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Is That Right? Rice Krispies Boost Immunity

They snap. They crackle. They pop. But do they support immunity?

Kellogg's has reformulated its Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies cereals, fortifying them with vitamins A, C, and E and a bunch of B vitamins. The boxes and ads now tout that "each and every box" of Krispies has ingredients that "help support your child's immunity."

It's a potent message in these days of swine flu fear. But can eating a bowl of Rice Krispies really help keep you from getting sick?

Some of the added nutrients are believed to help strengthen your immune system, but it's not clear whether they work as well when isolated from the whole foods that naturally contain them, as they are here, as when you get them from, say, an apple or an orange. In any case, they haven't added all that much: the Rice Krispies nutrition facts panel shows that the cereal provides 50 percent of the daily value for iron but only 25 percent to 30 percent of most of the other nutrients listed. Oddly, there's hardly any fiber in a serving. And a quick glance at the ingredient list isn't encouraging: The first ingredients are rice, sugar, salt, malt flavoring and high fructose corn syrup.

Those are not the first ingredients to pop to mind when I think of boosting my immunity.

At least there's no nonsense here about "as part of a complete breakfast," which cereal companies have long used to mask the fact that their products alone provide little nutrition; pair 'em with a banana and a glass of milk to get some real goodness. But it does seem strange to see in the ads that kids are having just cereal for breakfast; you'd think they'd stick a few strawberries on a plate for good measure.

It's interesting to see that Kellogg's promotes Cocoa Krispies not as a breakfast item but as an after-school snack. But check the ingredients and you might not want to serve them even then: In addition to the sugar, salt and HFCS heading the Rice Krispies ingredient list, the Cocoa variety sports partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, a source of artery-clogging trans fats.

As has been noted elsewhere, Rice Krispies aren't the worst cereal in the world. They're pretty low-calorie and less sugary than most. But to suggest to parents that feeding them to kids will help protect the little ones against disease -- and that's what they mean when they talk about "boosting immunity" -- seems absurd.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  August 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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