Looking for a healthy cereal? Use these rules for reading nutrition labels to find a healthy cereal for your kids (and you too!).
Cereal is something I get asked about a lot: Is cereal healthy, or is it bad for you? Should I be looking for heart healthy, high calorie, low sugar, whole grain or high fiber? So I’m happy to share this excerpt from the new book Mom’s Sugar Solution, written by dietitian Laura Hoover of the site Smart Eating For Kids. She shares the label-reading rules she uses to find a healthy cereal, plus a list of 20 low-sugar picks.
How to Choose a Healthy Cereal
By Laura Hoover, MPH, RDN
Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals have many practical benefits: They are affordable, quick to get on the table, require almost no clean-up, and are generally well-liked. Unfortunately, many are loaded with sugar. Luckily, with more than 100 kinds of cereal in most grocery stores, there are several that can fit into a low-sugar lifestyle. The following nutrition criteria can help you make smart choices:
Look for a Cereal with ≤200 Calories
In general, your child’s breakfast cereal should have around 200 calories or less per serving. This allows for the addition of milk and fruit, while still remaining within a reasonable calorie range for the day. When reading the Nutrition Facts to determine the calories, don’t forget to check out the serving size.
A serving size of cereal can vary from 1/2 cup to more than one cup. If you know that your child generally eats more than a half-cup of a given cereal, and that cereal has a relatively high calorie count, it’s time to find a better alternative.
Look for a Low Sugar Breakfast Cereal (≤6 grams)
In general, opt for cereals that have 6 grams or less of total sugar. When reading the ingredient list, be wary of cereals that have multiple forms of sugar (i.e. evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrate). Also, many times cereals use dried fruit that has been coated in sugar. It’s better to simply add your own unsweetened dried fruit.
If your child’s favorite cereal is slightly higher than this amount, try mixing it with another no-sugar or low-sugar option. This can also be a good strategy to use as your child transitions to a lower-sugar way of life.
Your Kids Need a High-Fiber Cereal (≥5 grams)
Choose a cereal with at least 5 grams of fiber to help your child meet the recommended daily value of 25 grams and feel full until lunchtime. In addition to reading the Nutrition Facts label for the fiber amount, look for first ingredients like 100% whole wheat, oats or another grain.
If the front of the box says “whole grain” then at least half the grain ingredients are whole. If it says “100% whole grain” it means that all the grain ingredients are whole grain. If your child’s favorite cereal is low in sugar, but also low in fiber, add your own toppings to help boost the fiber content, such as fresh fruit, nuts, flax seeds or chia seeds.
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Find a Cereal With No artificial colors or flavors
Some cereals use artificial colors to give cereal a colorful kid-appeal. However, research has shown that about 15 percent of the population may be sensitive to these dyes, resulting in hyperactivity or attention problems. It’s best to avoid them altogether.
Likewise, some cereals use artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium as a way to reduce the sugar and/or calorie content. Again, there is some evidence linking these ingredients to potential negative health effects, making them best to avoid.
What are the Best Healthy Cereals?
Here’s a list of 20 low-sugar, high-fiber cereals:
- Arrowhead Mills® Puffed Millet (Total Sugar: 0 g)
- Barbara’s Bakery® Shredded Wheat (Total Sugar: 0 g)
- Kashi® 7 Whole Grain Puffs (Total Sugar: 0 g)
- Purely Elizabeth® Apple Cinnamon Pecan Ancient Grain Oatmeal (Total Sugar: 0 g)
- Bob’s Red Mill® Gluten Free Classic Oatmeal Cup (Total Sugar: 1 g)
- Cascadian Farms® Purely O’s (Total Sugar: 1 g)
- General Mills® Cheerios (Total Sugar: 1 g)
- Erewhon® Cinnamon Crispy Brown Rice (Total Sugar: 2 g)
- Bob’s Red Mill® Paleo Style Muesli (Total Sugar 3 g)
- General Mills® Kix (Total Sugar: 3 g)
- General Mills® Wheaties (Total Sugar: 4 g)
- Barbara’s Bakery® Original Puffins (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- Barbara’s Bakery® Cinnamon Puffins (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- Barbara’s Bakery® Honey Rice Puffins (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- General Mills® Total (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- Kashi® Heart to Heart Toasted Oat Cereal (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- Nature’s Path® Oaty Bites (Total Sugar: 5 g)
- Barbara’s Bakery® Peanut Butter Puffins (Total Sugar: 6 g)
- Purely Elizabeth® Original Ancient Grain Granola (Total Sugar: 6 g)
- Quaker® Life Original (Total Sugar: 6 g)
Download Laura’s FREE shopping companion guide for a list of 100 lower sugar items that still taste great. It includes cereals, granola bars, yogurts, cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, frozen treats and sauces, most of which have less than 6 grams of total sugar.
Excerpted from Mom’s Sugar Solution: 150 Low-Sugar Recipes for Your Kids’ Favorite Foods, Sweet Treat, and More! by Laura Hoover, MPH, RDN, Adams Media.
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