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Know Your Cereals continued...

"Snacking on cereal is a great way to get fiber," Tanner says. "The more fiber, the better. It decreases the risk of colon cancer, keeps your intestines clean, reduces constipation and bloating ... and you're just going to feel better."

While whole-grain and bran cereals usually contain the most fiber; don't go by the name alone. "Sometimes there are cereals that sound healthful, but the title is deceiving," Tanner tells WebMD. "Be careful about the fat content." Don't assume a cereal is at the healthy end of the spectrum just because the box says "granola" or "bran." Take the time to check the label for fat, sugar, and fiber content.

"The least healthy cereals are the ones with the most sugar and the least fiber," Tanner says. "Even those are usually fortified with vitamins and minerals. But eating something with protein and fiber will carry you through a lot longer."

Dress Up Your Cereal

If the words "oat bran" don't make your mouth water, try dressing up your cereal with fresh or dried fruits -- a strategy that adds fiber as well as flavor. "For people who aren't so excited about bran, use fruit as a means to make your mouth happy while getting extra nutrients," Tanner says. "Fresh fruits taste wonderful and have a health benefit."

For those with a more demanding sweet tooth, Tanner says there's nothing wrong with "taking something healthful and adding something fun." Mixing a high-fiber cereal with a sweeter cereal and "tossing in a few malt balls for a chocolate fix" is better than not eating the fibrous cereal at all, she adds. The key is to find a combination that you enjoy enough to eat regularly.

"People veer toward sweet things," says Cathy Nonas, RD. "They're not so familiar with high-fiber cereals." Nonas, who is an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and author of Outwit Your Weight, tells WebMD sugared cereals tend to have less sugar and fat than other snack foods. "As a snack, they're not terrible. They have nutrients. You get calcium from the milk."

But Nonas cautions against choosing cereals solely based on their ability to satisfy your sweet tooth. "This is a wonderful opportunity to get a whole lot of nutrition and it would be a shame to waste it," she says. "If you use cereal like a desert, it could contain as many calories and as little nutrition as a piece of chocolate cake. If you have a regular sugared cereal and you add a little bran or granola, or fresh or dried fruit, you have a much better opportunity to improve your nutritional picture. And if you have a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal with some fresh or dried fruit, you have something that will probably be your most nutritious meal of the day."

Reviewed on January 10, 2005

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