Shelf Help

New! From General Pills!

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

General Mills, which has been touting the health benefits of the whole grains in its cereals, has extended its reach into vitamins. The food maker has teamed up with a supplement manufacturer to offer vitamin pills carrying the Wheaties and Total brands. Clever branding aside, they are hardly different from a typical multivitamin. "They were launched with the idea that they would appeal to the strong customer base that [the cereals] already have," said Crystal Wright of Leiner Health Products, General Mills's new partner, which also makes generic supplements for pharmacy and grocery chains.

Peppe red Each cordovan-colored Total pill contains at least 100 percent of the reference daily intake of 17 vitamins and minerals, putting it on par with many other multivitamins. It also has five milligrams of black pepper extract -- "for better absorption of vitamins and minerals," General Mills claims in a statement not endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration. A peppery bite is noticeable to some consumers. Similar to the Total pill in its content of essential vitamins and minerals, the Wheaties supplement adds lutein, lycopene, green tea extract and coenzyme Q10. (That last compound interacts with some medications, cautioned nutrition scientist Ann Yelmokas McDermott of the USDA Nutrition Research Center at Tufts University in Boston.)

Twice Fortified? Some confusion may arise because Total cereal is a nutrient powerhouse in itself; it's fortified with 100 percent of most essential vitamins and nutrients. If General Mills loyalists were to both eat Total cereal and take the Total multivitamin, they would (at best) be getting a useless extra vitamin load. Double-dippers aren't likely to get dangerous vitamin loads, said Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group, although an overdose of zinc is possible from the two products. The companies were smart to omit iron from the supplements, she added, because Total cereal has as much as most people should get. On the other hand, she said, "if you just take the supplement, you might not get enough iron."

Said McDermott, "I don't see any reason why you would take both."

-- Ben Harder

© 2005 The Washington Post Company