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  #1  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:08 AM
thebeaglebeagle thebeaglebeagle is offline
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Do rats eating cereal box cardboard live longer than rats eating cereal?

Apparently, someone did a "study" or "series of studies" in which rats were fed cornflakes/shredded wheat/some other cereal and other rats were fed shredded cardboard. The shredded cardboard eating rats lived longer.

I've heard this quoted on four or five web sites. Two friends have quoted it to me. People use it to support the Atkins diet, they use it to argue about corn and corn consumption, and they use it to talk about how all manufactured food is bad for you.

What's the straight dope?

Was there ever a REAL study done on breakfast cereal that resembles this study? Where is it published?

And, finally, is breakfast cereal actually good for you or is it just pointless?
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  #2  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:16 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Breakfast cereal is made from grain. So an unsweetened wheat cereal is nutritionally about the same as the same amount of bread. Man (or mouse) cannot live by bread alone, but won't fare too badly on it either.

Cardboard is mostly cellulose. I highly doubt rats can digest that at all, so the claim sounds like a load of bollocks to me - but the people you need to ask about it are the people making the claim. I doubt the study exists at all, but us not being able to find it does not conclusively establish that.

Anyway, why would someone, anyone, carry out a study that involves feeding rats on shredded cardboard? The assertion is ridiculous in its very face.

Last edited by Mangetout; 05-20-2011 at 07:17 AM..
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  #3  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:18 AM
lazybratsche lazybratsche is offline
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I can't find anything remotely like that on pubmed or google scholar, using combinations of keywords like "rat" or "rattus", "cardboard", "cereal", "cellulose", and "diet".

A "study" like that sounds more like someone's high school science project rather than an actual piece of published science.
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  #4  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:35 AM
johnpost johnpost is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thebeaglebeagle View Post
I've heard this quoted on four or five web sites. Two friends have quoted it to me. People use it to support the Atkins diet, they use it to argue about corn and corn consumption, and they use it to talk about how all manufactured food is bad for you.

What's the straight dope?
what sites?
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  #5  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:47 AM
Son of a Rich Son of a Rich is offline
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I believe there was a study that concluded that underfed mice lived longer. Feeding them cardboard would be equivalent to underfeeding given cardboard nutritional value. I know mice are little eating machines, but how starved do they have to be to eat cardboard in the first place?
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  #6  
Old 05-20-2011, 08:07 AM
Ferret Herder Ferret Herder is offline
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The Mythbusters studied this in their "does the box have more nutrition than sugary cereal?" testing. I was listening to an interview with Adam Savage (Kevin Pollak's Chat Show podcast, episode #99), in which he described a never-aired segment for that show. The mice that were fed cardboard box pellets were drinking extra water and just picking at the pellets. They came back in on Monday to find that two of the three were dead and mostly consumed, and the remaining one looked quite plump. The mice eating cereal hadn't consumed each other.

My guess is that no, it typically doesn't lead to longer life.
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  #7  
Old 05-20-2011, 08:30 AM
Annie-Xmas Annie-Xmas is offline
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I heard it that the rats were given both Froot Loops and the cereal box. They ate the box and ignored the Froot Loops.

So would I.
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  #8  
Old 05-20-2011, 08:41 AM
Al Bundy Al Bundy is offline
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It's not the nutrition

If the study is true, it may not be due to the nutrition value of cardboard as much as the detriment of all those additives in processed cereal.
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  #9  
Old 05-20-2011, 08:43 AM
Arkcon Arkcon is online now
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Originally Posted by Annie-Xmas View Post
I heard it that the rats were given both Froot Loops and the cereal box. They ate the box and ignored the Froot Loops.
Cute concept, but unlikely. Rats definitely crave sweets, if there's something wrong with the processing of corn, or the artificial flavoring or coloring of the the fruit loops, the rats should at least nibble the sugar coating off.

Quote:
So would I.
Yeah, as an adult, I'd probably pass on Fruit Loops too. But eating a cardboard box? No, I'd become a Mythbusters rat, and just have some water until a better opportunity came along. 'Tho I'd probably pass on the cannibalism option as well.
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  #10  
Old 05-20-2011, 10:46 AM
enalzi enalzi is online now
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Originally Posted by Ferret Herder View Post
The Mythbusters studied this in their "does the box have more nutrition than sugary cereal?" testing. I was listening to an interview with Adam Savage (Kevin Pollak's Chat Show podcast, episode #99), in which he described a never-aired segment for that show. The mice that were fed cardboard box pellets were drinking extra water and just picking at the pellets. They came back in on Monday to find that two of the three were dead and mostly consumed, and the remaining one looked quite plump. The mice eating cereal hadn't consumed each other.

