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 it's backfired for 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 have 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 eat and run without worrying about 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 Are 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 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, percentages that are really high (like 90% of iron in a single serving of cereal) are cause for 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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: I like oatmeal in the morning, but it has too much iron. Do you know of any oatmeal that hasn't been fortified with iron?
Answer: Oatmeal isn't usually fortified, and that's the problem; it's a whole food. I don't know of any brand of oats that's had the non-heme iron removed.
Question: What bread is low in iron?
Answer: To avoid dietary iron, make it at home with Hodgson Mill unenriched white flour (it still has iron, but not as much), or if you can tolerate a bit of non-heme iron in your whole wheat, you can make it at home with whole wheat. Just maybe don't use enriched flour which has iron added to it.
Do you know of any other low-iron breakfast cereals? Please share!
Christine on August 17, 2020:
Having just been diagnosed with a huge overload of iron I am finding it extremely difficult to find much to eat that does it have iron. Thank you for the breakfast cereal ideas.
Laura on February 23, 2019:
Nature's Path Organic cereals are a good non fortified option!
jewelia on February 23, 2018:
I prefer So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk to Rice Dream. Taste of either is OK but the So Delicious Brand (0nly) contains far less sodium--you get too much of that just from most cereals too. Other coconut milks I have found have much more. You can get the So Delicious Sweetened but I prefer to add stevia.
As for cold cereals, all grains have some iron in them naturally. Practically none of that will be absorbed. Problem is the supplemental iron added to most. I look for those labeling iron at 6% or less. I like the honey=almond Nature Valley granola. Most Kashi and some oat cereals qualify.
BUT FREEDOM FOODS BRAND CEREAL HAS SEVERAL TYPES labeled WITH ZERO PERCENT IRON...@ AMAZON, VITACOST,
cynth on August 25, 2017:
I know it's not really breakfast "cereal" but Hobnobs are listed as having no iron. Also, Dorset museli. Can anyone explain this to me as I am confused. Is it simply that the oats used in these products aren't fortified whereas lots of other porridge oats are? Thanks.