How do I choose a healthy cereal?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
When was the last time that instead of, say, whole grain oatmeal or Cheerios, you gave your kids (or yourself) a bowl of sugar for breakfast? If this morning you poured Honey Smacks, Golden Crisps, Cap'n Crunch, or even seemingly healthful Quaker Oats Oh!s cereal, the answer is "today." All have 3 to 5 teaspoons of sugar per cup.

Okay, we know it's hardly news that kids' cereals are loaded with sugar, but that much? Yes, says a new analysis by the Environmental Working Group, which -- insert round of applause -- painstakingly sugar-rated 84 cereals. If you weighed out 8 ounces of many kids' cereals on a kitchen scale, a third to half the weight would be sugar.

We think that adding that much sugar to any food, but especially to children's breakfasts, ought to be a civil, punishable crime. Seriously. Food makers are condemning kids to health problems and the nation to higher health costs. Yep, your cereal picks are that important.

Happily, there's an upside to this story: There were some winners on the list -- healthy, tasty, 100% whole-grain cereals that kids will happily eat and you can buy at any grocery store. And oatmeal, of course; just skip flavored instant types -- they're sugar fiestas, too.

There are other good-morning choices that meet both federal guidelines and ours, which are tougher: Cheerios (another of our personal faves), Mini-Wheats, Shredded Wheat, Grape-Nuts Flakes, and, somewhat surprisingly, Kix. Add bananas, blueberries, raisins, walnuts, diced apples, almonds...they're all good, though blueberries are rock stars.

Bonus: Eating fiber in the morning (fruit and 100% whole-grain cereals are full of it) curbs hunger later. That helps keep kids -- and you -- slim.
Amaris Noguera
Nutrition & Dietetics
Sugar is another ingredient to factor in. Added sugar, even when considering “whole grain” cereals, provides little but empty calories. Stick with cereals that have less than 9 grams of sugar per serving.

Another method is to look at the ingredients list: if sugar is listed as one of the first two ingredients, you will know the product contains a high amount of sugar as ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with those ingredients used in the greatest amount listed first.
There is perhaps no greater variety at your supermarket than in the cereal aisle. Which to choose? Keep these tips in mind as you gaze down the endless cereal shelves:
  • Read the Nutrition Facts labels to compare nutrient content of products and pick those made with whole grains.
  • Some cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Check the nutrients in fortified cereals. Most cereals supply approximately 25 percent of the Daily Value for vitamins and minerals, and some have much more.
  • Cereals that are good fiber sources supply at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving; whole-grain cereals typically contain even more.
  • Don't assume cereals labeled "natural" or "granola" are necessarily more nutritious. Some of these products can be high in fat, sugars and sodium.
  • Adding low-fat milk or yogurt makes cereal a great source of calcium and other nutrients; that's why labels give information for both cereal only and with added milk.
Heidi Skolnik, MS
Sports Medicine

To choose a healthy breakfast cereal, start by reading the label -- but don't stop there. Find out what else you should consider while perusing the cereal aisle by watching this video featuring sports medicine and nutrition specialist Heidi Skolnik.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.