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Choosing a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

How healthy is your breakfast cereal? Here are 8 great-tasting picks.

Choosing a Healthy Breakfast Cereal: Does Bran Matter?

There are plenty of breakfast cereals with the word "bran" in the title, or at least on the box. Bran's biggest benefit is boosting the grams of fiber per serving. This makes the cereal seem more filling, both in the short run and a couple hours.

This staying power may have something to do with the lower glycemic index of bran cereals. One study noted that the glycemic index of corn flakes was more than twice that of bran cereal.

Other recent research found that adding bran to the diet reduced the risk of weight gain in men aged 40-75. Another study, in women aged 38-63, reported that as intake of fiber and whole-grain foods went up, the rate of weight gain tended to decrease. Eating refined grains had the opposite effect. As the intake of refined-grain foods increased, so did weight gain.

Choosing a Healthy Breakfast Cereal: How Much Sugar?

Does the ingredients list for your cereal look a lot like that on, say, a box of cookies? One ounce of Mini Oreo cookies has 11 grams of sugar and 130 calories (34% of its calories come from sugar). And sugar is the second ingredient listed (enriched flour is first). Lots of cereals have ingredient lists that look similar -- like Cookie Crisp Cereal, with 44% calories from sugar.

The U.S. Government's Dietary Reference Intakes recommend that added sugars not exceed 25% of total calories (to ensure sufficient intake of micronutrients). And while there isn't a specific guideline for cereal, it makes sense to aim for a cereal that gets 25% or less of its calories from sugar. (If the cereal contains dried fruit, this could be a pinch higher.)

To calculate the percentage of calories from sugar in your cereal:

  • Multiply the grams of sugar per serving by 4 (there are 4 calories per gram of sugar).
  • Divide this number (calories from sugar) by the total number of calories per serving.
  • Multiply this number by 100 to get the percentage of calories from sugar.

While you can find plenty of cereals with 5 grams of fiber per serving or more, some of them go a little bit over the "25% calories from sugar" guideline. But if the percentage of sugar calories is still below 30%, the first ingredient is a whole grain, and the cereal tastes good, it may still be a good choice overall. Here are two examples:

  • Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats Strawberry Delight, with 5 grams of fiber and 12 grams of sugar per serving (about 27% calories from sugar). The first three ingredients are whole-grain wheat, sugar, and strawberry-flavored crunchlets (sugar, corn cereal, corn syrup are the first three ingredients for these). A pleasant surprise: The strawberry coating creates a strawberry-flavored milk when you pour milk in your cereal.
  • Kashi GoLean Crunch, with 8 grams of fiber and 13 grams of sugar per serving (27% calories from sugar). The first three ingredients are Kashi Seven Whole Grains & Sesame Cereal (whole oats, long grain brown rice, rye, hard red winter wheat, triticale, buckwheat, barley, sesame seeds); textured soy protein concentrate; and evaporated cane juice. This is basically a kashi-fied version of granola, and 3 grams of the 8 grams of fiber is from soluble fiber (thanks to the oats and barley).

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