Nutrition Articles

How to Pick a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

Watch Out for these Breakfast Cereal Scams


Diet advice is everywhere—in the newspaper, the new government guidelines, and on the SparkPeople site. "Limit sweets, cut down on sugary foods, and decrease consumption of refined carbohydrates," it says. So, bold words like "Reduced Sugar" or "Whole Grain" catch your attention on food packages. You quickly take hold of a box of this "New and Improved" breakfast cereal as you stroll the aisles at your local grocery store.

However, experts from five universities reviewed the leading kid’s cereals, including these reduced sugar versions, only to discover that the calorie amount was equal to the regular high-sugar variety. In fact the ONLY one that had somewhat fewer calories was General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch—and it only dropped by 10 calories in each serving.

"How can this be?!" you scream. Well, the manufacturers replaced the sugar with other forms of refined carbohydrates. So the manufacturers are legal in their marketing endeavors, but the calorie amount is virtually the same. Seeing is believing. Check out the nutrition labels the next time you are in the grocery store. You’ll be truly amazed…as well as deceived, frustrated and angered. So place the box back on the shelf as quickly as you grabbed it, and select a breakfast cereal based on the following SparkPeople tips:

  • For a fiber-rich, healthy breakfast cereal enjoy whole grain cereals like oatmeal, Cheerios, Wheaties, shredded wheat, raisin bran or Kashi.
  • Add sweetness with fresh, frozen, or fruit canned in its own juice. Give sliced bananas, canned peaches, frozen blueberries, or fresh strawberries a try.
  • Top it all off with some low-fat milk or soymilk.
  • If you, your spouse, or children are screaming for the sweeter stuff, first try to go half-and-half. For example, half chocolate puffs mixed with half Cheerios. The amount of sugar and flavorings is more than ample to sweeten the contents in the entire bowl. Trust me on this one—it works. My 9- and 14-year-old have no complaints with this morning ritual!
Ignore those catchy claims on the front of the box. Go straight to the nutrition facts label. Here's what to look for:
  • Remember the "Rule of Fives": Choose cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, and less than 5 grams of sugar.
  • Look for each serving to contain at least 3 grams of protein.
  • Read the ingredients list. The top ingredients should be "whole wheat", or "wheat bran"—not just "wheat". These whole grains are naturally low in fat, and high in fiber.
  • Avoid cereals that list hydrogenated oils, artificial dyes or colors, and chemical preservatives as ingredients—these have no place in a healthy diet!
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Not any of my choices but could tolerate and appreciate with some fruit and yogurt and raw honey.
    Anyway, I suggest picking what you like in a cereal and add a healthy size portion of "Grape Nuts" which will bring you up to par. "Enjoy your breakfast"!!
    Thanks for sharing!! - 6/8/2015 11:32:04 AM
  • I like cereal because it is fast and easy but avoid it as much as possible, I ate Cheerios or Oatmeal every morning for years until it started to bother my indigestion. I now start the day with protein. - 6/8/2015 7:29:58 AM
  • DOTTIE5066
    Oh, I am on facebook too: Dorothy Gilmore Griffin

    Dottie5066 - 1/18/2015 1:33:44 PM
  • DOTTIE5066
    Just started my diet. My grand daughter has lost 20 pounds. She drinks a smoothie using protein powder, banana, fruit and that is her breakfast. Her lunch I avocado, turkey lettuce, tomato, with one piece of bread oatmeal brown bread and one slice is 100 calories. I started using her diet tips and feel like I have lost but I don't own a scale so I have to judge by how I feel and how my clothes fit. Only been on it for a few weeks.

    Dottie - 1/18/2015 1:31:39 PM
  • I do eat Cheerios and Kashi go lean and Shredded wheat, also oatmeal that I cook on the stove. So I am glad that I am doing that. I will start to watch for the list of ingredients as far as 5 fiber at least and less than 5 gr of sugar.
    Thanks for the good article. Very helpful.
    Irish Ei - 9/15/2014 10:46:46 AM
  • MTNMOM76
    I'm with you non-cereal, eat proteins people (raisin bran if you have to or plain mini wheats w/ fresh fruit)...I have 4 children 37, can't loose birth weight years later, no time soccer mom. High financial and time stress. New job. etc. I have paid $200-$300 on every MLM shake and pills sceam (3 no named co's) to make $ and loose wt. First 3 wks wkd then wt came back. It's lifestyle, 3hr alarm on my cell ph to eat, bc I forget and the day goes w/o eating. Protein shakes for at least one meal a must. And, wk/out at least 3days/wk or you'll stop all together. Sugar is the enemy of women especially! Our waste and thighs and energy are how we way our worth and make us feel fat ( it determines our clothing size). 5' 3'' makes me short and pounds show. With 4 kids I have to have energy and don't want to be unhealthy-dr visit lifestyle-grandmo
    ther someday like my 2 grandmother's who are only in their 60's. SO, reading labels part of the job now. Good snacks are key and good fresh meals. Cucumbers, tomatoes, banana peppers w/ light watering grow like crazy here in NC and FL my home state and black berrys and blueberry's can grow crazy. Just go Lowes n buy them and plant DONE. its' too expensive to buy and chemicals on the dirty dozen. SO save yourself and your kids. HOPE THIS HELPS SOMEONE and encouraging and realistic. - 8/16/2014 10:24:17 AM
    There is Uncle Sam, a flax cereal sold at most grocers, plain puffed wheat, rice, millet or corn. Don't forget plain shredded wheat bicuits- not the tiny ones with sugar but the big.
    Onesan made by Post or Barbara's cereal.ones . - 8/4/2014 9:01:41 AM
  • I rarely eat cereal, but when I do:


    Magic in a box. - 7/30/2014 3:39:20 PM
  • Wow I really thought I would get a list of good cereals instead of info we already know. No offence, but this article is sort of lazy.

    Many brands we think are healthy e.g. Kashi are actually owned by like, Kelloggs. Everyone knows about Cheerios being healthy, but what about the more popular Honey Nut Cheerios? Are they good too?

    What about highlighting some of the major and smaller brands that offer an actual healthy cereal? We do not have time to read every box and if we take the time to read this article at least it could have listed the best of the worst. #geez #fail - 7/28/2014 11:30:05 AM
  • Good information - 5/14/2014 5:44:39 AM
  • Best option is to avoid cereal all together but use it as a treat meal. Like I see in the comments YES its a processed source and most are loaded with SUGAR which you don't want on a daily diet. - 5/12/2014 10:25:50 AM
  • A lot of cereals are high in sodium too. If we have to have cold cereal, we go with shredded wheat. - 5/12/2014 10:21:13 AM
  • I notice the Kashi cereal is often mentioned as a healthy cereal - even in this article of low sugar. Each Kashi cereal I have checked is HIGH in sugar. Just yesterday I checked a box of one that looked appealing. 16 grams of sugar!!!!! That is 4 teaspoons of sugar per serving! - 5/10/2014 9:15:06 AM
    Cereal is not a real food. It is also very expensive compared to oatmeal.
    Fresh fruit cut up for the children would be a better choice. - 5/10/2014 8:25:30 AM
  • It never ceases to amaze me the number of "know it alls" commenting here that don't even have a spark page. Are they really members or just nuts that like to pooh pooh everything in life.

    If you are so clever about cereals, milk, oil or whatever what on earth are you doing here making smart a$$ed comments. - 5/10/2014 7:49:08 AM

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