My guess is that no, it typically doesn't lead to longer life.
Sounds to me like it led to a longer life for one of them...
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  #11  
Old 05-20-2011, 10:52 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by Annie-Xmas View Post
I heard it that the rats were given both Froot Loops and the cereal box. They ate the box and ignored the Froot Loops.

So would I.
I doubt it's even true, but maybe there's a misunderstanding at play here too. Rats will chew and shred carboard for use as bedding, and to keep their teeth in trim, etc. So the box might well look 'eaten', and not be consumed at all.
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  #12  
Old 05-20-2011, 11:45 AM
Ferret Herder Ferret Herder is offline
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Originally Posted by enalzi View Post
Sounds to me like it led to a longer life for one of them...
Only for 33% of them. Meanwhile 100% of the others made it through the weekend, at least.
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  #13  
Old 05-20-2011, 12:29 PM
Tom Tildrum Tom Tildrum is offline
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Of possible interest, the labeling on mine says "Contains 40% post-consumer content," but I'm not sure if this refers to the box or the cereal itself.
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  #14  
Old 05-20-2011, 01:33 PM
Michael of Lucan Michael of Lucan is offline
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I can confirm that this story goes back to at least the 70s, maybe the late 60s. It may have had some validity then. At that time, many cereals were more likely to be over-processed crap with all the good taken out, and nothing added except sugar and salt.

The story was that a particular cereal* was so bad that rats fed on the packaging lived longer. It was not claimed that the packaging was good for rats, just that they did not die as fast as the ones eating the cereal.

Today, many cereals are still heavily processed, which damages their food value. However, after good stuff is processed out, they add a lot of vitamins and minerals back. Obviously you are better eating fresh foods, but processed cereals won't starve you. So, a parallel test is unlikely to work today on any normal cereal, and it's just a meme based on an outdated data.

I guess that must be the first time something untrue appeared on the internet. How awful.

*Yes, I do remember which cereal it was, but i have decided not to panic the moderators by naming it. SDMB owes me.
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  #15  
Old 05-20-2011, 02:00 PM
Derleth Derleth is offline
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Originally Posted by Michael of Lucan View Post
*Yes, I do remember which cereal it was, but i have decided not to panic the moderators by naming it.
Forgive me if I think this whole thing is a joke, especially this statement.
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  #16  
Old 05-20-2011, 02:06 PM
Earl Snake-Hips Tucker Earl Snake-Hips Tucker is offline
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The recall a similar reported "news" story once about a high-schooler's experiment feeding rats different kinds of food. I don't remember the exact details, but basically, one rat was fed "good" food, and the other was fed junk food. On the last day of the experiment, sure enough, the rat that had eaten junk food was fatter, but the rat that had eaten good food had choked on a cracker or something and had died. Maybe it did, and maybe not, but I did hear that in a radio news blurb @1980. ETA: It was 1988. Link

Last edited by Earl Snake-Hips Tucker; 05-20-2011 at 02:07 PM..
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  #17  
Old 05-20-2011, 02:27 PM
Michael of Lucan Michael of Lucan is offline
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Originally Posted by Derleth View Post
Forgive me if I think this whole thing is a joke, especially this statement.
No, not joking. Other than the final comment.

It was a genuine news item at the time, which is why it is still going round as a half-remembered meme. I must stress that it was of its time, and is not likely to apply to any modern cereal decades later.
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  #18  
Old 05-20-2011, 02:34 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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The primary thing you need from food is calories, and even the worst junk foods don't have those processed out. Sure, there are other things you need, too, but those are all longer-term. The rats eating the cardboard will starve long before the rats eating sugar-frosted sugar bombs will die of vitamin deficiencies.
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  #19  
Old 05-20-2011, 05:11 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael of Lucan View Post
I can confirm that this story goes back to at least the 70s, maybe the late 60s. It may have had some validity then. At that time, many cereals were more likely to be over-processed crap with all the good taken out, and nothing added except sugar and salt.

The story was that a particular cereal* was so bad that rats fed on the packaging lived longer. It was not claimed that the packaging was good for rats, just that they did not die as fast as the ones eating the cereal.

Today, many cereals are still heavily processed, which damages their food value. However, after good stuff is processed out, they add a lot of vitamins and minerals back. Obviously you are better eating fresh foods, but processed cereals won't starve you. So, a parallel test is unlikely to work today on any normal cereal, and it's just a meme based on an outdated dated data
I don't. Think it really matters how you slice it. It cannot ever have been true that rats in an experiment lived longer on cardboard than on breakfast cereal. No matter how contemptibly over-processed the product, it's starchy, sugary calories - as opposed to cardboard, which is fibrous non-food.
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  #20  
Old 05-20-2011, 05:12 PM
rhubarbarin rhubarbarin is offline
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Sounds like utter bullshit. Rats can't digest cardboard.

