Cream of Wheat is one of the most beloved breakfast foods in America. The USDA reports that each serving provides more than half of the daily recommended iron intake plus a lot of calcium for healthy bones.
Top it with cinnamon or nutmeg, banana slices, walnuts, almonds or strawberries for extra flavor and nutrition.
Cream of Wheat doesn't support weight loss, but it can improve your diet. Use it as a substitute for breakfast cereals, which are loaded with sugar and additives. Better yet, cook with farina and add your own flavors or switch to whole grains like oats and wheat bran.
What Is Cream of Wheat?
This creamy breakfast dish is made from farina, a type of milled wheat. It can be prepared like polenta or porridge and has a mild flavor. Farina isn't a whole grain cereal because it has the bran and some, or all, of the entire germ removed during processing. However, it's one of the best dietary sources of iron and complex carbs.
Depending on your preferences, you can serve Cream of Wheat with milk or water. Simply boil the liquid and then slowly pour in the farina; stir until it starts to thicken. Feel free to add raw honey, strawberries, nuts, seeds, spices, raw cocoa and other healthful ingredients. Another option is to use coconut milk, almond milk or soy milk instead of cow's milk.
Note that Cream of Wheat is a brand name, not an actual grain. You can either purchase the branded product or buy farina and add your favorite toppings. The porridge mix, which comes in a box, is available in a variety of flavors, such as Cream of Wheat Banana Walnut, Maple Brown Sugar, Cinnabon and Original. Each product has a different nutritional value, depending on the ingredients used.
Cream of Wheat Nutritional Value
This delicious breakfast food packs a hefty nutritional punch. Rich in complex carbs, it provides steady energy throughout the day without spiking your blood sugar levels. As the U.S. National Library of Medicine points out, most foods containing complex carbohydrates are also high in fiber, vitamins and minerals that support optimal health. Whole grains, legumes and veggies are just a few examples.
Read more: A Complete Guide to Complex Carbohydrates
As mentioned, Cream of Wheat isn't the same as pure farina. Also, this product comes in several varieties, each containing different ingredients. Cooked enriched farina provides the following nutrients per serving (one cup):
- 123 calories
- 4.2 grams of protein
- 0.8 grams of fat
- 25.4 grams of carbs
- 1.9 grams of fiber
- 1.8 grams of sugars
- 69 percent of the DV (daily value) of iron
- 17 percent of the DV of calcium
- 12 percent of the DV of sodium
- 20 percent of the DV of manganese
- 13 percent of the DV of selenium
- 35 percent of the DV of folic acid
Like most grains, farina is chock-full of thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and other B-complex vitamins. It also offers small amounts of zinc, magnesium, potassium and fluoride. Farina is an enriched food, so many of these vitamins and minerals are added in to increase nutrient value.
One serving also boasts 34 percent of the daily recommended intake of cystine, a sulfur-containing amino acid that can be converted into glucose, the body's main source of energy. This nutrient exhibits antioxidant properties and supports immune function.
Cream of Wheat cooked with water and salt (also enriched) has a similar nutritional value. According to the USDA, one serving (or one cup) contains:
- 126 calories
- 3.7 grams of protein
- 0.5 grams of fat
- 26.8 grams of carbs
- 1.3 grams of fiber
- 0.1 grams of sugars
- 56 percent of the DV of iron
- 17 percent of the DV of calcium
- 13 percent of the DV of selenium
- 11 percent of the DV of copper
- 13 percent of the DV of sodium
- 8 percent of the DV of folic acid
Compared to farina, this product is significantly lower in sugar. It also contains less fiber, iron, zinc and B-complex vitamins. One cup of cooked farina provides about 20 percent of the daily recommended intake of manganese, while Cream of Wheat lacks this mineral. Your body needs manganese to produce and utilize certain enzymes that fight oxidative stress, regulate carbohydrate metabolism and support bone formation.
Read more: 13 Powerful Grains and Seeds
If you have a sweet tooth, you might be tempted to choose flavored Cream of Wheat over standard varieties. The problem is that flavored varieties pack a lot of sugar and may contain additives.
Cream of Wheat Banana Walnut, for example, has 130 calories, 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat and 28 grams of carbs, including 1 gram of fiber and 12 grams of sugars per serving (one packet). It provides only 35 percent of the daily recommended iron intake, but it's slightly higher in calcium compared to farina. Caramel color, one of its main ingredients, is a potential carcinogen, according to a February 2015 study published in PLOS One.
Is Cream of Wheat Fattening?
This breakfast dish is unlikely to cause weight gain when consumed as part of a balanced diet. Just make sure you choose unflavored varieties with no added sugar. Or, you can cook with pure farina powder and add your own flavors.
Compared to most breakfast cereals, Cream of Wheat is more nutritious and lower in sugars. It also contains slow-digesting carbs, keeping you energized for hours. Breakfast cereals, by contrast, are loaded with simple sugars that cause insulin and blood glucose spikes followed by crashes. These products are highly processed and have little nutritional value.
Farina and Cream of Wheat are less processed than breakfast cereals, but this doesn't necessarily mean they aid in weight loss. A May 2016 research paper published in AIMS Public Health showed a strong link between wheat consumption and obesity. However, researchers point out that whole wheat might not be as harmful as its refined counterpart.
According to the researchers at Tufts University, Americans tend to overconsume bread, pasta and other foods containing refined wheat. These products are high in calories and quick-digesting carbs, so cutting them out may lead to weight loss. They not only cause you to pack on pounds but also promote visceral fat gain. Whole grains, on the other hand, have been shown to reduce visceral fat mass.
This type of adipose tissue accumulates in your belly, wrapping around your liver and other vital organs. As Harvard Health Publishing notes, visceral fat affects metabolic health and increases risk of diabetes and heart disease. It's also a major risk factor for gallbladder problems and breast cancer in women.
The experts at Tufts University recommend eliminating processed grains from your diet and filling up on whole grains. However, you still need to watch your portions. Whole wheat is high in carbs and should be consumed in moderation.
A June 2018 review featured in the BMJ assessed the effects of carbs on overall health. As the researchers note, coarsely milled grains, such as farina, are more nutritious and have a lower glycemic index than white rice and other refined grains. The glycemic index indicates the impact of carbohydrate-containing foods on blood glucose levels. However, whole grains are more beneficial, as they still have the germ and bran intact.
Read more: How to Up Your Salad Game With Whole Grains
Cream of Wheat can be a healthy addition to most diets. If you enjoy it in moderation and stick to your daily calorie goals, you're unlikely to gain weight. Unprocessed grains, though, are a better choice due to their high content of fiber and nutrients.
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cream of Wheat Regular (10 Minute) Cooked With Water With Salt"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Farina Enriched Cooked With Water With Salt"
- Cream of Wheat: "Products"
- American Heart Association: "Carbohydrates"
- MedlinePlus: "Complex Carbohydrates"
- Orthomolecular: "Cystine"
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: "Manganese"
- Cream of Wheat: "Banana Walnut"
- PLOS One: "Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar"
- NCBI: AIMS Public Health: "Cereal Crops Are Not Created Equal: Wheat Consumption Associated With Obesity Prevalence Globally and Regionally"
- Tufts University: "The Truth About the War on Wheat"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It"
- BMJ: "Dietary Carbohydrates: Role of Quality and Quantity in Chronic Disease"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Glycemic Index for 60+ Foods"
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts for Cooked Oatmeal"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance"
- NCBI: Nutrition Reviews: "Dietary Fiber and Satiety: The Effects of Oats on Satiety"