Test Your Cereal Smarts to Buy a Better Breakfast

By Janis Jibrin, M.S., R.D., Best Life lead nutritionist

I’ll admit it—I’ve given unsolicited advice to total strangers in the cereal aisle, but only when they look truly bewildered. It’s my nutritionist’s instinct, what can I say? Believe it or not, choosing a healthy cereal is not as complicated as you might think, especially when you follow a few simple steps.

Start with the ingredient list. Check to make sure all grains are whole. Examples of whole grains: barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa, triticale, whole rye, whole wheat, and anything else with “whole” in front of it. For more on what is and isn’t a whole grain, click here. I’d avoid sucralose (Splenda), acesulfame K, aspartame (Nutrasweet), and any other artificial sweetener—you don’t need these in a cereal.

Scan the nutrition facts panel. Serving sizes vary, so it’s best to judge by calories. Per 100 calories of cereal, look for one that has at least 3 grams (g) of fiber and no more than 5 g of sugar. Ideally, your cereal will not have added vitamins and minerals—if you take a multivitamin, you don’t need this stuff. In fact, too much could even be harmful. If you don’t take a multi, don’t look to cereal to provide a balanced nutrient offering. Put the box down if it contains lots of vitamins and minerals in the “daily value” column and ingredient list.

Want to simplify the process even more? Feel free to borrow some of my favorite breakfasts. I often mix sugar-free cereals with those that are a little sweet, or add a few tablespoons of granola (which sometimes exceeds the 5 g sugar per 100 calorie rule, but is OK if you’re only using a few tablespoons). I also combine dense, high-calorie cereals with lower-calorie types; otherwise my bowl would look pathetically small. I put about 160 to 200 calories of cereal in my bowl—with milk (nonfat or one percent), fruit and a tablespoon or two of nuts, my breakfast comes to about 400 calories.

Some of the cereals that rotate through my cupboard are:

  • Ezekiel 4:9 Almond (it’s dense, so mix with a cereal that gives you more volume for the calories)
  • Kashi Autumn Wheat
  • Kashi 7 Grain Flakes
  • Kashi Go Lean
  • Nature’s Plus Flax Plus
  • Steel cut oats (any brand)
  • 365 (Whole Foods Brand) Organic Bran Flakes
  • 365 Protein & Fiber

Which healthy cereals are your favorites?

Also Read:

Baker’s Dozen eCookbook: 13 Healthier Breakfast and Brunch Recipes

5-Minute Breakfast Ideas to Fuel Your Busy Mornings

Keri Glassman’s Barley Breakfast Salad

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