Last edited by rhubarbarin; 05-20-2011 at 05:13 PM..
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  #21  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:03 PM
duffer duffer is offline
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post

Anyway, why would someone, anyone, carry out a study that involves feeding rats on shredded cardboard? The assertion is ridiculous in its very face.
Well, because they were able to get funding. You know that.

The rats were nesting. Same reason a bird will pick up random prices of crap.

There. Study complete. Where's my check?
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  #22  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:07 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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I don't believe any such experiment ever took place in earnest. That's even simpler - the thing is a figment of the imagination of the same kind of dribbling stupid that claims food X is 'one molecule away from' poison Y
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  #23  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:09 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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If there's any grain of truth at all to this (which I doubt to begin with), it might, might, be that rats fed a combination of cereal and a little bit of cardboard were healthier than the ones just eating cereal. They still wouldn't get any nutrition from it, but they'd at least get some fiber.

Or, more likely, it's just completely fabricated from start to finish.
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  #24  
Old 05-20-2011, 07:57 PM
dracoi dracoi is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Or, more likely, it's just completely fabricated from start to finish.
I suspect this is the case.

As a kid, I was told the same story right along side other gems of nutritional science such as how ducks would starve if I fed them white bread*. Apparently, they'd fill up on the bread and not eat anything nutritious; eventually, they'd die of starvation while surrounded by food. Squirrels, geese and pigeons were also being starved by over-consumption of white bread.

In regards to the cereal story: the truth is that even sugary cereals are some of the healthiest things kids eat all day long. The addition of fiber is relatively recent, but cereals have been fortified with all kinds of things for decades.

* Just for the record: I had no white bread or sugary cereals. When I was a kid, we made our own granola and multigrain bread.
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  #25  
Old 05-21-2011, 01:41 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by dracoi View Post
I suspect this is the case.

As a kid, I was told the same story right along side other gems of nutritional science such as how ducks would starve if I fed them white bread*. Apparently, they'd fill up on the bread and not eat anything nutritious; eventually, they'd die of starvation while surrounded by food. Squirrels, geese and pigeons were also being starved by over-consumption of white bread.
It's true that white bread is not a very good food for ducks and when they eat a lot of it all the time, they can suffer digestive poroblems and dietary deficiencies, but keith of those things are the same as actually starving.
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Old 05-21-2011, 02:50 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Gah. Blerdy autocorrect. Keith=neither
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  #27  
Old 05-21-2011, 04:25 AM
Hypnagogic Jerk Hypnagogic Jerk is offline
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
I don't. Think it really matters how you slice it. It cannot ever have been true that rats in an experiment lived longer on cardboard than on breakfast cereal. No matter how contemptibly over-processed the product, it's starchy, sugary calories - as opposed to cardboard, which is fibrous non-food.
Who knows, maybe cardboard was more nutritious back then.
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  #28  
Old 05-21-2011, 09:23 AM
Michael of Lucan Michael of Lucan is offline
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I should perhaps stress that I am not validating the existence of the rat test.

I am confirming that the story definitely dates back about three decades, and was discussed then in the better newspapers, as a genuine test result. I certainly understood at the time that these were genuine reports from the context of discussion.

Adding vitamins and minerals to processed cereal (as a normal practice) appears to me to date from around that time. Certainly, that does not prove that the alleged test occurred. However, it indicates that concerns had arisen about the lack of nutrients in some cereals, and the alleged test (or something similar to it) may have heightened those concerns.

Last edited by Michael of Lucan; 05-21-2011 at 09:23 AM..
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  #29  
Old 05-21-2011, 09:34 AM
kayaker kayaker is online now
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Originally Posted by Son of a Rich View Post
I believe there was a study that concluded that underfed mice lived longer.
From Wikipedia:

Quote:
Seventy years ago, McCay CM, et al., discovered that reducing the amount of calories fed to rodents nearly doubled their lifespans. The life extension was varied for each species but on average, there was a 30-40% increase in lifespan in both mice and rats.[43] CR preserves a range of structural and functional parameters in aging rodents.
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Old 05-21-2011, 10:45 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Part of the problem here is that the term 'nutrition' means different.things to different people. To some, it's talking about the food energy.value of something. - by which measure, cereals have alelways been nutritious.
but to others it's talking about a proper balance of all dietary requirements, in which case cereals will never (on their own) qualify.
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  #31  
Old 05-21-2011, 02:40 PM
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I can confirm that I have also heard the story (and, to my shame, repeated it) in more or less the form that Michael of Lucan tells it and, (although memory on the point is hazy) probably first heard it in or around the '70s, as he says. I never really thought that much about it before, but now I apply my SDMB honed critical faculties to the story I realize that it does sound much more like urban legend than fact.

