This classic, toasted O-shaped cereal may benefit your heart health.
Reviewed by Dietitian Maria Laura Haddad-Garcia
Cheerios holds a special place in our hearts—literally and figuratively. First introduced in 1941, Cheerios has been a staple breakfast cereal for over 80 years. This cereal has stood the test of time, nourishing multiple generations of grandparents, parents and toddlers alike.
But for the 25 million U.S. adults living with high cholesterol, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cheerios may be much more than simply a beloved breakfast cereal. As advertised on the front of the package, General Mills claims that Cheerios can help lower cholesterol as part of a heart-healthy diet. Is this claim true? We sat down with a cardiologist and two dietitians specializing in heart health to break down what cholesterol is and find out if eating Cheerios really helps reduce your cholesterol levels.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol can be described as a waxy substance that is an important structural component of all your cells, per the CDC. Therefore—contrary to popular belief—it is not inherently bad. As a matter of fact, cholesterol also serves as a building block for your hormones, vitamin D and bile. In other words, you need cholesterol for your body to function properly. The good news is that your liver produces all of the cholesterol needed. But, as the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be harmful.
There are actually two types of cholesterol that can affect your health. "LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol helps to deliver cholesterol to your cells—which is essential for your health. But, if the amount of LDL circulating in your blood is too high, it can stick to the walls of your arteries and make them narrow, which is not good for your heart," says Columbus Batiste, M.D., a board-certified interventional cardiologist and co-founder of Healthy Heart Nation. Therefore, high LDL cholesterol is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. On the other hand, "HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol helps remove the bad cholesterol from our arteries," Batiste shares. As a result, HDL is considered "good" cholesterol.
In addition to HDL and LDL, your total cholesterol number includes triglycerides. "Triglycerides are another type of fat in our blood, and having too many can also be bad for our heart," Batiste explains. "To check our heart health, doctors can do blood tests. They might look at LDL and HDL levels, triglycerides and ApoB levels, which is a marker that shows how much bad cholesterol is in our blood," Batiste adds. "If LDL is too high and HDL is too low, it can be a sign of heart problems. Eating foods high in saturated and trans fats, like fried foods and some junk foods, can increase cholesterol levels and harm our heart," Batiste emphasizes. Fortunately, some foods can improve these levels. But are Cheerios one of them?
Do Cheerios Lower Your Cholesterol?
To answer the question of whether or not eating Cheerios helps to lower cholesterol, let's take a look at the ingredients and the Nutrition Facts label. From a quick glance at the ingredient list, you will find that the original "Cheerios are made from whole grains, primarily oats, and contain soluble fiber called beta-glucans, which can help lower LDL cholesterol," says Veronica Rouse, RD, CDE, founder of The Heart Dietitian.
According to the brand's website, a 1.5-cup serving (39 grams) of original Cheerios provides:
Total Carbohydrates: 29 g
Dietary Fiber: 4 g
Total Sugars: 2 g
Protein: 3 g
Total Fat: 2.5 g
Saturated Fat: 0.5 g
Sodium: 190 mg
Cholesterol: 0 mg
In fact, a 2021 review published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases concluded that there is strong evidence that foods with soluble fiber, like oats, may moderately reduce LDL cholesterol. But how exactly does soluble fiber help to lower cholesterol? Batiste chimes in, stating, "When you eat more soluble fiber from whole grains, like in Cheerios, it can help lower your cholesterol in several ways. It creates a gel-like substance, alters things in your gut, and even influences the friendly bacteria in your digestive system, all of which work together to keep your cholesterol levels healthy."
Fiber plays such a critical role in cholesterol management that Skylar Griggs, M.S., RD, LDN, the lead dietitian for the Preventive Cardiology Program at Boston Children's Hospital and owner of Newbury Street Nutrition, says that "fiber is a powerhouse." She tells us, "Most adults need 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day from food—not supplements." And "Cheerios have 3 grams of fiber per [cup], which is about 10% of the recommended amount—but many other naturally occurring foods have fiber, like fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds," Griggs explains. Therefore, Cheerios can be consumed as part of a cholesterol-friendly diet that includes a wide array of fiber-packed, whole-plant foods.
Related: 10 Amazing Health Benefits of Fiber
How Many Servings of Cheerios Would Make an Impact?
According to a 2019 review published in Nutrients, consuming 3 grams of soluble fiber from oats daily may help lower both total and LDL cholesterol. These findings are aligned with the Food and Drug Administration's guidelines, which state that a daily intake of 3 grams or more of beta-glucan soluble fiber from whole oats may help lower heart disease risk.
