Cereal Can Be a Healthy Breakfast — if You Choose the Right Box

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Shopping for cereal can be confusing because of the many different options available.
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Shopping for cereal can be confusing because of the many different options available. A healthy cereal should provide you with a bowl full of good nutrition.

The bad news: "Most cereals are really just sugar-packed junk food," according to dietitian Laura Burak, RD, CDN. But if you shop smart and informed, you can still find better options for you and your family.

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What to Look for When Choosing a Cereal

"As with any packaged food in general, you want to go by the ingredients list first. Don't ever believe the health claims on the front of the box," Burak says.

So when you're looking for the healthiest cereals to eat, consider:

  • Whole grains:​ At the top of the ingredients list, look for sources of whole grains including whole wheat, oats, barley, millet, kamut, sorghum and quinoa, Burak recommends. Not only do whole grains contain vitamins and minerals, but they also provide protein and fiber, which help regulate your blood sugar and keep you feeling full.
  • Aim for 5 grams:​ Burak says you should aim for a cereal with around 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving.
  • Go for healthy fats:​ Cereals with seeds and nuts like chia, hemp, and almonds — which also contain healthy fats, protein and fiber — are great options too.

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What to Watch Out For

For starters, the fewer ingredients, the better, Burak says. Bonus if you can understand and pronounce them, too.

  • Additives:​ "Stay clear of highly processed ingredients including high fructose corn syrup, isolated soy protein and hydrogenated oils, preservatives like BHT and artificial colors that should not be in our daily diet," Burak says.
  • Added sugar:​ "Watch out for a huge array of hidden sugar words like corn syrup, crystals, dextrose, syrups and concentrates. Most cereals are packed with sugar, which is why kids love them!" Though choosing a cereal with zero added sugar may be a challenge, aim for one that has no more than 8 grams per serving, Burak suggests.

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Look to this list of cereals that are dietitian-approved to start (or end) your day with.

The Top 10 Best Healthy Cereal Brands to Buy

Check out the below list of some of the healthiest cereals to eat for inspiration at your next grocery run.

1. Uncle Sam Original Wheat Berry Flakes

These fiber-filled flakes make for a healthy parfait topped with fresh fruit for sweetness.
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Per serving: 220 calories, 6 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, 43 grams carbohydrates (10 grams fiber, < 1 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 8 grams protein

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Uncle Sam cereal has been around since 1908. It's made from hard red winter wheat berries and flaxseed. Made with only four ingredients total, three-quarters of a cup of Uncle Sam Original Wheat Berry Flakes cereal will give you 36 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of fiber.

And with less than 1 gram of sugar and 5 grams of protein per serving, this is definitely a top choice for breakfast.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price​: $12.62 per pack of two

2. Quaker Oats Quick Oats

Top your bowl of oats with a fried egg, chives and spices for a savory twist.
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Per serving: 150 calories, 3 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 27 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 5 grams protein

With the oats rolled thinner during manufacturing, Quaker's quick oats variety retains its nutritional value but cooks in less time. Each 1/2 cup dry serving provides 150 calories, 5 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.

Oatmeal offers you some flexibility to individualize your breakfast. Quick oats do not contain any sodium and only 1 gram of natural sugar. Try topping your bowl with dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon for added flavor.

Buy it:Amazon.com;Price:​ $6.17 per pack of 2

3. Qi'a Cocoa Coconut Superflakes

Coconut adds some healthy fats while the coconut-chocolate combo lends it that candy-bar feel sans all the sugar.
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Per serving: 240 calories, 7 grams fat (6.5 grams saturated fat), 100milligrams sodium, 39 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar), 6 grams protein

For a healthy cold cereal, look no further than Nature's Path Qi'a Cocoa Coconut Superflakes. With sprouted black bean flour and sprouted rice flour as the first two ingredients, a one-cup serving of this cereal is packed with nutrition.

For 240 calories, you get 6 grams of fiber, 6 grams of protein and only 6 grams of sugars. The cereal is also made with coconut, cocoa powder and honey and is free of common food allergens such as tree nuts, peanuts and soy.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $47.48 per pack of 12

4. Post Grape-Nuts

Grape-Nuts, a childhood classic, are still a smart addition to your weekly routine.
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Per serving: 210 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 270 milligrams sodium, 47 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar), 6 grams protein

While the half-cup serving size may seem small, these tiny nuggets are full of whole grains and are an excellent source of fiber with 7 grams. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, at least half of your daily grains should be in the form of whole grains, making Grape-Nuts a top pick.