Last edited by njtt; 05-21-2011 at 02:41 PM.. Reason: punctuation
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  #32  
Old 12-15-2011, 11:51 AM
emmablue emmablue is offline
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Rat Study confirmed

It is a real study. This is the link to a PDF that quotes the study with cornflakes:

http://www.baumancollege.org/forum/i....0;attach=2778


I can't believe people eat cereal for breakfast and think it's healthy! You are hungry 30 minutes later!!!
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  #33  
Old 12-15-2011, 11:55 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is online now
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Do you have a link to the actual study? Because I don't think it is a real study.
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  #34  
Old 12-15-2011, 12:03 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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Originally Posted by emmablue View Post
It is a real study. This is the link to a PDF that quotes the study with cornflakes: ...
Do you have a cite for the journal article that the "real study" was published in? (Hint: a cookbook is not a scholarly source.)
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  #35  
Old 12-15-2011, 12:40 PM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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The PDF says that the study is described in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. That book is available at Amazon. If you search for it there, and then use Look Inside! at pages 468-9, you'll see this mention of the study (I've left out the middle portion where the study is described), "In 1960, researchers at Ann Arbor University performed an interesting experiment on laboratory rats. . . . The startling conclusion of this study is that there is more nourishment in the box that cold breakfast cereals come in than in the cereals themselves. Loren Zanier, designer of the experiment, actually proposed the protocol as a joke. But the results are far from funny. They were never published and similar studies have not been repeated. If consumers knew the truth about breakfast cereals, vast fortunes would be jeopardized. SWF"

I doubt the results for several reasons. First, the cookbook mentions Ann Arbor University. Probably she meant the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but if so, that's really sloppy. Second, she says that the study results were never published.

Last edited by Dewey Finn; 12-15-2011 at 12:41 PM..
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  #36  
Old 12-15-2011, 12:49 PM
Turek Turek is offline
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Plus, even if it was valid, it's 51 years old. Box and cereal technology have come a long way since then.
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  #37  
Old 12-15-2011, 01:09 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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Originally Posted by Dewey Finn View Post
... Loren Zanier, designer of the experiment, ...
Is that the same Loren Zanier as the one who sells what he calls "Ideally Structured Water"?
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  #38  
Old 12-15-2011, 02:42 PM
handsomeharry handsomeharry is offline
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Originally Posted by Dewey Finn View Post
The PDF says that the study is described in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. That book is available at Amazon. If you search for it there, and then use Look Inside! at pages 468-9, you'll see this mention of the study (I've left out the middle portion where the study is described), "In 1960, researchers at Ann Arbor University performed an interesting experiment on laboratory rats. . . . The startling conclusion of this study is that there is more nourishment in the box that cold breakfast cereals come in than in the cereals themselves. Loren Zanier, designer of the experiment, actually proposed the protocol as a joke. But the results are far from funny. They were never published and similar studies have not been repeated. If consumers knew the truth about breakfast cereals, vast fortunes would be jeopardized. SWF"

I doubt the results for several reasons. First, the cookbook mentions Ann Arbor University. Probably she meant the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but if so, that's really sloppy. Second, she says that the study results were never published.
Never published??? Probably because the results were so horrifying!

I had heard the same thing in the 70s. I am quite certain that it was told to me by the same person who told me where to pick up that Corvette for $400 dollars. You know the one: the owner of it killed himself in it, and he was out in the desert...

hh
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Old 12-15-2011, 03:42 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Is that the same Loren Zanier as the one who sells what he calls "Ideally Structured Water"?
Zanier by name...
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  #40  
Old 12-15-2011, 04:18 PM
OpalCat OpalCat is offline
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
Anyway, why would someone, anyone, carry out a study that involves feeding rats on shredded cardboard? The assertion is ridiculous in its very face.
Not to mention cruel (not that that has stopped lots of other experiments, mind you).

