Shopping for cereal can be confusing because of the many different options available. A cereal should provide you with a bowl full of good nutrition in the morning (or at midnight... we're not judging!).
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The bad news: "Most cereals are really just sugar-packed junk food," says dietitian Laura Burak, RD, CDN. But if you shop smart and stay informed, you can still find better options for you and your family.
Check out the below list of some of the healthiest cereals to add to your cart.
The Best Cereal Brands to Buy
1. Uncle Sam Original Wheat Berry Flakes
Per serving: 220 calories, 6 grams fat (0.5 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, 43 grams carbohydrates (10 grams fiber, <1 gram sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 8 grams protein
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, 3/4 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: $13.79 per pack of two
2. Quaker Oats Quick Oats
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 are sodium-free and only contain 1 gram of natural sugar. Try topping your bowl with dried fruit, nuts and cinnamon for added flavor.
3. Nature's Path Qi'a Cocoa Coconut Superflakes
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 nutritious 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 1-cup serving of this cereal is loaded 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: $24.96 per pack of 2
4. Post Grape-Nuts
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 1/2-cup serving size may seem small, these tiny nuggets are full of whole grains and are an excellent source of fiber with 7 grams. At least half of your daily grains should come from whole grains, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This makes Grape-Nuts a top pick.
The 6 grams of protein in here 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: $4.19 per box
5. Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole-Grain Cereal
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
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: $45.42 per pack of 6
6. Three Wishes Grain-Free Cereal
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 — it also has zero additives or other processed junk. Each serving has 3 grams of good-for-your-gut fiber and 8 grams of muscle-building protein.
While the Unsweetened variety contains zero total sugars, the Three Wishes' other flavors — Honey, Cocoa and Cinnamon — have a minimal amount of the sweet stuff.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $9.99 per box
7. Barbara's Multigrain Puffins
Per serving: 130 calories, 0.5 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 100 milligrams sodium, 33 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar), 3 grams protein
If you're 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 7 grams of sugar per 1-cup serving and 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 25 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium. To add more protein and fiber to your bowl, consider sprinkling in hemp seeds.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $19.10 per pack of 2
8. Forager Project Cinnamon Organic Grain-free Os
Per serving: 110 calories, 1 gram 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 cinnamon cereal, you'll love these grain-free Os from Forager that have no corn syrup and 5 fewer grams of sugar per serving than competitors. Made from cassava (a root vegetable), peas and navy beans, these certified-organic, oh-so-good Os 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: $7.99 per box
9. Kellogg's All-Bran
Per serving: 120 calories, 2 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 95 milligrams sodium, 32 grams carbohydrates (12 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar, 8 grams added sugar), 5 grams protein
Low in calories, this Kellogg's All-Bran cereal offers 5 grams of protein and a substantial 12 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: $53.99 per pack of 6
10. General Mills Fiber One
Per serving: 90 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 140 milligrams sodium, 34 grams carbohydrates (18 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 3 grams protein
If fiber is what you are after, Fiber One should be the box you reach for. With a substantial 18 grams of fiber in a 2/3 cup, you'll get 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: $25.08 per pack of 6
11. Mom's Best Toasted Wheatfuls Cereal
Per serving: 200 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 10 milligrams sodium, 44 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 0 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 6 grams protein
A serving for cereal is usually 3/4 cup but the serving size for Mom's Best Cereals Toasted Wheatfuls Cereal is 1 cup — so if small portions don't work for you, this cereal will.
With just one ingredient (100 percent whole-grain wheat), this cereal is naturally low in fat, sugar and sodium. It's also a blank canvas, so you can add toppings like fruit, nuts, seeds and milk of your choice to make the bowl of whole grains more interesting without resorting to added sugars.
Buy it: Mercato.com; Price: $5.49 per box
12. LOVE GROWN Chocolate Power O's
Per serving: 130 calories, 1.5 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 80 milligrams sodium, 27 grams carbohydrates (4 grams fiber, 9 grams sugar, 8 grams added sugar), 4 grams protein
Nutritious cereals get a bad reputation for being flavorless and bland. If you're looking for a better breakfast choice that satisfies your sweet tooth, try the LOVE GROWN Chocolate Power O's.
They'll remind you of your favorite childhood cereal with a healthy twist — they're made with a blend of navy beans, lentils and garbanzo beans. Because the first ingredient is legumes, each serving contains 4 grams of plant-based protein.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $30.39 per pack of 6
13. Arrowhead Mills Organic Spelt Flakes
Per serving: 120 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 100 milligrams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates (3 grams fiber, 3 grams sugar), 4 grams protein
Spelt is a type of grain, and it's the main ingredient in the Arrowhead Mills Organic Spelt Flakes. This cereal will remind you of corn flakes with its similar texture but with 25 grams of whole grains per serving.