The 6 grams of protein you'll eat will keep you full as your morning passes. High in iron, Grape-Nuts can also be a crunchy topping to a fruit and yogurt parfait.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $5.99 per box

5. Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole-Grain Cereal

Level up your cereal game by adding this protein- and fiber-packed box to your pantry.
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Per serving: 190 calories, 1gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 200 milligrams sodium, 40 grams carbohydrates (6 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar), 8 grams protein

If you like sprouted bread for its benefits, you'll love Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal. This breakfast pick is made with a plethora of grains including wheat, barley, millet and spelt.

Soybeans and lentils in the mix help this cereal provide 8 grams of protein per serving. Each 1/2-cup serving has 190 calories, 6 grams of fiber and no sugar.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price​: $38.91 per pack of 6

6. Three Wishes Cereal, Grain-Free Unsweetened

Instead of grains, this box goes for chickpeas and pea protein for its base.
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Per serving: 110 calories, 2 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 100 milligrams sodium, 15 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 8 grams protein

This grain-free, kosher, non-GMO, plant-based cereal has four simple ingredients — chickpeas, pea protein, tapioca and salt — zero additives or other processed junk. Each serving has 3 grams of good-for-your-gut fiber and packs 8 grams of muscle-building protein.

While the Unsweetened variety contains zero total sugars, the Three Wishes' two other flavors — Honey and Cinnamon — have a minimal amount of the sweet stuff.

Buy it​: Amazon.com, ​Price​: $7.99 per box

7. Barbara's Multigrain Puffins

Another childhood favorite, Puffins cereal brings back all the sweet nostalgia without too much sugar.
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Per serving: 110 calories, 0 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 80 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar), 3 grams protein

If you are looking for a cereal to curb the sweet tooth while still providing some nutritional benefits, Barbara's Multigrain Puffins are a good choice. This cereal also comes in other flavors, such as Cinnamon, Peanut Butter and Pumpkin.

These slightly sweet crunchy puffs have 6 grams of sugar per three-quarter-cup serving. This cereal has 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and contains 25 percent of the recommended daily value for vitamin C, calcium, iron and vitamin D. To add more protein and fiber to your bowl, consider sprinkling in hemp seeds.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price​: $5.99 per box

8. Forager Project Cinnamon Organic Grain-free Os

Lightly sweetened and dusted with cinnamon, Forager's cereal makes for a delicious breakfast or snack.
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Per serving: 110 calories, 1 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 5 milligrams sodium, 26 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 4 grams sugar, 3 grams added sugar), 4 grams protein

If you're a fan of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, you'll love these grain-free O's from Forager that have no corn syrup and 5 fewer grams of sugar per serving. Made from cassava (a root vegetable), peas and navy beans, these certified-organic, oh-so-good O's contain zero artificial ingredients, flavors or preservatives.

What's more, each serving of these crunchy bites boasts 4 grams of fiber and protein and only 3 grams of added sugars.

Buy it​: Amazon.com, ​Price​: $4.49 per box

9. Kellogg's All-Bran

Make sure to watch your added sugars the rest of the day since this pick contains 10 grams.
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Per serving: 150 calories, 2.5 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated fat), 115 milligrams sodium, 39 grams carbohydrates (15 grams fiber, 11 grams sugar, 10 grams added sugar), 6 grams protein

Low in calories, this Kellogg's All-Bran cereal offers 6 grams of protein and a substantial 15 grams of fiber in each serving. While it is a bit high in added sugars, we're keeping this pick on our list because the high fiber content can help balance out potential blood sugar spikes.

Bonus: On the back of the box, Kellogg's offers recipes to turn All-Bran into delicious meal options, such as biscuits and a crumb coating for baked fish.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $36.54 per pack of 70 mini-boxes

10. General Mills Fiber One

This pick, as its name suggests, has an astounding amount of fiber but you'll want to enjoy it with milk for added protein.
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Per serving: 60 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 110 milligrams sodium, 25 grams carbohydrates (14 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 2 grams protein

If high fiber is what you are after, Fiber One should be the box you reach for. With a substantial 14 grams of fiber in a half-cup portion, you will receive a large portion of your daily fiber needs with just one serving.

