From Ronald Hoffman, MD
A trio of food stories caught my eye this week . . .
Turning breakfast cereal into a bedtime snack: A problem for the food industry is that there are only a finite number of mouths available to eat breakfast. Demographically, the percentages of kids and teenagers are declining. Sales of breakfast cereals are, in essence, capped out. Especially because more people are turning away from sugary, high-carb morning meals, which are known to produce a roller-coaster effect on blood sugar, setting the stage for increased appetite and poor food choices later in the day. Once demonized as sources of saturated fat and cholesterol, eggs are regaining their rightful place as high-protein, satiating breakfast choices.
How then, to reinvigorate the market for these high-margin, cheap-to-produce processed cereals?
Credit Big Food for creativity. They’ve rolled out a campaign for Sweet Dreams™️. A headline announces, “Post moves from breakfast to nighttime with new sleep-promoting cereal”.
Cleverly capitalizing on the pervasiveness of sleep problems among Americans, lately exacerbated by “Coronasomnia”, Post claims that Sweet Dreams “is the first ready-to-eat cereal designed to encourage a healthy sleep routine while satisfying late-night hunger.” According to recent surveys, a quarter of American adults obtained less than the requisite seven hours of sleep per night, and 15% of adults had trouble falling asleep most days or every day in the past 30 days.
The theory is that hunger pangs interfere with sleep, and that the smattering of vitamins and minerals with a dash of calming lavender and chamomile facilitate relaxation and “support melatonin”.
“For 130 million American adults, a good night’s sleep is elusive. You deserve good sleep, and we want to help you enjoy it! So, we made Sweet Dreams cereal, the first ready-to-eat cereal specially designed to support a good sleep routine and a fresh start to the next day.”
The Nutrition Facts label on Sweet Dreams reveals a cup (who eats just a cup of dry cereal?) yields 230 calories, of which 46 grams are carbohydrates, a third of which (16 grams) come from simple sugars. The packaging states it is “made with whole grains” but it’s not clear how much. Suspect ingredients include sunflower oil, “canola or soybean oil” corn starch and corn syrup, and, of course, sugar.
Most cold breakfast cereals are considered to be—along with bacon, sausage, frozen meals, cookies, and candies—ultra-processed foods (UPFs). As the Harvard Health Blog puts it:
“They most likely have many added ingredients such as sugar, salt, fat, and artificial colors or preservatives. Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers.”
Consumption of UPFs is associated with many health risks, including cancer and cognitive decline.