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?

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.

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.

what sites?

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?

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. :smiley:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sounds to me like it led to a longer life for one of them…

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.

Only for 33% of them. :smiley: Meanwhile 100% of the others made it through the weekend, at least.

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.

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. :smiley:

Forgive me if I think this whole thing is a joke, especially this statement.

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

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.

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.


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.

Sounds like utter bullshit. Rats can’t digest cardboard.