Getting Serious About Cereal
Our picks for the healthiest breakfasts-in-a-box
"I'm going in!" I exclaimed to myself as I lunged into the breakfast cereal aisle, pen and
clipboard in hand. I surfaced a couple hours later with blurry eyes, a sore
neck, and pages full of notes.
Let's face it, this is one of the most intimidating aisles in the
supermarket (second only to the frozen entrée aisle). It's a daunting task even
to find the brand of cereal you are looking for, let alone read all the labels
to figure out what's healthy and what's not.
Of late, this food category has enjoyed quite a bit of publicity with Tony
the Tiger shedding some of his sugar and Trix going whole-grain. Couple that
with our (justified) fear of trans
fats and the renewed popularity of fiber (for bringing down "net
carbs"), and we've got a veritable cereal mutiny on our hands.
All this is good news for folks looking for healthier options. Here's the
thing, though: Many of the cereals that are now "whole grain" or have
"1/3 less sugar" still don't make my list, because they have less than
3 grams of fiber per serving.
And if you're considering one of the less-sugar versions of a notoriously
high-sugar cereal, don't forget to check the calories per serving on the label.
Many of the less-sugar choices have the same (or nearly the same) number of
total calories and carbohydrate grams per serving.
Also, read those labels carefully. For example, the label on a box of
Frosted Flakes with 1/3 less sugar lists the number of calories per cup, but
regular Frosted Flakes boxes list the number of calories per 3/4 cup. Cup for
cup, the less-sugar option has 120 calories, and 27% calories from sugar, while
the regular cereal has 162 calories and 40% calories from sugar.
Also, from what I could tell, the only cereals that list the amount of trans
fats on their labels are those with zero trans fats.
In a few cases, the original cereal isn't bad health-wise, but some of its
variations have far more sugar. For example, Apple-Cinnamon Cheerios get 43% of
their calories from sugar, compared with 4% for regular Cheerios.
The Ideal Cereal
So what are the nutritional attributes of an ideal breakfast cereal? In a
nutshell, it's all about the fiber. Breakfast cereals give us an easy
opportunity to punch up the fiber. And boy, do we need to punch it up.
We're not meeting our recommended fiber goals: for healthy adults, that's
20-35 grams a day; for children, it's their age plus 5 grams. That's because we
don't eat enough higher-fiber plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole- and
high-fiber grain products, and legumes), according to the American Dietetic
I recommend that your morning meal include at least 5 grams of fiber, 5
grams of protein, and a little fat to help balance the carbs and make the
breakfast more satisfying. This will also help stave off midmorning hunger.