Eating Right

Use Caution When Eating Iron-Fortified Breakfast Cereals
Here's an interesting switch - experts at the FDA note that some fortified cereals contain substantially MORE iron and folate than their labels claim. This wouldn't be a problem, except that most people also eat more than one manufacturer-measured "serving" at a time, compounding the extra nutrients to the point where they can cause health risks.

A new FDA report states that 21 of 29 best-selling cereals have iron levels well above what their labels declare. Some have 50 percent to 90 percent extra iron per serving. Again, that wasn't considered a serious problem until researchers also found that women typically poured themselves twice the cereal's "one serving" size, while men poured out a three-times-greater amount.

Considering that one cereal had 57 percent of the daily value for iron, that combined with other meals eaten throughout a normal day (plus any multivitamin supplements) could easily give an individual more iron than he or she could safety ingest without adverse side effects.

Overdosing on iron on a long-term, regular basis can create a condition known as secondary hemochromatosis, which has been linked to liver disease, cancer and possibly heart disease. Men and post-menopausal women are particularly at risk. (Women of child-bearing age lose iron each month via menstruation.)

Extra folate can also carry some health risks. Too much folate can mask a deficiency of vitamin B-12. Left untreated, this deficiency can lead to anemia and subsequent nerve damage. On average, the FDA reports many top brands of cereal range up to 37 percent over the recommended daily allowance for folate (400 micrograms). Again, when combined with the average diet, it's easy to exceed recommended levels.

Without naming the exact cereals it reviewed, the FDA suggests men and post-menopausal women look for a low-iron cereal or one offering less than the 100 percent daily value of iron and folate. Or, stick to a one-ounce serving, replacing your extra cereal with a piece of fruit or other healthy alternative.

© Your HealthStyle, 2003.