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Breakfast Cereals Not Fortified With Iron for Hemochromatosis or Iron Overload

A Nice, Safe Bowl of Breakfast Cereal Is A Rare Treat for a Person With Hemochromatosis


Fortification Is a No-No for Hemochromatosis

The popular practice of fortifying packaged breakfast crunchies with iron began over sixty years ago with the best of intentions, but has backfired at least in the case of people who must avoid added iron. Under various disguises (see the list to the right), iron is added to almost all prepackaged grain products, so you’ll find it in pretty much everything made with flour, whether wheat-based or gluten-free. Even doughnuts and pie crust are enriched with iron these days!

For people like my husband, who has hereditary hemochromatosis, or for those with another iron overload disorder, one of the hardest dietary challenges is finding a breakfast cereal not fortified with iron. There are such unfortified cereals, but most of them – take granola, for example – are full of natural, whole-grain “goodness,” which means they are naturally loaded with iron anyway. This may be okay for some people, but my husband can’t tolerate even that much non-heme iron in his diet. What this means is that we had to unearth cereals that not only were unfortified (at least, with iron) but also were naturally low in iron.

And we did it. We found them – cold breakfast cereals that had no added iron. There weren’t many—the list is short and sweet—but at least we found a few basic choices that carry us through those times when we just want to pour, eat and run without worry of overloading on iron. I’ve listed them below.

Watch Out For:

Cold breakfast cereals that are taken with milk are commonly fortified with various forms of iron.

The names you might find iron listed under on labels include:

  • Reduced Iron
  • Ferrous Sulfate
  • Ferrous Fumarate
  • Ferrous Gluconate
  • Ferrous Lactate
  • Ferrous Oxide

Erewhon Cereals – Free of Common Allergens and Iron Fortification

Due to allergies in the family, we were already familiar with the line of Erewhon gluten-free breakfast cereals. Little did we know that these simple cold cereals, with just a few basic ingredients, would prove our salvation when we were looking for iron-free or low-iron breakfast cereals. We raided the supermarket and online nutrition labels for weeks before checking our own stores and realizing that the unfortified goodness my iron-loaded husband needed was in our very own pantry!

The corn flakes and crispy rice cereals are the ones we are most familiar with. They are not enriched/fortified at all. These are fresh-tasting and, while they do not seem to stay crunchy for as long as the big commercial brands, they satisfy. My husband typically adds sugar to these and eats them with rice milk, and I sometimes add blueberries and raisins. It honestly makes me wonder why the major brands have so many other ingredients!

  • Note for those who are dairy-free: For those with iron overload who scorn cow’s milk for alternative milk…we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the Enriched Rice Dream Rice Milk does not have iron added to it, though it is fortified with a few other nutrients like calcium and B12.

Honey Smacks Are Not Iron Fortified

If you’re not sensitive to gluten and don’t mind a commercial, wheat-based cereal, consider that oldie but goodie, Kellogg’s Honey Smacks. With his sweet tooth, my husband survives on these even more than the Erewhon cereals. Each 3/4 cup, 27-gram serving has 2% iron, and it’s not from any “ferrous” anything added. The cereal is fortified with other vitamins and minerals, but relatively minimally enriched compared to many popular breakfast cereals.

Not-So-Trivial Trivia About Iron Content Labeling

If you’re like us, you’re used to seeing the iron content of foods listed on labels as a percentage of the RDA instead of in plain milligrams. For example, Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats lists iron as “90%” of the daily value, Post Shredded Wheat as “6%,” etc.

This is worrisome, especially since the cereal manufacturers we’ve researched use a woman’s daily value for iron (18mg) instead of a man’s daily value (8 mg) to calculate the percentage. I highlighted this because it’s really important. It means a man with iron overload trying to calculate how much iron is actually in his breakfast cereal might easily get over twice the iron he thinks he’s getting. He might see 10% iron and assume he’s getting .8 mg of iron, when actually he’s getting 1.8 mg.

Naturally, when we see percentages that are really high – like 90% of iron in a single serving of cereal – it’s cause to worry for someone with hemochromatosis. 16 mg of iron is a pretty good amount for someone whose body wants to suck up iron like a sponge.

But we also worry when we see even just 10%, because the forms they come in are highly absorbable – great for someone who needs a little help absorbing iron, but not so much for someone with hereditary hemochromatosis.

That’s it for now, but I’ll be sure to add more as I discover them. I believe they’re out there – iron fortification can’t have spread to every corner of the earth – can it? If anyone reading this has encountered any low-iron breakfast cereals (say, less than 4% per serving) then please do tell of your discovery. My husband and other people with iron-loading disorders will thank you!

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