They're low in sugar and high in fiber.
Nothing makes us more nostalgic of our childhoods like enjoying a bowl of candy-colored cereal with cold milk. But as we now know as adults, many cereals we enjoyed as kids, whether it's Fruit Loops or Captain Crunch, are laced with sugar and refined carbs.
Fortunately, there are plenty of crunchy, whole grain cereal options you can enjoy for your everyday breakfast, without cashing in too much of the sweet stuff. Like all things with food and nutrition, ensuring you're enjoying a healthy cereal comes down to reading the nutrition label and ingredient list. Here’s what you should look for.
Naturally, the first place you should look on the nutrition label is the carbs category, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table. “These days, popular diets bash carbs, so people think if this is a high number, they shouldn’t have it,” she says. “But really, you need to think about portion size and the type of carb.”
- Look for 100 percent whole grains. The best kind of carbohydrate for your cereal is whole grains—which should take the first spot on the ingredient list. Look for words like 100 percent whole wheat, wheat bran, or another variety like rye. “[These grains] help keep us full, while providing lots of minerals and vitamins, like B vitamins,” Taub-Dix says.
You don’t necessarily need a ton of fat in your cereal, as that macronutrient will come from other sources throughout your day. But if you want to make your bowl more satiating, Taub-Dix suggests adding some nuts. They add some healthy fats and a bit more crunch, too.
- Aim for five grams of fiber per serving. The other major item you should check for is fiber. “Fiber is really important to look for in cereal, because we don’t get enough as it is and whole-grain cereal is a great way to get it in the morning,” Taub-Dix says. Choose brands with at least five grams of fiber in each serving, with a mix of soluble (which can help decrease the risk of disease, stabilize blood sugar, and lower cholesterol) and insoluble (the type that keeps your digestive system moving).
- Opt for brands with five grams or less of sugar per serving. On the flip side of much-needed fiber, you have unnecessary sugar. “A good thing to know is that when there’s a lot of added sugar, there will also be a high carbohydrate number,” says Taub-Dix. The closer the sugar number is to the carb number on the nutrition label, the more sweet stuff and less grains there are in the box. So keep sugar under control by choosing brands with about five grams or less of sugar per serving.
-Be sure there's protein. Smith says to go for a bowl with three to five grams of the muscle-building macronutrient.
For a hearty bowl of grains, check out this list of the best healthy cereals.