Walking through the grocery store can seem like a maze, one with deliciously tempting foods in every direction. Unfortunately, many of these foods are lacking in nutrition, and finding a healthy breakfast cereal can definitely be a struggle. You’ve probably been concerned about whether your cereal is healthy, considering that most cereals have a lot of added sugar. While daily requirements of nutrients can vary based on gender, age, activity level, and health condition, there’s a general consensus on the ideal range of how much sugar we should eat in a day. Shockingly, that allotment can be squandered in one measly bowl of sugary cereal.
“When choosing a cereal, one of the best things to do is look at the fiber and sugar content on the Nutrition Facts label,” advises Ashlea Braun, a dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Once you have mastered the basic terminology, you’ll be better able to tailor serving sizes, gram count, and other dietary factors to your lifestyle.
Stephanie Perruzza, MS, CDN, and registered dietitian suggests that you should choose cereals made with 100 percent whole grains, meaning “whole grains, like oats or barley, which are listed as the first ingredient on the ingredient list. Look for varieties that provide a good source of fiber (at least three grams per serving) and limited amounts of sugar.” Braun recommends aiming for below 10 grams of sugar per serving.
If plain oats won’t do it for you, and you need that extra bit of sweetness, it’s better to add fresh fruit to cereal in order to boost flavor and nutrition. Braun explains that, “There are some cereals that have fruit added, though I often find these also include extra added sugar, so a better option is to buy a fruitless cereal low in sugar and toss in your own fresh fruit, like blueberries, or dried fruit with no added sugar, like raisins.”
It’s also important to be mindful of sodium content in cereal. Braun explains that many cereals are high in sodium, so choosing a brand that has less than 200mg per serving is the way to go. She also advises that, “Limiting added sugar is a good idea, which can take on names such as sugar, cane syrup, and brown sugar syrup; these shouldn’t be listed at all or only once at the most, and should appear later in the list of ingredients.”
Braun maintains that choosing cereals with short ingredient lists are best. “Many cereals have long ingredient lists to begin with because they are fortified with vitamins and minerals,” Braun says, but urges that fewer ingredients are ideal.
Although it may be tough to part with your favorite sugary cereal, try sitting down for breakfast with a healthy bowl, one that’s packed with whole grains, fresh fruit, fiber, and protein.