Do your regularly eat cereal? Did you ever stop to think that the cereals you choose may be loaded with too much iron? While cereal can be a great source of nutrients such as fiber, many cereals have too much iron for certain people. Clearly, adequate iron consumption is critical for the health of all-especially women of childbearing age, infants, and children. And, iron deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms from energy draining anemia to disruptive behavior in children. Because adequate dietary iron is so critical to health, many 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. A complete list of iron requirements across all ages is available on this updated blog on cereal and iron.
Iron needs are based on age and gender
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. This condition is called hemochromatosis.
Use labels to avoid cereals with too much iron
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
- Wheaties have 8 mg
- Corn Chex has 9 mg
- Corn Flakes have 9 mg
- Raisin Bran has 6.3-10.8 mg (depends on the brand)
- Corn Chex has 11 mg
- Special K has 11 mg
- Rice Krispies have 11 mg
- Wheat Chex has 14.4 mg
- Cheerios Oat Crunch has 14 mg
- Grape Nuts have 16 mg
- Frosted Mini Wheats have 16.2 mg
- Multi-Bran Chex has 16.2 mg
- Total has 18 mg
For cereal lovers needing less iron
- Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
- Puffins have less than 1 mg
- Kind Healthy Grains (all varieties) have less than 1 mg
- Cascadian Farm Cereal Berry Vanilla Puffs Organic have less than 1 mg
- Raisin Bran Crunch has 1 mg
- Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg (more updated oatmeal information)
- Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg
- Shredded Wheat has 2 mg
- Nature’s Path Flax Plus has 2 mg
- Fiber One has 4.5 mg
- Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
- Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
- Fiber One has 5 mg
- Frosted Flakes have 5 mg
- Honey Nut Cheerios have 5 mg
Tactics for cereals with too much iron
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. The vitamin C from the orange juice keeps the iron in a readily absorbed form as the iron travels through the small intestine during digestion. The orange juice with vitamin C should clearly be avoided as a breakfast beverage with cereal if iron overload is a concern. Best tactics for those needing less iron are to read labels, watch your portions, and avoid fruit juice with vitamin C. Then, enjoy your cereal!
Should you change your cereal choice based on your iron requirements? I hope this gave you something to think about.