How to Pick a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

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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Member Comments

This article was very helpful!! Thanks! Report
South Beach actually requires more fiber and less sugar per half cup serving of cereal. Cold: choose ones with 6g or more fiber and 8g or less sugar, for instance. I think they often require even less sugar than that. Uncle Sam's, Cheerios, Kashi Go-Lean (not Crunch!), Ezekiel, Nature's Path. Unfortunately, many of these are not particularly tasty, but I find I do better if I mix in a spoonful of jam (sugar free if possible) and put it in yogurt, adding in vanilla and/or cinnamon. FWIW! Report
Good article. Report
I thought I was doing well eating special k but I need to rethink my cereal choices Report
There’s so much to remember when opting for healthier choices. It could be so easy to fall back into bad habits if not for excellent articles like this one. Still, this is a lot of information to take in. Report
Thank You for a great article..........
.... Report
Thanks for sharing Report
Would rather eat something lower in carbs! Report
Great, I've always been a Cheerios and Wheaties Fan. Report
What about high protein breakfasts. Cereal is not best choice. Report
I love eating cereal and would hate not being able to eat it everyday if I wanted to. I would usually have at least 2 cups with 10 ozs of 2% milk. My favorite is Raisin Bran, Raisin Bran Crunch or Kellogg's Special K Berry. I do hate that the carbs are high and have been thinking about switching up to more fruit in the morning. Report
Well, I love Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Is my pick for mixing with healthier versions of cereal. On my box, store brand Cherrios only have 2 grams protein...back to the drawing board. Report
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!! Report
MARION-S
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. Report
DOTTIE5066
Oh, I am on facebook too: Dorothy Gilmore Griffin

Dottie5066 Report


 

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.
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