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How Much
is Too Much?

Excess Vitamins and Minerals in Food Can Harm Kids’ Health

 
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EWG Identified 23 Excessively Fortified Cereals

How Much is Too Much? : EWG Identified 23 Excessively Fortified Cereals

June 19, 2014
Because the FDA’s current Daily Values for vitamin A, zinc and niacin are so out of sync with what the Institute of Medicine considers healthy for children, a single serving of some fortified foods can overexpose them to one or more of these nutrients.
 
Fortified breakfast cereals are the number one source of added vitamin A, zinc and niacin in children’s diets (Table 3). EWG analyzed the Nutrition Facts panels of 1,556 cereals and identified 23 with the highest added doses. A child age 8 or younger eating a single serving of any them would exceed IOM’s safe level. The 23 cereals with the highest added nutrient levels include such popular and well-known national brands as Kellogg’s and General Mills and store brands such as Food Lion, Safeway and Stop & Shop (Table 4). 

Table 4: A single serving of these 23 cereals would exceed IOM’s safe limit of one or more nutrients for children 8 and younger*

Breakfast cereals, in alphabetical order

One serving would overexpose children to:

Zinc

Niacin

Vitamin A

Essential Everyday Bran Flakes Cereal

 

Food Club Essential Choice Bran Flakes

 

Food Lion Enriched Bran Flakes Cereal

 

Food Lion Whole Grain 100 Cereal

 

General Mills Total + Omega-3 Honey Almond Flax

 

General Mills Total Raisin Bran

 

General Mills Total Whole Grain

 

General Mills Wheaties Fuel

 

 

Giant Eagle Bran Flakes

 

Great Value Multi Grain Flakes

 

Kashi U 7 Whole Grain Flakes & Granola with Black Currants & Walnuts

 

 

✔**

Kellogg's All-Bran Complete, Wheat Flakes

 

Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies (single 2.3 oz serving in a plastic container)

 

 

✔**

Kellogg's Krave, Chocolate (single 1.87 oz serving in a plastic container)

 

 

Kellogg's Product 19

 

Kellogg's Smart Start, Original Antioxidants, Antioxidant Vitamins A, C & E, Including Beta Carotene

 

Kemach Whole Wheat Flakes Cereal

 

Kiggins Bran Flakes

 

Roundy's Bran Flakes

 

Safeway Kitchens Bran Flakes

 

Shop Rite Bran Flakes

 

Shur Fine Wheat Bran

 

Stop&Shop Source 100

 

* See Table A1 in Appendix A for details on the Daily Value levels for each cereal.
** When eaten with milk, these cereals contain 50 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A per serving. Vitamin A-fortified milk can contain 10-15 percent of the adult Daily Value, corresponding to 150-225 mg RAE (Retinol Activity Equivalents). Eaten with one cup of milk containing 10 percent of the adult Daily Value, these cereals provide 900 mg RAE, reaching the 900 mg/d RAE Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for 4-to-8-year-old children.

EWG’s analysis was performed on data gathered by FoodEssentials, a company that compiles information about foods sold in American supermarkets. EWG also reviewed manufacturers’ websites for data confirmation and to collect additional nutrition information. Cereal package label information was gathered between Sept. 15, 2012 and March 13, 2014 and represents a snapshot of the market over that period. Overall, 1,334 labels dated from 2013, 205 dated from 2014 and 17 dated from 2012.
 
The cereals in Table 4 are not the only sources of concern. In all, 114 cereals contain 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value (DV) of either vitamin A, zinc or niacin in a single serving (summary statistics in Table 5). Some cereals contained two of the three nutrients at 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value (25 with zinc and niacin; 10 with vitamin A and niacin; 1 with zinc and vitamin A). Children who eat cereals that are high in one or more of these three nutrients along with other fortified foods and/or supplements could easily be overexposed. 

Table 5: Fortification levels for cold and hot cereals

Fortified nutrient*
content per serving, compared to adult Daily Values (DV)**

Type of cereal (of 1,556 total)**

Cold
(859 products)

Granolas
(203 products)

Instant hot
(229 products)

Non-instant hot
(261 products)

Vitamin A
30% adult DV or more

8 (0.9 %)

0

7 (2.6%)

1 (0.4%)

Vitamin A
20-25% adult DV

176 (20%)

2 (1%)

152 (67%)

4 (1.5%)

Zinc
30% adult DV or more

29 (3%)

0

0

0

Zinc
20-25% adult DV

266 (31%)

10 (5%)

1 (0.4%)

0

Niacin
30% adult DV or more

100 (12%)

3 (1.5%)

3 (1.3%)

1 (0.4%)

Niacin
20-25% adult DV

483 (56%)

15 (7.4%)

145 (63%)

9 (3.4%)

* The FDA considers fortification at 20 percent or more of the Daily Value “high” (FDA 2004). 
** Four of the products are baby cereals, not included in the table.

EWG’s analysis shows that on average, cold cereals are the most likely to be fortified and have the highest levels of fortification, followed by instant hot cereals. Of the 114 cereals that provide 30 percent or higher of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc or niacin in a single serving, only one is a (non-instant) hot cereal, three are granolas, seven are instant hot cereals and 103 are cold cereals.
 
American children and adults often eat more than a single serving of cereal daily because many manufacturers list unrealistically small serving sizes on the Nutrition Facts label. Many cereals list a serving size of 30 grams, corresponding to ¾ cup or 1 cup, but both food industry and academic studies have found that many children eat much larger amounts in a single sitting. A study by General Mills found that 6-to-18-year-old children and adolescents eat about twice as much in a meal – an average of 42-to-62 grams (Albertson 2011). A study by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that 5-to-12-year-old children ate an average of 35 grams of low-sugar cereals and an average of 61 grams of high-sugar cereals (Harris 2011b).
 
The FDA’s analysis of food intake data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2008 found that at least 10 percent of Americans eat 2-to-2.6 times the labeled serving size at a sitting (FDA 2014c).
 
For cereals fortified to 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value for vitamin A, zinc, or niacin, 2½ servings would exceed or come close to exceeding the Institute of Medicine’s safe daily levels for a child 8 or younger, even if the child got none from other sources. EWG found that 114 cereals, 7 percent of the 1,556 analyzed, were fortified at 30 percent or more of the adult Daily Value per serving for at least one of three nutrients. (See Appendix A for full list.) 
 
The fact that many children take vitamin pills every day complicates the situation even more. According to a recent study by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 45 percent of 2-to-5-year-old children and 36 percent of 6-to-11-year-olds take supplements (Bailey 2013). 
 
A child who takes a daily dietary multivitamin and drinks milk gets sufficient Vitamin A from these sources alone. Eating any amount of vitamin A-supplemented cereal would exceed the Institute of Medicine’s recommended limit. Zinc and niacin are also common in many dietary supplements. As with vitamin A, children who take these supplements could easily exceed the safe limits if they also eat fortified cereals. 
 
Even with children who do not take supplements, parents should exercise caution to avoid excessive consumption of these nutrients. A single serving of any food with 20 percent of the adult Daily Value per serving provides a complete or nearly complete recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A, zinc and niacin for 1-to-3-year-old children. A serving with 20 percent of the adult Daily Value provides 50-75 percent of the recommended allowance for 4-to-8-year-old children (Table 7). Eating multiple servings of different foods fortified at more than 20-to-25 percent of the adult Daily Value can put children 8 and younger at risk of exceeding IOM’s tolerable limits.