by Alison Brinker, RD, LD
Cereal can be a great breakfast choice with so many varieties to choose from and also a good snack packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber. It can be eaten dry, with milk or stirred into yogurt. However, it is important to know what to look for when choosing a cereal, because many claim to be healthier than they really are.
A healthy cereal will contain:
- About 100 calories per serving or 15 grams of carbohydrate per serving
- 2 or more grams of protein
- At least 3 grams of fiber, 5 grams or more is ideal
- Less than 3 grams of total fat and no trans fat or hydrogenated oils
- 8 grams or less of sugar per serving
- A whole grain as the first ingredient (or look for the whole grain stamp)
Be sure to check serving sizes when comparing cereal labels. Serving size needs to be the same between the two brands you are comparing or it is not a fair comparison. Some manufacturers will make the serving size smaller so all the other numbers such as calories, carbs, fat, and sugar look better.
Beware of cereals that claim to contain yogurt and be high in calcium. This “yogurt” is usually a combination of sugar, palm kernel oil (a saturated fat) and dried non-fat yogurt. The calcium does not come from the yogurt, but is added to the cereal.
Check the ingredient list for the source of fiber. Isolated fibers such as inulin, maltodextrin, soy fiber, modified wheat starch, sugarcane fiber and polydextrose only improve regularity and do not offer the other benefits of fiber such as decreased cholesterol and improved glucose control like natural, intact fiber does. Natural, intact fiber will not be part of the ingredient list as it occurs naturally in a cereal made with whole grains.