Looking for the healthiest breakfast cereals? You're in luck! A growing number of brands are now offering low-sugar cereals, high-fiber cereals, organic cereals and everything in between. Plus, you can always use oats, rye, wheat and other whole grains to make a delicious breakfast that will keep you energized all day.
What's Wrong With Breakfast Cereals?
Breakfast cereals are promoted as a healthy breakfast option for children and adults alike. However, if you know a thing or two about nutrition, you're aware that cereals are not really that good. Compared to whole grains, they're significantly lower in fiber and higher in sugar. In fact, many so-called "healthy" cereal brands pack more sugar than a Snickers bar.
Back in 2014, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) compared more than 1,500 cereal brands on the U.S. market. Researchers found that 92 percent of cold breakfast cereals were packed with sugar. Those marketed to children were about 40 percent higher in sugar than the average. About 40 brands contained 60 percent more sugar per serving than the maximum daily recommended intake, which is 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men.
As the EWG points out, the serving sizes listed on labels are extremely small, so it's not surprising that most people eat two or three servings at once. Some brands, such as Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs, Kellogg's Honey Smacks and Post Golden Crisp, are more than 50 percent sugar by weight. Lieber's Cocoa Frosted Flakes, a popular store brand, is 88 percent sugar by weight.
According to the above study, the healthiest breakfast cereals are Kellogg's Rice Krispies, Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Springfield Corn Flakes Cereal and General Mills Cheerios, with 3 to 7 percent sugar by weight.
Let's take Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs, for example. This product is 56 percent sugar by weight and provides 11 vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, folic acid, zinc, phosphorus and iron. If you check the label, you'll see that sugar comes first on the ingredient list. A single serving (1 ounce) boasts 16 grams of sugars; Whole wheat hot cereal, by comparison, has only 0.13 grams of sugars per serving (1.09 ounces, uncooked).
A diet high in sugar affects your health on every level. According to a July 2013 review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, high-sugar diets contribute to diabetes, which in turn, may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Harvard Medical School warns that excess sugar consumption may lead to weight gain, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and other ailments.
Discover the Healthiest Breakfast Cereals
When it comes to the healthiest breakfast cereals, you have plenty of options available. While it's true that most brands contain added sugars, you can always opt for whole grains like barley, oats, brown rice, wheat bran and bulgur. These foods are a lot more nutritious compared to their processed counterparts.
First of all, whole grains provide more fiber. Breakfast cereals, on the other hand, have the fiber removed during processing. High-fiber foods may aid in weight loss, increase satiety and keep your digestive system running smoothly. Some types of fiber can improve glycemic control and reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
Cooked oat bran, for example, provides 88 calories, 7 grams of protein, 1.9 grams of fat and 25 grams of carbs, including 5.7 grams of fiber per serving (one cup). It also boasts 11 percent of the daily recommended iron intake, 21 percent of the daily recommended magnesium intake and a whopping 92 percent of the daily recommended amount of manganese. If you're looking for a sugar-free cereal, oat bran and oats are your best bet.
Fortified instant oats, by contrast, have 159 calories, 5.5 grams of protein, 3.2 grams of fat and 27.3 grams of carbs, including 4 grams of fiber and 1.1 grams of sugars per serving. Kellogg's Special K Multigrain Oats And Honey, a popular cereal brand, provides 105 calories, 2.3 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat and 24.7 grams of carbs, including 2.5 grams of fiber and 7.7 grams of sugars per serving. Except for iron, it's much lower in vitamins and minerals compared to oat bran.
The serving size differs, too. One serving of cooked oat bran is one cup. One serving of Kellogg's Special K, on the other hand, is two-thirds of a cup (1 ounce) and yet, it's higher in sugar.
The Benefits of Whole Grains
Several studies conducted over the years support the health benefits of whole grains. A review published in the journal Nutrients in November 2018 states these foods are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and micronutrients that may protect against diseases. Eating as little as two or three daily servings of unprocessed grains may lower the risk of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular problems.
The bran is particularly high in phenolic compounds, such as caffeic acid, vanillic acid and ferulic acid. These phytochemicals exhibit antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. The germ boasts large doses of vitamin E, heart-healthy fats, minerals and antioxidants.
Processed breakfast cereals have most of the bran and germ removed, offering fewer nutrients. Furthermore, whole grains may help reduce blood sugar levels, improve insulin response and prevent weight gain due to their high fiber content.
Choose Healthy Cereal Brands
Except for whole grains, most breakfast cereals contain added sugars. However, some are healthier and more nutritious than others. Ideally, choose low-sugar, high-fiber brands.
Bob's Red Mill Crunchy Coconut Granola, for example, is considered a high-fiber cereal brand. One serving provides 210 calories, 5 grams of protein, 8 grams of fat and 28 grams of carbs, including 3 grams of fiber and 8 grams of sugars. Its fiber content, though, is much lower compared to that of whole grains.
Low in sugar and high in fiber, Uncle Sam Toasted Whole Wheat Berry Flakes & Flaxseed is one of the healthiest breakfast cereals. One serving boasts 210 calories, 9 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat and 37 grams of carbs, including 10 grams of fiber and 1 gram of sugar. It's also rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron.
Another good choice is Barbara's Bakery Original Puffins. With just 90 calories and 5 grams of sugars per serving, it's healthier than most cereal brands. Plus, it offers 5 grams of fiber and moderate doses of potassium, magnesium and other minerals.
The serving size is pretty small (less than 1 ounce), though. If you eat three servings at once, you'll get an extra 68 grams of carbs and 15 grams of sugar in your diet.
If you're looking for a sugar-free cereal brand, Ezekiel 4:9 might be worth checking out. The Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal, one of its most popular products, contains no sugar and provides 6 grams of fiber and 8 grams of protein per serving (one cup). This product, though, is made with organic sprouted wheat and other organic whole grains, which explains its high nutritional value.
Other healthy cereal brands include Arrowhead Mills Steel Cut Oat Bran Hot Cereal, Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Buckwheat Hot Cereal and Post Grape Nuts. These products are made with whole grains and contain no additives, preservatives or artificial flavors.
If you have a sweet tooth, add a pinch of cinnamon, vanilla essence or liquid stevia. Another option is to mix whole grains with almond or coconut milk and protein powder for extra flavor and nutrition.
- EWG.org: "Children's Cereals: Cereals Contain Far More Sugar Than Experts Recommend"
- Heart.org: "Sugar 101"
- Malt-O-Meal: "Malt-O-Meal Golden Puffs"
- USDA: "Cereals, Whole Wheat Hot Natural Cereal, Dry"
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: "High-Sugar Diets, Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Sweet Danger of Sugar"
- Annals.org: "Single-Component Versus Multicomponent Dietary Goals for the Metabolic Syndrome: A Randomized Trial"
- Joslin.org: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cooked Oat Bran"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Oats Instant Fortified Plain Prepared With Water (Boiling Water Added or Microwaved)"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Kelloggs Special K Multigrain Oats and Honey"
- MDPI: "Whole Grains and Phenolic Acids: A Review on Bioactivity, Functionality, Health Benefits and Bioavailability"
- USDA: "Bob’s Red Mill Crunchy Coconut Granola"
- USDA: "Uncle Sam Toasted Whole Wheat Berry Flakes & Flaxseed"
- USDA: "Barbara’s Bakery Original Puffins"
- USDA: "Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Whole Grain Cereal"
- USDA: "Arrowhead Mills Steel Cut Oat Bran Hot Cereal"
- USDA: "Hodgson Mill Gluten Free Buckwheat Hot Cereal"
- USDA: "Post Grape Nuts"