Heavy Metal Cereal

Iron-fortified cereal is just that: manufacturers add the metal element to many cereals as a dietary supplement. I bet you thought that was a microscopic amount. Not quite. Food artist Henry Hargreaves decided to find out how much iron was added to his cereal.

A few weeks ago, a friend informed me that many of our everyday breakfast cereals contain so much physical iron—in other words, actual metal—that the individual flakes could be magnetized. Refusing to believe this could be correct, I did a little research and found quite a few heated discussions on the topic online. As an uneducated consumer, I’d always assumed iron, which helps create oxygen-carrying red blood cells, was a naturally occurring protein that shared the same name as a rock-hard mineral purely by coincidence. Curiosity piqued, I conducted an experiment on my own using cereals found at my local supermarket.

(YouTube link)

Continue reading to see some familiar cereals and how much iron can be extracted from them.

While iron occurs naturally in various edibles—red meat, spinach, dried fruits, etc—it can also be added to food products artificially. As it turns out, iron-fortified cereals are exactly that: cereal whose iron content is enhanced with the addition of actual iron filings. Whether this is a reliable method of attaining iron is up for debate—this consumer health advocate, for example, claims that metal fragments are not “nutritionally equivalent to nutritive minerals formed during the growth of grain-producing plants,” and that the addition of metal to cereal is merely to boost numbers on the Nutrition Facts label. What is commonly agreed upon, however, is that metal consumed in such small, easy-to-process quantities does not pose a health risk.
Nonetheless, I’ve decided I’ll meet my daily iron requirements the old-fashioned way and leave the fortified stuff on the shelf. (Luckily for many manufacturers, spoilage shouldn’t be an issue—another reason for the addition of metal, I learned, is the added benefit of an increased shelf life.)

Now quick -everyone find a magnet! See more from Henry Hargreaves in our previous posts.


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