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Wellness Center

Healthy cereal

03/28/2007

Question:

I wish to eat healthy cereal. However, I understand that most major cereal brands are heavily laden with sugar and presumably not very healthy. For example, Cocoa Puffs lists sugar first in its list of ingredients. I understand that this means that sugar is the largest ingredient. It says that it has 120 calories per cup. In contrast, Kashi Heart to Heart cereal is supposed to be very healthy. Sugar is not listed as an ingregient (it does list evaporated cane juice which may be a form of sugar). It says that it has 110 calories per 3/4 cup, which equals 146.666 calories per cup. That is more than the unhealthy Cocoa Puffs. I will gain more weight or loose less with Heart to Heart. Which cereal is healthier? What cereal do you recommend to lose weight?

Answer:

Thanks for your question.  Despite the number of sugar-coated, "kiddie" cereals available on the market, there are quite a few healthy ones available.  When shopping for healthy cereal, keep these points in mind:

1)  Go for whole grain.  Whole grains (or unprocessed cereals) typically contain more fiber and less sugar and than most cereals.  Fiber is beneficial in keeping your bowels regular and may also aid in weight loss, cholesterol reduction and blood glucose control.  Good sources of whole grains include oats, oatbran, corn bran, shredded wheat, wheat bran, Muesli and low fat granola.  Be careful with granola however, as it may contain a lot of added sugar.

As for your question above, Kashi is one brand that is very high in fiber and typically moderate in sugar.  As far as the calories go, it may be a bit higher than sugar-coated cereal, but it will keep you feeling fuller longer (because of the fiber) and will likely help in your effort to lose weight  (not hinder it).

2)  Keep sugar content low.  You are correct that the first 3 ingredients on a food label make up the majority of a food's contents.  When choosing cereals, choose those that contain 5 grams of sugar or less per serving.  There is 1 tsp. of added sugar per 4 grams of sugar.  So a cereal with 24 grams of sugar per serving would contain ~6 tsp. of sugar per serving.

3)  Limit processed cereals such as Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes or Puffed cereals.  Although these may be low in sugar, they are not very high in fiber and are therefore digested quickly.  You may find yourself feeling hungry within 1-2 hours of eating these types of processed cereals.

4)  Choose 1% or skim (fat-free) milk over 2% or whole milk.  The milk you choose can add a significant amount of fat and calories to your cereal.  For example, a cup of skim milk has ~90 calories and zero fat, while an 8 oz. cup of whole milk contains ~150 calories and 8 grams of fat.

5)  Add fresh, frozen or dried fruit to cereal to increase the vitamins, minerals and fiber of your breakfast.  Sliced bananas, berries or dried fruit (raisins, dried cranberries) are great additions to a boring bowl of bran.

6)  Choose healthy foods the rest of the day.  A healthy bowl of oats or shredded wheat cannot make up for burgers, fries and candy bars consumed later on.  Be sure to choose low fat, high fiber foods throughout the day for weight management and optimal health.

For more tips on healthy eating, check out the American Dietetic Association web site and Dietary Guidelines for Americans (click on the links below).

Related Resources:

American Dietetic Association
Dietary Guidelines

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati