those Cereals!

  1. Given the fact that I get 8% of my so-called daily requirement for every two slices of bread I eat, and more iron still in various green veggies and fortified dairy products that I consume, I opt for only the very lowest iron cereals, i.e. those under 10%. I have been convinced by things I read online that excess iron may accumulate in the body and damage some of the body’s systems.

    I believe the daily requirement needs to be revisited and the requirements set up in tiers (based primarily on age) by the appropriate governing bodies. This is one area where one size definitely does not fit all. If we fortify cereal with iron for the benefit of kids and pre-menopausal women, then why is a 3/4 cup serving of a kid’s cereal, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, only 2% the daily requirement, while 1/3 cup Kellogg’s Brand Buds — long favored by elders who are likely to eat more than 1/3 cup a day — is a whopping 25%? This makes no logical sense, and when I asked them about it in a letter, they couldn’t really defend it. But of course once a company has wrapped the R&D on a product and have it out there, it takes the proverbial act of congress to get them to change it.

  2. I buy or will not buy cereals based on how much iron it contains. If a cereal contains more than 25% of the RDA of iron, I won’t buy that cereal. There are many cereals I would buy, but the iron content is too high.

    • Yes, I agree that is a good rule. We have indeed gone overboard with iron fortification, and it would be nice if the major cereal companies would offer a wider range of low iron cereal for those people who do not need the iron!

  3. I have recently been diagnosed with a genetic blood disorder (hemochromatosis) that has never been detected in my family. I have severe organ damage. It is hard to find cereals that are not fortified with iron. I wish one of the cereal producers would start manufacturing cereals and foods for my needs, and the vast majority of hemochromatosis patients.

    • I agree, many people need to limit their iron, and the fortification process has gone overboard. It is too bad the cereal manufacturers have not picked up on this seemingly obvious need!

    • hi..i just got diagnosed also….looking for low iron or no iron cereals..kashi seems lowest at 2mg…but i am going to their website and call them to see if they have a 0 mg cereal..

      • Yes, Kashi is one of the better low iron cereals. It would be nice if the cereal companies had a greater variety of low iron options. Go luck to you.

    • I also have hemochromotosis…..fortunately, no liver damage…. Unfortunately, the only two packaged cereals that I have found with less than 10% iron are Shredded Wheat and Puffed Wheat. While I can find Shredded Wheat, it is harder to find Puffed Wheat (without added sugar) and I am trying to stay away from the already sweetened stuff. I do like Shredded Wheat….can add dried cranberries (rather than raisins) if I want to….. Also dealing with spaghetti (iron enriched unless it is the whole wheat version – yuck), breads, etc….. As more and more people get diagnosed with Hemochromotosis, it would be nice if we could find more food that isn’t enriched.

    • My husband too has been diagnosed with this, his count extremely high, detected late. He has also just been diagnosed Type 1 Diabetic due to his iron overload and trying to balance both diets is not easy. Struggling to find the low iron cereals that actually taste nice and now obviously low in sugar.

  4. This really helped me, because I have been striving to find the lowest and highest in iron cereal for a while. Looking around most of the internet didn’t help me, but this article is great information source.

  5. Hear, hear! I am on thyroid replacement medication and thyroid patients are required to NOT consume supplemental iron or calcium within 4 hours of taking the medication. This means that yes, I can have the fortified cereal– but not for breakfast! Arrrghhh. Who wants cold cereal in the middle of the day?

    Bob’s Red Mill has a number of organic (= unfortified, un-messed-with) hot cereal options, but I’m also looking for cold cereal options too. Ironic that cereal WITHOUT added and unnecessary supplements costs a lot more than regular old Corn Flakes, Total, or Cheerios, which I can’t have.

  6. I also have Hemochromotosis. The 2 best cereals I’ve found for lack of iron are Kelliggs Honey Smacks (2%) and Whole Foods 365 Organic Peanut Butter Balls (2%).
    And while I’m on here, I highly recommend going on Amazon and buying- The iron disorders guide to Hemochromotosis book. Great book, full of info, explanations, other resources, diet and nutrition info, treatment and personal stories. Well worth the $25!

  7. I have severe anemia, and I need a hot cereal fortified with a high amount of iron. It has to be hot, because then I can drink juice with it to get the Vitamin C I need to make the iron work. They are complementary. When you have calcium with iron, less iron is absorbed. The calcium binds with the iron, and they both get flushed out of your system without doing a thing for you. So I have to have no milk at all at breakfast, that’s why Total won’t work for me. Unless I ate it with juice, which I think would be totally gross. Do you know of a hot cereal fortified with 18 mg of iron? Also, I haven’t found any type of milk, be it soy milk, hazelnut milk, what have you that hasn’t been fortified with calcium. Do you know of any product like this without calcium? Because sometimes I would like cold cereal in the morning, but not with calcium. Breakfast is my calcium-free meal, so that I can get my iron.

    • My daughter couldn’t have much milk because of asthma and the mucous. We found that she could have cold cereal, any that she liked, with apricot nectar. She adored it. Just a suggestion.

  8. Pingback: The Potential Hidden Danger in Your Cereal: Iron | Chew on this

  9. Recently I had a weak moment in the grocery and bought a bag of generic cheerios. That night I ate two large bowls of the cereal, probably at least four servings. Within a day I had a gout flare that was as bad as any I’ve ever had. I’m generally pretty careful about my eating habits because of the gout, and have over the past few years identified a number of possible triggers, all of which are on the lists of high foods that gout sufferers should be wary of. However, I wasn’t aware until this recent bout that high levels of iron have been associated with elevated levels of uric acid, and often gout from the resulting crystals gathering in certain joints. I had never noticed the presence of high iron foods on the typical food triggers list, but when I googled cheerios and gout, the high level of iron in such “fortified” cereals was often mentioned as a possible trigger.
    So be forewarned, the heavy levels of iron in many fortified cereals can be a potential trigger of gout, which, for anyone who has gone through it, is about the most painful joint affliction one can have, often immobilizing the sufferer for up to a week.

  10. I have been looking for a low iron cereal because my iron level is a bit high, yesterday I found Nature’s Path Sunrise crunchy cinnamon at the super store it is organic gluten free and has 2% daily value of iron per 30 g .bought it to try and I like it. Also found pc organic whole wheat flour that has 6% daily value of iron per 30 g other flour was 8 to 10 % so I bought some and baked some bread hoping that I can lower my iron intake by adding these to my diet and cutting out other bread and cerals that are fortified with iron.

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