So, this morning I am shopping through my kitchen cabinet on the hunt for cereal. I come across Vanilla Chex and think, “hm, that sounds good right now.” Brandished right on the front of the box are some company claims attempting to convince the consumer, me, their product is the healthier and tastier choice. “Natural flavors”. “Gluten free”. “No artificial colors”. Companies like to make “healthy” claims on their products to pull the consumer in. These claims sometimes sound intriguing, but be warned – it is fancy jargon the corporate world likes to play with. If you do not understand what the claims mean, you can easily be led astray. Let us look into this box of Chex and figure out what its claims mean for us.


Natural Flavors

What do you first think of when “natural flavors” is written on your food product? I do not know about you, but I certainly think of the flavor in its simple and natural form. For example, in this vanilla Chex my first thought goes to a long and fresh vanilla bean crushed up and whisked in with the rice and other ingredients. Just to make sure I am right, I check the ingredient list. Whole grain rice (well, that is good at least), rice, sugar, fructose, rice bran and/or canola oil, salt, molasses, natural flavor

Natural flavor? Well, that does not answer my question, but there is certainly a lot of other sugars added to sweeten this up. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, defines natural flavors as:

the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional (Food Labeling, 2013).

Wow.  Okay, so there is barely any of that natural ingredient in the flavor at all. That is why they add so much extra sugar, to make up for it. Also, catch the last part of the definition – “whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (Food Labeling, 2013). Really try to find foods that concentrate on nutritional ingredients. Nutrient dense foods are much better for your body.

No Artificial Colors

According to the FDA, artificial colors are:

a dye, pigment, or other substance made by a process of synthesis or similar artifice, or extracted, isolated, or otherwise derived, with or without intermediate or final change of identity, from a vegetable, animal, mineral, or other source and that, when added or applied to a food, drug, or cosmetic or to the human body or any part thereof, is capable (alone or through reaction with another substance) of imparting a color thereto (Color Additives, 2013).

Since the box markets no artificial colors, I decided to double check the ingredient list. No, there are none mentioned on the list. It is refreshing to find a food product that does not have “synthetically made substances”, like red dye 40, in it. Many artificial food colorings have been banned across the world, yet some are still legal here in the U.S. There is a lot of health controversy around these (such as these products sometimes lead to hyperactivity in children, increased asthma symptoms, hives, cancer, and more) so just try to avoid them.

Gluten Free

Well this is quite the craze right now — Gluten free products. Many are finding themselves having negative health consequences after consuming wheat products. Although, still difficult, it is getting easier and easier to find foods for this diet. Having to eat gluten-free foods is a result of Celiac Disease; in which, the body is not able to correctly digest wheat. According to the Mayo Clinic (2014), “If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption).” It is smart to limit your gluten intake regardless of if you have the disease or not. Choosing gluten-free products over regular products is healthier for your body.

A quick check to the ingredient list shows no gluten products. Chex/ General Mills so far seems to be a trustworthy company with its claims. For a more detailed list of what ingredients work and do not work for a gluten-free diet, go to:

Marketing claims can be very helpful. You want to find products that claim, and have, whole grain as the main, or first, ingredient. Look for the products that do not have artificial ingredients of any kind; and remember natural ingredients does not always lead to a healthier food product. Just because something is “_____ free” does not mean it still coincides with whatever diet you are following. Check the ingredient list and use your gut intuition to decide if this is the right product for you. Well, I think I made a decent decision in enjoying my Vanilla Chex this morning, with the exception of all that sugar.


Color Additives, 21 C.F.R. § 70.3 (2013).

Food Labeling, 21 C.F.R. § 101.22 (2013).

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Celiac disease definition. Retrieved April 14, 2014, from Mayo Clinic website

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