Cereal Can Be a Healthy Breakfast — as Long as 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.

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.

  • Look for 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, she recommends. Not only do whole grains contain vitamins and minerals, they also provide protein and natural 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, she adds.

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: "Plus, watch out for a huge array of hidden sugar words like corn syrup, crystals, dextrose, syrups and concentrates. Most cereals are sugar bombs, which is why kids love them!"

Though choosing a cereal with zero added sugar may be a challenge, shoot for one that has no more than 8 grams per serving, Burak suggests.

10 Healthy Cereals to Buy

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

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: $16.99 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: $14.19 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

With sprouted black bean flour and sprouted rice flour as the first two ingredients in Nature's Path Qi'a Cocoa Coconut Superflakes cereal, its one-cup serving 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: $53.18 per pack of 12

4. Post Grape-Nuts

A childhood classic, Grape-Nuts 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: $12.29 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 because of 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: $54 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. It 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

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