The ingredients list is simple: whole-grain spelt flakes, organic fruit juice concentrate, sea salt and vitamins. The fruit juice adds a hint of sweetness, but this cereal won't give you a sugar rush.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $19.05 per pack of 3
14. Nature's Path Flax Plus Multibran Flakes
Per serving: 150 calories, 2 grams fat (0 grams saturated fat), 180 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 5 grams sugar, 5 grams added sugar), 5 grams protein
If you're looking for an organic option, the Nature's Path Flax Plus Multibran Flakes cereal is a solid choice. Each serving contains 5 grams of protein, 16 grams of whole grains and 7 grams of dietary fiber.
What sets this healthy cereal apart from the rest is its focus on omega-3 essential fatty acids, which come from the flax. It's also made with whole wheat, barley and oats for a variety of nutrient-rich picks.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $39.19 per pack of 6
15. Kashi Simply Raisin Whole Wheat Biscuits
Per serving: 190 calories, 1 gram fat (0 grams saturated fat), 0 milligrams sodium, 47 grams carbohydrates (7 grams fiber, 7 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar), 7 grams protein
If your goal is to cut sodium, you'll want to start your day with Kashi Simply Raisin Whole Wheat Biscuits. Each serving, which is roughly 30 biscuits, contains 0 milligrams of sodium.
Instead of added sugar, this cereal relies on raisins for a hint of natural sweetness. The raisins also add a satisfyingly chewy texture to the crunchy wheat biscuits.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $13.86 per box
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 the following criteria.
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 a variety of vitamins and minerals, but they also provide protein and fiber, which help regulate your blood sugar and keep you feeling full, according to the American Diabetes Association.
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.
Adding extra protein to your breakfast may help control hunger, according to Harvard Health Publishing. A high-protein breakfast that consists of cereal and milk can help curb your appetite later in the day and lower blood sugar levels.
The amount of protein cereals have will fluctuate from box to box, though some products are specifically made as high-protein cereals. You'll want to read nutrition labels with a critical eye, though, as some of the cereals with the most protein lack in other areas of the nutrition department.
You can boost your protein intake first thing in the morning by adding a cup of milk to your cereal. You can also add granola and wheat germ to your cereal to up the protein.
Burak says you should aim for a cereal with around 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Though dietary fiber is associated with healthy digestion and reduced risk of disease, only 5 percent of the U.S. population eats the recommended amount of fiber, according to January 2017 research in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine.
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.
Cereals with seeds and nuts like chia, hemp and almonds — which also contain healthy fats, protein and fiber — are great options. These are sources of essential fatty acids, which are vital for a balanced diet.
Adding low-fat milk to cereal can add healthy fats to your breakfast (or snack).
Vitamins and Minerals
The right cereals can be a healthy source of vitamins and minerals, especially zinc, iron and B vitamins.
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 carbohydrates, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). Some cereal brands offer around 8 percent of your daily value of zinc.
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.
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.
What to Watch Out For
For starters, the fewer ingredients, the better, Burak says. Bonus if you can understand and pronounce them, too.
"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.
"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," Burak says.
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.
Is It OK to Eat Cereal at Night?
It's OK to have a healthy snack like cereal in the evening — just 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 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.
Additional reporting by Lacey Muinos.
- National Academies of Sciences: "Macronutrients"
- Generalmills.com: "Kix"
- Barbaras.com: "Multigrain Puffins"
- Foodforlife.com: "Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal"
- Generealmills.com: "Fiber One"
- Postconsumerbrands.com: "Grape-Nuts"
- Naturespath.com: "Qi'a Cocoas Coconut Superflakes"
- Generalmills.com: "Cheerios"
- Allbran.com: "All-Bran"
- Quakeroats.com: "Quick 1-Minute Oats"
- threesisterscereal.com: "Uncle Sam Original Wheat Berry Flakes"
- Mayo Clinic: "Healthy Breakfast: Quick, Flexible Options"
- Mayo Clinic: "Fiber"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Zinc in diet"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: "2020 - 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Forager: "Cinnamon Gluten-Free Cereal"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Folic acid"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Iron"
- American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine: "Closing America's Fiber Intake Gap"
- LOVE GROWN: "Chocolate Power O's"
- Arrowhead Mills: "Organic Spelt Flakes"
- Nature's Path: "Flax Plus Multibran Flakes"
- Kashi: "Kashi Simply Raisin Whole Wheat Biscuit"
- American Diabetes Association: "Get to Know Carbs"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Extra protein at breakfast helps control hunger"
- Mom's Best Cereals: "Toasted Wheatfuls Cereal"
- Whole Grains Council: Whole Grains Guidelines Worldwide
- Consumer Reports: Better cereal choices for kids?