Do you eat a cereal that's "fortified with iron"? Do you doubt that this means you're just eating tiny iron filings? Time to think again.

Here's a quick experiment to make eating cereal every morning either less appealing or way more cool, depending on your point of view. Grab a flaky cereal - preferably one that is 'fortified with iron'. The small snack-pack type cereals work best, both because they come in little bags inside the box which will be handy for crushing the cereal and because it's likely that you can scam one off of your workplace. Put some cereal in a bag or a non-metal bowl and crush it to powder. Add just enough water to cover the cereal. Now take either a magnet or (recommended) some magnetic tape wrapped around the end of a popsicle stick, and put it in a smooth, clear sandwich bag. Stir the bagged stick around in the cereal for about ten minutes.


Withdraw the popsicle stick/magnet and what do you see? There should be miniscule metal bits clinging to the magnet. Those are iron filings, if only tiny ones. They are put there on purpose. Technically, they are good for you. Everyone needs a little iron to stay healthy. Most of it goes to your red blood cells, helping them get oxygen to other cells in the body. There are two types of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme is found mostly in animal products, in the hemoglobin - the aforementioned red blood cells.

Since meat is a lot of trouble to produce and to manipulate in the food industry, heme iron is often tough to come by. Nonheme iron, not associated with red blood cells, is found in lentils and legumes. This is easier to get, and is what's added to 'fortify' foods with iron. No, companies haven't actually stooped to shaking iron filings into breakfast cereal - it would probably also be more expensive, anyway - but the result is the same. With a little work, and the right tools, nonheme iron can be taken right out of the cereal again, leaving people staring at a fuzzy, metal-covered magnet and wondering, "Should I eat that?"


Via the Office of Dietary Supplements and Totally Irresponsible Science.

Image by Antonio Petrone /