There are so many choices in the cereal aisle it is very difficult to narrow it down to one or two healthy options. In 1970 there were approximately 160 different types of breakfast cereal. Today there are over 4500 different cereals to choose from. It can be very overwhelming to select the healthiest option. Price is also an important factor because cereal can be expensive, especially if your portion size is actually considered two servings.
What are you looking for on the cereal box to help you make the best decision?
- Whole grain: Preferably the first two ingredients are a whole grain or bran such as whole wheat, oats or barley. Whole grains are higher in fiber, protein and nutrients like iron, magnesium and B-vitamins.
- High fiber: 4-5 gm of total fiber per serving
- Look for unprocessed fiber vs. processed, such as inulin, chicory root fiber, soluble corn or wheat flour. Processed fiber may not provide the same benefits to your GI system as unprocessed fiber. Unprocessed fiber is wheat bran, whole grain wheat and oats.
- Low sugar: Less than 5-7 gm total sugar per serving
- Higher protein which helps you stay full longer. Sweet cereals may have 1-2 gm of protein; healthier options will have 5-10 gm of protein per serving.
- Low sodium: Preferably less than 140 mg sodium per serving
- Saturated fat: Less than 2.5 gm saturated fat per serving. A few granolas may have enough chocolate or coconut to hit 3-6 gm!
- Serving sizes can vary from 1/4 – 1/2 cup, so pay attention to the actual amount of cereal you are consuming.
Consider healthy toppings to add to your cereal to increase the nutritional content and taste satisfaction. Suggestions include slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, hemp seeds for protein, and flax seeds for omega 3s. Finally, fresh fruit is always better than dried fruit because it has less sugar.
Cereal can be a healthy breakfast option or between-meal snack if you have spent some time studying the label to identify key nutritional contributions, plus you are consuming the recommended portion size.