Crisp…Crunchy…Like frozen foam…Air filled grain products have taken over our breakfast foods, snack foods and have begun to encroach here and there into other aspects of our diets. Breakfast cereals and things like cheese puff’s and Cheetos are produced by a process called extrusion. Cereal makers create a slurry of the grains and then put them in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a little hole at a very high temperature and pressure. The grains are made into little o’s like cheerios, flakes as in cornflakes, animal shapes, or shreds by the shape of the holes. Or they are puffed (as in puffed rice). A blade slices off each flake or shape, which is then carried past a nozzle and sprayed with a mixture of oil and sugar in a protective coating.
In his book Fighting the Food Giants, Paul Stitt shares that the extrusion process used for these cereals destroys most of the nutrients in the grains. It destroys the fatty acids; it even destroys the chemical vitamins that are added at the end. The amino acids are rendered very toxic by this process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially denatured by extrusion. This is how ALL boxes cereals are made, even the organic “healthy” ones sold in health food stores.
With so many people eating breakfast cereals, you might expect to find some studies on the effect of extruded cereals on animals or humans. Yet, there are no published studies. There have however been two UNpublished studies. The first was described by Paul Stitt who wrote about an experiment conducted by a cereal company in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole wheat, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A second group received puffed wheat (an extruded cereal), water and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given only water. A fourth set was given nothing but water and chemical nutrients. The rats that received the whole wheat lived over a year on this diet. The rats that got nothing but water and vitamins lived about two months. The animals on water alone lived about a month. But the company’s own laboratory study showed that the rats given the vitamins, water and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks—they died before the rats that got no food at all. It wasn’t a matter of the rats dying of malnutrition. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock.
Results like these suggested that there might be something actually toxic with the puffed wheat itself. Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes, which turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.
Another unpublished experiment was carried out in the 1960s. Researchers at University of Michigan were given 18 laboratory rats. They were divided into three groups: one group received corn flakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the corn flakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. But the rats receiving the corn flakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box. (The last corn flake rat died the day the first box rat died.) But before death, the corn flake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. The startling conclusion of this study is that there was more nourishment, or at the very least less harmful components in the box than there was in the corn flakes.
This experiment was actually designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny. The results were never published and similar studies have not been conducted to my knowledge. If anybody knows of studies other than these on extruded cereals please let me know! =) I would find it fascinating information.
I have been avoiding extruded products for quite some time. Not purely because of extrusion for it’s own sake but more as an over-reaching goal of avoiding highly processed foods altogether. Tonight however (and this is the part where I convince myself that confession is good for the soul) I fell deep into the crunchy trap of extrusion. There have been two boxes of organic cereal sitting in our kitchen cabinet for months. I used to buy organic cereal to feed company as a time saving device. However, for whatever reasons our most recent company hasn’t finished up the cereals leaving them to call my name. There are times when the woman of the house has to do the difficult thing. The health nut within me struggled against the tightwad conservationist. I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to my husband and small child. But the trash! OH, not the trash. It’s food. Expensive food. So I finally reached the decision to metaphorically throw myself in front of the bus for my family and relished every bite in that bowl of crunchy, sugary extrusion. The Doodlebug discovered a bag of Cheetos that had been hidden behind the boxes of cereal. (sigh) Yes, this too should be disposed of before it has a chance to tempt my family beyond what they could withstand. So my ever helpful excuse manufacturing mind convinced me. So me, the health, nutrient focused nut case has eaten nothing for supper except a bowl of extrusion chased by five puffs of a food like substance that has nothing to do with cheese.
I don’t know if this confession has done my soul any good but my stomach feels like it has a rock sitting in it. To save myself from future encounters like this a new buying rule in our house is now in effect. I shall purchase no extruded foods from this day forward to bring into the house. I had to make a drastic rule like this with bread over a year ago and it worked! If I don’t make bread we just don’t have bread. Buying is the easy button that is all too effectively enables my bad eating habits. I suspect some homemade cereal recipes in future blog posts are going to be forthcoming as a result of this new rule.