The widespread adoption of Cornflakes as a breakfast cereal spread quickly from the US to the UK post war. But how many know that it was originally a vegetarian cure for invalids based around Biblical belief from the all American Seventh Day Adventist Church founded in 1854?
An old article in ‘The Smithsonian’ shows how John Harvey Kellogg started by editing their house magazine, The Health Reformer. He then studied medicine and
…in 1876, …the Battle Creek Sanitarium was born and within a few years it became a world famous medical center, grand hotel, and spa run by John [Kellogg] and Will, eight years younger, who ran the business and human resources operations of the Sanitarium while the doctor tended to his growing flock of patients. The Kellogg brothers’ “San” was internationally known as a “university of health” that preached the Adventist gospel of disease prevention, sound digestion, and “wellness.” At its peak, it saw more than 12,000 to 15,000 new patients a year, treated the rich and famous, and became a health destination for the worried well and the truly ill.
It was no wonder Dr. Kellogg saw a need for a palatable, grain-based “health food” that was “easy on the digestion” and also easy to prepare. He hypothesized that the digestive process would be helped along if grains were pre-cooked—essentially, pre-digested—before they entered the patient’s mouth.
Well there, of course, he had something – that is indeed the basis of all cooking – in effect to breakdown or ‘predigest’ food to enable the food to impart more useful energy (rather than for it to be used in the digestion process). The article continues:
Dr. Kellogg baked his dough at extremely high heat to break down starch contained in the grain into the simple sugar dextrose. John Kellogg called this baking process dextrinization. He and Will labored for years in a basement kitchen before coming up with dextrinized flaked cereals—first, wheat flakes, and then the tastier corn flakes. They were easily-digested foods meant for invalids with bad stomachs.
Today most nutritionists, obesity experts, and physicians argue that the easy digestibility the Kelloggs worked so hard to achieve is not such a good thing. Eating processed cereals, it turns out, creates a sudden spike in blood sugar, followed by an increase in insulin, the hormone that enables cells to use glucose. A few hours later, the insulin rush triggers a blood sugar “crash,” loss of energy, and a ravenous hunger for an early lunch. High fiber cereals like oatmeal and other whole grain preparations are digested more slowly. People who eat them report feeling fuller for longer periods of time and, thus, have far better appetite control than those who consume processed breakfast cereals.
In the early twentieth century Will Kellogg left the ‘San’, tweaked the recipe to make it sweeter and more ‘commercial’, and the rest as they say, is history.
It goes to show how we should be aware that a food manufacturer’s main job is selling food at a profit, it is not to look after everyone’s – or even anyone’s – health. At least London’s Transport has, with effect from 25 February banned junk food advertising.
Moreover, refined food manufacuring has gradually allowed for the entry of the so-called ‘calorie accountants’, who can show that their product contributed very few calories and who encourage us all to believe that a calorie of, say. cheese and onion Pringles – or Kellogg’s cornflakes – is just the same as a calorie of broccoli.