But don't some animals survive on things like bark and tree leaves? So wouldn't that be nutritionally in the same at least ballpark as cardboard? (I seriously don't know the answer, which is why I'm asking). It would seem if that's the case then some animals might survive (though not thrive, surely) on cardboard. I don't think rats are one of those, however...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Arkcon View Post
Cute concept, but unlikely. Rats definitely crave sweets,
I once saw a mouse steal a Rolo* and drag it back to its home in the wall, behind a whole wall of shelving. You could hear the clonks and bonks as this tiny mouse maneuvered the giant (to him) Rolo all the way back there

We found the glob of caramel a few days later with all the chocolate eaten off. Conclusion? Mice are chocoholics but don't like caramel.


*for those in foreign lands that may not carry it, it's a sort of cylindrical bit of caramel coated in chocolate. They come individually wrapped in foil, stacked into tubes.

I can definitely see rats doing very poorly on sugary cereals though I haven't read any studies. I can't possibly imagine them doing better on cardboard, however. Unless it was magically infused special cardboard with vitamins and nutrients in it.*


*what is the differene between a vitamin and a nutrient? I guess I've always considered vitamins a subset of "nutrients" but wonders what makes them a class of their own...
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  #41  
Old 12-15-2011, 04:40 PM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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What's weird to me is that this is a fairly simple experiment. A high school student could reproduce it. So if there was anything to it, some could and should have by now.
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  #42  
Old 12-15-2011, 04:56 PM
OpalCat OpalCat is offline
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What's weird to me is that this is a fairly simple experiment. A high school student could reproduce it. So if there was anything to it, some could and should have by now.
Ethical constraints? Either imposed or personal to the person performing the experiment...?
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Old 12-15-2011, 05:13 PM
Ferret Herder Ferret Herder is offline
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Ethical constraints? Either imposed or personal to the person performing the experiment...?
Perhaps at the high school level, but someone beyond that ought to have managed to give it a try. And as I posted above, "Mythbusters" did it and one of the cardboard-limited rodents was so starved that it resorted to cannibalism.
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  #44  
Old 12-15-2011, 05:40 PM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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I thought about the experiment some more. I think some (perhaps all) universities have a bioethics committee that approves all animal experimentation to see if the pain and/or death caused to the animals is justified by the nature of the experiment. If there are such committees, I can't imagine that such an experiment could be justified. So that may be a reason that this experiment hasn't been reproduced.
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  #45  
Old 12-15-2011, 05:54 PM
Giles Giles is online now
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The source cited by emmablue said:
Quote:
Before death the cornflake rats developed schizophrenic behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves in the spine – all signs of "insulin shock."
To test that, you don't need cardboard-fed rats as a control group: you just need to feed one group of rats on cornflakes, and another on ordinary rat pellets.

And frankly I don't think it's plausible. There must be millions of wild rats that have eaten breakfast cereals that they found in kitchen cupboards and pantries. If eating those cereals causes such extreme results, why haven't they been observed in the wild?

Last edited by Giles; 12-15-2011 at 05:55 PM.. Reason: typo
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  #46  
Old 12-15-2011, 06:00 PM
Dewey Finn Dewey Finn is offline
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Presumably rats in the wild aren't subsisting only on cereal from the cupboard, but are supplementing with multivitamins from the medicine cabinet.
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  #47  
Old 12-15-2011, 09:20 PM
Colibri Colibri is online now
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Originally Posted by OpalCat View Post
But don't some animals survive on things like bark and tree leaves? So wouldn't that be nutritionally in the same at least ballpark as cardboard? (I seriously don't know the answer, which is why I'm asking). It would seem if that's the case then some animals might survive (though not thrive, surely) on cardboard. I don't think rats are one of those, however...
Ruminants (cows, etc), termites, and some other animals have symbiotic microbes in their digestive tracts that digest cellulose and provide the nutrients to the animal host. Rats, however, are not one of them.

To a termite, cardboard would be like crepes suzettes.
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Old 12-16-2011, 03:15 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Originally Posted by emmablue View Post
It is a real study. This is the link to a PDF that quotes the study with cornflakes:

http://www.baumancollege.org/forum/i....0;attach=2778


I can't believe people eat cereal for breakfast and think it's healthy! You are hungry 30 minutes later!!!
I can't believe you'd take that nonsense seriously. Toxic protein fragments! Oh noes!
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Old 12-16-2011, 08:09 AM
raskolnik raskolnik is offline
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Isn't the whole point of the rat that it lives long enough to reproduce on almost ANY diet? Longevity is only valuable to animals with long long gestation periods, and which also raise their young for years. Thus a bad diet may kill a man in his 50's. But he could be a grandparent by then. A rat which is 3 years old has bred how many times?
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Old 12-16-2011, 10:58 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Perhaps, but 'any diet' still has to be one that's composed of digestible food. Cardboard is not a digestible food for rats.
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