Archive for January, 2011

The Great English Breakfast ?

January 10, 2011

This is the second of three blog posts inspired by the BBC TV programmes The Foods that make Billions. This time I’m looking at breakfast cereal.

JH Kellogg was a doctor who ran a health sanatorium in Michigan and served tasteless cereal flakes for his patients to eat. His brother WH Kellogg wanted to add sugar to cereals to make them taste better so that he could sell them for lots of money. The two brothers did not agree. JH Kellogg probably understood that sugar is very damaging to health.

WH used advertising to turn grain from a very cheap staple into a breakfast cereal empire worth a fortune.

Many of us will eat a cooked breakfast as a rare treat if we stay in a hotel or B&B and someone else cooks it for us. And often we find that we feel better for longer than we do at home after cereal. In the 50s, half the population ate a cooked breakfast (and remember, they were all slim) but a big marketing campaign soon turned us into a nation of cereal eaters. The history seems remote from us now. Most of us have grown up with TV advertising and might find it odd to think how revolutionary it was when it was new. In fact the impact was massive.

Marketers use lifestyle image, convenience and free gifts in the boxes to win people over. Children are particular targets but once they are converted, they stay as customers when they grow up.

Breakfast cereal is a totally processed product. Any nutritional goodness in the original grain has been stripped, cooked and crushed out by the time you get the finished product. Manufacturers call this ‘adding value’. They turn corn at 15p into cornflakes that sell at £3. An experiment with rats proved that their health was better eating the cardboard box with milk than the contents!!

So why do we all think breakfast cereal is healthy if it isn’t? It just proves that you can fool all of the people all of the time if your marketing budget is large enough.

More money is spent advertising cereal than any other food.

The next development was cereal bars. They sold the message that now the busy executive doesn’t even have time to waste with a bowl and spoon. Solution? He can chomp on a bar while commuting. More processing, more additives, more cost, more detriment to your health.

Marketing has actually created the belief in lack of time that makes you think you can’t have a proper breakfast. Other products (food, gadgets, household products) latched onto this vision of the world where we all rush madly through our lives barely pausing for breath. It’s in so much advertising now we all believe it. ‘I didn’t have time’ is the one excuse that everyone will accept.

3/4 of Americans feel they’re not coping with overload.  In the UK it’s estimated that up to 90% of visits to the GP are the result of the effects of stress.  Does it really have to be like this? No it doesn’t. We believe it because we’re being brainwashed many times every day. You can choose to stop listening to the messages and take control of the pace of your own life. We can move away from the collective belief in ‘not enough time’ that has been thrust onto us. Actually, we always have time for the things that are important to us. Trouble is that watching TV and playing computer games seem to have become the most important things, as surrogates for living our real lives.

I coached someone who said he wanted to write a book but he didn’t have time. Then his wife had a baby and the next time I spoke to him, he was spending 3h per evening with his son. His family was the most important thing to him and time wasn’t an issue any more.

What’s important to you? For me, my health matters so I decided to give up processed cereal. I thought it was going to be near impossible having eaten it my whole life. In the end, it was as simple as forming a new habit. Now I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a decent breakfast.

If you enjoy eating a cereal breakfast, you can buy a big bag of unadulterated oats for a couple of pounds to make porridge or add barley and wheat flakes, nuts and fruit to create your own natural meusli.


So it’s a decision we each have to make. Pay through the nose to eat processed convenience food and limp along with our excess weight, aches, pains, headaches, indigestion and lack of health and vitality, popping over-the-counter drugs (at more expense) to prop us up. Or spend a few minutes a day making health-giving food from scratch and regain our energy and enthusiasm to start really living.

It’s up to you.