Fiber One is low in calories, fat and sodium. This sugar-free cereal tastes great topped with fresh fruit.

Buy it​: Amazon.com; ​Price:​ $13.85 per pack of two

Cereal Nutrition

Don't underestimate the nutritional value of cereal grains. Nutrients in healthy fortified cereal include fiber, protein, zinc, iron and B vitamins.

1. Fiber

Fiber is best known for its ability to ward off constipation. It's also important for lowering the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, per the Mayo Clinic.

Enjoying a bowl of whole-grain cereal can help you reach the goal of 25 to 38 grams of fiber per day.

2. Protein

Yes — many cereals have protein, especially the whole grain-based options.

Protein is found in all of our tissues, including the hair, skin, muscles and bones, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. We need about 7 grams of protein every day for every 20 pounds of body weight, and whole grains are an inexpensive and environmentally sustainable pick.

In search of some high-protein cereals? The amount of protein cereals have will fluctuate from box to box, though some products are specifically designed as high protein breakfast cereals.

You'll want to read nutrition labels with a critical eye, however, as some of the cereals with the most protein lack in other areas of the nutrition department.

High-Protein Breakfast Cereal

For the best protein cereals, look for offerings that boat 6 grams or more of protein per serving. This amount provides approximately 10 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA).

Don't ​just​ look for the cereals with the most protein. When you compare nutrition labels, pay attention to serving sizes because they're not always the same. And then there's the milk: Adding 1/2 cup of skim milk adds another 4 grams of protein, and some labels will include the addition of milk in their protein claims.

High protein cereals don't have to come from a box. Plus, there are some clever ways to boost the nutrition of your morning bowl.

Quinoa

You could swap your morning oats for morning quinoa, which will provide two extra grams of protein per one-cup serving. Plus, quinoa has another advantage over oatmeal: It gives you a higher-quality protein because it provides all nine oof the essential amino acids.

Granola

Crunchy, baked granola often contains a fair amount of protein, but you'll want to be especially careful with these products, since they're nutrient-dense and can pack a lot of calories in a small serving (generally smaller than the typical serving size for standard cereal).

Wheat germ

To boost protein in any bowl of cereal, mix in 3 tablespoons of wheat germ ($7.02 on Amazon), which adds 4 grams of protein. The extra ingredient won't alter the cereal's flavor in any significant way.

3. Zinc

Zinc is an essential nutrient needed for the maintenance and metabolization of cells as well as for immune system function, wound healing and breaking down carbs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Some cereal brands offer around 8 percent of your daily value of zinc.

4. B Vitamins

Folic acid, niacin, thiamin, riboflavin are all B vitamins that serve different purposes in the body. While fortified cereals have some or all of these vitamins, to get the most out of your food, look for a cereal that contains about 40 percent of your B vitamin RDA.

Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, helps cells grow and reproduce, per the NLM. Niacin, or vitamin B3, is responsible for nervous system functions and gastrointestinal health. Vitamin B1, or thiamin, helps convert carbs into energy and riboflavin, vitamin B2, helps cells function normally and is vital for growth.

5. Iron

Iron, an essential mineral, helps transport oxygen throughout the body. An iron deficiency could cause fatigue and a decreased immunity, according to the NLM. Some fortified cereals contain around 10 percent of your daily value for iron.

Is It OK to Eat Cereal at Night?

It's OK to have a healthy snack like cereal in the evening; however, make sure that your nosh doesn't cause you to exceed your calorie needs for the day, which could lead to weight gain. Stick to a single serving and use skim or non-fat milk or a plant-based alternative.

Whole-grain cereal is an excellent source of fiber, with many brands containing 4 to 7 grams per serving. Fiber helps fill you up so you're less likely to reach for more sugary snacks in the evening hours — a big benefit for weight management.

What's more, whole-grain cereals are often a rich source of many essential nutrients including B vitamins. If your diet is lacking in vitamins and minerals, a bowl of whole-grain cereal in the evening can help fill the gaps.

But whole grains take longer to digest than refined grains, which means your body has to work harder. If this makes it difficult for you to fall asleep, plan accordingly so you leave enough time to digest your snack before you hit the sack.

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