Although a 1.5-cup serving of Cheerios contains 4 grams of total fiber, it only has 1 gram of soluble fiber. As mentioned above, soluble fiber is the type of fiber that helps to lower cholesterol. So, you would need at least three daily servings of Cheerios to make an impact on your cholesterol levels.
To make an even greater impact, Rouse says, "It is recommended to eat around 10 grams of soluble fiber every day to lower cholesterol, according to the Portfolio Diet." This means you would need at least 10 servings of Cheerios to reduce your cholesterol—which, frankly, isn't practical. Therefore, Griggs reiterates that it is best to "not consume all of your fiber from Cheerios, but rather a variety of fiber-rich foods." The portfolio diet is an eating pattern that has shown heart-health benefits and focuses on eating more plant-based foods, per the American Heart Association.
Other Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol
Instead of relying solely on Cheerios, here are several additional heart-healthy tips to help lower your cholesterol levels.
Choose fiber-rich plant foods over highly processed ones. "Including fruits, green leafy vegetables, beans and soluble fiber-rich seeds like flax and chia in every meal, along with whole grains, can significantly improve your overall health by lowering cholesterol," Batiste shares. In addition, Rouse says that plant sterols may also help. Add more cholesterol-lowering plants to your breakfast spread by making our Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding.
Enjoy more healthy fats. Both Griggs and Rouse agree that it is important to increase your intake of healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, fatty fish and avocados, to help reduce your cholesterol. Try switching up your morning cereal routine with this easy-to-make Everything Bagel Avocado Toast.
Limit added sugars and refined carbohydrates. "These can reduce your HDL ("good") cholesterol, which is needed in adequate amounts to reduce LDL cholesterol," Rouse explains. In addition, Griggs tells us that high triglyceride levels are also associated with refined carbohydrate and sugar intake. For these reasons, the American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 daily teaspoons for men.
Be mindful of your beverage choices. Batiste says, "Excessive consumption of unfiltered coffee (24 ounces/3 cups or more) has been linked to higher cholesterol levels." So enjoy a moderate amount while being mindful of the added sugar. "Cutting back on heavy alcohol intake is also beneficial, as it's associated with elevated cholesterol levels."
Look beyond nutrition. "It's not just about what you eat and drink. Factors like stress (linked to higher LDL), poor sleep (related to increased LDL), and not being physically active (associated with low HDL) can all influence your cholesterol levels. Achieving better health involves making a complete lifestyle commitment, starting with a decision, creating a plan, and taking actionable steps to improve your overall well-being," Batiste explains.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better for cholesterol, oatmeal or Cheerios?
"Oatmeal is better than Cheerios for lowering cholesterol because it contains more soluble fiber, called beta-glucans, per serving that could help decrease LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol. Cheerios are made up of whole oat grains and therefore also contain soluble fiber, but can contain other ingredients like sugar, salt and preservatives," Rouse says.
How long does it take to lower cholesterol with Cheerios?
Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that helps to lower cholesterol. Research shows that consuming 3 grams of soluble fiber from oats daily for at least four weeks may help to lower both total and LDL cholesterol. Some experts recommend as much as 10 grams of soluble fiber a day. However, a 1.5-cup serving of Cheerios only contains 1 gram of soluble fiber. Therefore, it would take 3 to 10 daily servings of Cheerios alone and at least four weeks to see an effect.
What cereal is best for lowering cholesterol?
"When choosing cereals, it's a good idea to look for options with low sugar and high fiber content. There are various brands available, some with no sugar and some with low sugar. I suggest a general approach of reading the ingredient labels rather than sticking to specific brands," says Batiste.
What reduces cholesterol quickly?
Griggs tells us, "There are medications that lower cholesterol, but these should be discussed with your medical provider. There is some supportive data on the use of plant sterol and stanol supplements, but again, these should be discussed with your medical provider. Diet and exercise are the best ways to lower your cholesterol. Remember, some people have genetically high cholesterol and no matter how many lifestyle changes they make, their cholesterol may never decline—these patients are generally followed by cardiology."
The Bottom Line
The verdict is in—both dietitians and cardiologists agree that a serving of the original Cheerios, as part of a heart-healthy diet, may, in fact, help to lower cholesterol levels. So go ahead and grab a spoon to enjoy a bowl of this delicious cereal that contains whole-grain oats and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.
Just make sure you aren't reaching for Cheerios to fulfill all of your soluble fiber needs, nor relying solely on it to lower your cholesterol levels. To truly see an impact on your cholesterol levels, it's vital to include various fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy fats in your daily meal and snack preparations.
Read the original article on Eating Well.