Though we’ve come a long way from the tasteless gruel of the 1800’s, we now have a whole new set of problems. With the plethora of breakfast options out there, it is now difficult to decide what to consume to start your day off right. Simply navigating down the cold cereal aisle can be overwhelming. The colorful boxes, with the catchy names, extraordinary box designs, and the promise of fruity sweet tastes appeal to our senses, but how do you decide which cereal is actually most nutritious? The following guidelines will help you select a healthy and filling cereal:
- Be the adult. If you let your children choose, you will absolutely end up with a sugary cereal, since kids are influenced by box design and TV ads. Remember that the appearance of the box has nothing to do with what’s inside. Look past that attractive picture on the front and look straight to the side panel (the nutrition facts).
- Read the “Nutrition Facts” and “Ingredients List”. The information listed here is standardized so it is easier to compare between boxes of cereal, than by just paying attention to the hype advertised on the front of the box. Check to see what constitutes a serving size before comparing the calories, sugar, fat, etc.
- The grains should be whole. Under ingredients, it should say “whole wheat” or “wheat bran” and not simply “wheat”.
- Protein content should be at least 5 grams per serving. Protein is what leaves you feeling satisfied, so you don’t want to skimp on this macronutrient.
- The total carbohydrate to sugar ratio should be no less than four to one. This means that if there are 24 grams of carbohydrates in the cereal, then the sugars should be listed as 6 grams or less. This ratio shows that the majority of carbohydrates come from grains and fiber and not just from added sugars.
- Check for fiber. One of the most important components of cereal is fiber. Aside from preventing constipation, fiber also helps to fill you up. Look for cereals that contain at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Keep in mind, however, that if you are opting for the “high fiber” cereals, you will want to also increase your fluid intake. Increasing fiber intake too quickly can lead to gas and bloating.
- Take those vitamins! For the most part, cereal is a major source of certain nutrients. These include folic acid, zinc, iron, and other B-vitamins. Check to see that your cereal is providing at least 25% of the RDA for these nutrients.
- Beware of fruit. Don’t be fooled by the fruity name or the dehydrated red berries that are floating in that bowl. Dried fruit is actually heavier than grains, so it will be listed towards the top of the ingredient list, leading you to believe that there is a lot of fruit in there. In most cereals, however, there is actually very little fruit. A better bet would be to skip the fruity cereals, and add your own fresh fruit to the bowl.
- What to avoid. There are certain ingredients that a nutritious cereal should not contain. These include hydrogenated oils, dyes or artificial colors, and chemical preservatives. If you see these on the ingredient list, keep walking!
- Don’t forget the milk. Whatever cereal you are consuming, chances are it is still missing some key amino acids (the building blocks of protein). By having that cereal with milk, you will be adding extra protein and making up for those few amino acid deficiencies in the grain. Remember though, keep that milk low in fat and opt for skim or 1% milk.
To further help you wade through the cereal aisle, we’ve compiled our top ten list of nutritious cereals (in no particular order!). You can find these at Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Wild Oats, and many standard grocery chains. Each of these cereals has a serving size of ¾ cup or larger, at least 5 grams of fiber, more than 5 grams of protein, and less than 9 grams of sugar.
- Uncle Sam Original Cereal (10 g fiber, 7 g protein, <1>
- Arrowhead Mills Shredded Wheat bite size (6 g fiber, 6 g protein, 2 g sugar)
- Nutritious Living Hi Lo (6 g fiber, 12 g protein, 3 g sugar)
- Nature’s Path Raisin Bran (9 g fiber, 5 g protein, 5 g sugar)
- Nutritious Living Dr. Sears Zone Honey Almond (5 g fiber, 14 g protein, 5 g sugar)
- Kashi Go Lean (10 g fiber, 13 g protein, 6 g sugar)
- Nature’s Path Optimum Slim (11 g fiber, 9 g protein, 7 g sugar)
- Kashi Organic Promise Autumn Wheat (6 g fiber, 5 g protein, 7 g sugar)
- Back to Nature Banana Nut Multibran (13 g fiber, 5 g protein, 9 g sugar)
- Kashi Good Friends (12 g fiber, 5 g protein, 9 g sugar)
Now there is no excuse not to eat a healthy breakfast!