It may have been a common meal during your college days when you were tired of instant ramen. Or perhaps you still indulge in it when you don't have time to cook a full meal. Cereal for dinner can be filling, satisfying and even good for you, as long as you choose the healthiest kinds.
Healthy, whole-grain cereals are packed with fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Eating cereal with a bowl of regular milk, almond milk or coconut milk before bed may improve your sleep, provide you with energy for the next day and help your body recover after a workout.
The Benefits of Cereal
Some of the most popular brands of cereal, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Froot Loops, contain huge amounts of sugar. But eating cereal for dinner doesn't have to be unhealthy for you. In fact, you can find plenty of whole-grain, sugar-free and fiber-filled cereal brands at your grocery store.
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Healthy cereals provide you with a wide array of nutrients, especially if they're fortified cereals. An October 2016 study published in PLoS One analyzed the effect of ready-to-eat-cereals on health outcomes. The study concluded that people who ate cereal frequently showed a lower risk of inadequate micronutrient intake. Some of those micronutrients included vitamin A, calcium, folate, vitamin B-6, magnesium and zinc.
That same study noted that frequently eating whole-grain cereals could have a positive influence on certain cardiovascular risk factors, like hypertension or Type 2 diabetes. Finally, the cereals that were high in fiber showed an ability to lower LDL cholesterol — or low density lipoprotein, which is considered the "bad" cholesterol — in men with high cholesterol.
Cereal can also be a great source of fiber. A February 2019 study published in The Lancet found that people who ate more dietary fiber and whole grains had lower rates of coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Consuming higher levels of fiber lowered all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality by 15 to 30 percent, the study found. More fiber in your diet may also help you lose weight.
The Healthiest Cereal Before Bed
Even though cereal is meant to be eaten with milk in the mornings, it's commonly eaten for dinner as well. In fact, eating cereal at night may be quite popular: A third of people in the United Kingdom (UK) reported eating breakfast foods for dinner, with a quarter of those citing cereal as their choice, according to Cancer Research UK.
Cereal before bed may not seem like the best decision, especially if you're hoping to cut calories and lose weight. But if you're someone who's physically active, it's likely you need a good amount of healthy carbohydrates in your diet to help restore glycogen stores and fuel your body for workouts.
An April 2015 study published in Nutrients concluded that small, nutrient-dense snacks or meals before bed could actually be beneficial to your health — particularly if coupled with exercise. Nighttime eating could actually boost muscle protein synthesis and improve cardiometabolic health, the authors wrote.
In addition to being a good source of energy for the next morning, cereal before bed may even help you sleep better. The tryptophan, calcium and magnesium found in milk, as well as the whole-grain carbohydrates in cereal, may lull you to sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Eating cereal at night can be healthy, as long as you're choosing the right kinds of cereal. It's actually quite simple to pick the healthiest cereal options. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) notes that you should keep three main things in mind when choosing cereal. The first is to check the cereal's nutrition label, and make sure it's made from a simple, short list of ingredients.
The second is to ensure it's high in dietary fiber, and the third is to check its sugar content. Ideally, you want a cereal that has at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and less than 8 grams of sugar per serving, UPMC says.
You may also want to be careful when it comes to added fibers, which can be found in food products like cereals and granola bars. There are several different types of fibers, including intrinsic fibers, which are natural and intact; isolated or added fibers; and synthetic fibers, according to Tufts University.
Some of these added or synthetic fibers may not hold the same health benefits that natural, whole fibers do. Some added fibers include names like beta-glucan, chicory root fiber, guar gum, lignin, oligofructose and soluble corn fiber.
Not all of these have been shown to have benefits, but you can rely on whole, natural fibers found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains to provide you with the best fiber. To increase your fiber count, you can add fruits to your cereal, like bananas, blueberries or strawberries. One cup of blueberries, for example, holds up to 3.6 grams of fiber. A cup of chopped-up bananas contains 3.9 grams of fiber.
When eating cereals either for breakfast or before bed, focus on products that are made of simple whole grains. Whole grains, which include the entire grain (bran, germ and endosperm), contain a good amount of natural dietary fiber. Some simple whole-grain cereals include buckwheat and hemp, shredded wheat and sprouted whole-grain cereals.
Whole-grain cereals are low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, according to Better Health Channel. They contain B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc. Whole grains can also be a good source of healthy carbohydrates and even protein. This is why occasionally eating cereal for dinner won't be harmful to your health.
Cereals to Avoid
Now that you know to focus on whole grains, fibers and simple ingredients, you can avoid and cut out the cereals that are high in sugar, artificial colors and fat. Lucky Charms, for example, contains nearly 10 grams of sugar, making up 20 percent of your daily value of sugar.
And while some cereals are made with whole grain, that can mask the added sugars or saturated fats. Cracklin' Oat Bran, for example, may seem healthy and has a big dose of vitamin B12, among other nutrients — but it also contains a whopping 13.7 grams of sugar and 3 grams of saturated fats. Sugar-frosted cornflakes are another product that contains high levels of sugar and sodium, but is lower in fiber.
Eating cereal at night can be healthy if you choose the right ingredients. A bowl of low-sugar, low-fat whole-grain cereal, paired with either regular milk or plant-based milk, can be a great source of fiber, carbs, protein, vitamins and minerals. Adding some fresh fruits to your cereal can make it even better. A nutrient-dense bowl of cereal before bed will help curb your hunger cravings while incorporating the nutrients you need into your diet.
- PLoS One: "Effects of Ready-to-Eat-Cereals on Key Nutritional and Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review"
- MedlinePlus: "LDL: The 'Bad' Cholesterol"
- BMJ: "Eating More Fibre Linked to Reduced Risk of Non-Communicable Diseases and Death, Review Finds"
- Cancer Research UK: "The Rise of Brinner - a Third of Brits Have Breakfast Food for Dinner at Least Once a Week"
- Nutrients: "The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives"
- National Sleep Foundation: "Set Yourself up for Sound Slumber With These Calming Foods and Beverages"
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC): "Nutritious Cereal Options"
- Tufts University: "Are Added Fibers Good for Our Health?"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Blueberries"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Bananas"
- American Heart Association: "Whole Grains and Fiber"
- Better Health Channel: "Cereals and Wholegrain Foods"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for General Mills Lucky Charms"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Kelloggs Cracklin Oat Bran"
- British Heart Foundation: "Breakfast Cereals Ranked Best to Worst"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for General Mills Cinnamon Toast Crunch"
- MyFoodData.com: "Nutrition Facts for Froot Loops"
- The Lancet: "Carbohydrate Quality and Human Health: A Series of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses"