Home > Nutrition > Healthy Breakfast: What is the Best Cereal?

Healthy Breakfast: What is the Best Cereal?

Nearly half of Americans eat cereal for breakfast. There are so many choices available that it can be overwhelming, but finding healthier cereals doesn’t have to be. Cereal is a great way to start the day with wholegrain carbohydrates and fiber. Wholegrains contain protective antioxidants and may reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

When it comes to choosing cereal, don’t judge it by the front of the box, which often boasts catchy and misleading claims. Flip it over for the Nutrition Facts and Ingredient List. Here are some simple guidelines (note that there are exceptions to these guidelines):

Serving Size: This is the amount in one serving. If you eat either more or less than the listed serving, adjust the numbers accordingly.

  • Calories: 200 calories less or per serving
  • Fiber: 5 grams of fiber or more per serving
  • Sugars: 8 grams of sugar or less per serving

Calories: A general rule of thumb for breakfast calories is about of 300-400 for the meal. Your body needs the fuel in the morning to get you going. When you add up cereal with fat-free or low fat milk and ½- 1 cup of fruit, you can meet this block of calories. Beware of denser heavier cereals, like granola, that contain more calories than you think. One cup can have more than 400 calories!

Fiber: Cereals made with wholegrains can be high in fiber which helps fill you up.  The bottom line in narrowing down your cereal choices is honing in on its fiber content. Aim for 5 grams (g) or higher with exception to Whole Grain Cheerios. Though it is lower in fiber, with 3 g per serving, Cheerios are a good source of the soluble type fiber which can help lower cholesterol. Kellogg’s Cinnamon Oat Crunch and Kashi Heart to Heart are even higher in fiber than Cheerios. I usually recommend these for the higher soluble fiber count. The daily recommendation for fiber is between 21-38 g of fiber per day, based on your age and gender.

Sugars: These days people are reading labels for sugar, with less regard for calories. I would like to clarify that sugar is not as important as fiber content and wholegrains listed on the Ingredient List. As a general rule, look for 8 g or less sugar per serving, however some cereals qualify as healthy even when they have even as much as 13 g of sugar per serving. Examples are Kashi Go Lean Crunch and Fiber One Caramel Delight.

Ingredient List:

  • The first or second ingredients should be whole grain, such as “whole wheat flour,” “wholegrain wheat,” “whole grain oats”, or “bran.” If the word “whole” does not appear in front of the grain than it’s probably refined, as in “wheat,” “rice,” or “rice flour.” Processed grains are refined and not whole grains. The recommendation is that your intake of grains should come from wholegrains, but more than half is optimal. Note that even if the front of the box says “made with wholegrains,” the cereal may contain a minimal amount.
  • Fake vs. Real Fruit: the strawberries or raspberries in cereals may be made from powder, gelatin and food dyes and don’t qualify as real fruit. Read the ingredient list to verify that what you’re getting is real, like raisins in Raisin Bran.
  • Yogurt Clusters: don’t be fooled by the little yogurt clusters. They contain a coating of sugar and oil and don’t qualify as a healthy yogurt, as the name implies.

Here’s a list of my favorite cereal picks:

Fiber One Honey ClustersGeneral Mills Fiber One Honey Clusters

Serving Size: 1 cup; Calories: 160; Fiber: 13 g; Sugars: 6 g

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Fiber One 80Fiber One 80 Calories

Serving Size: ¾ cup; Calories: 80; Fiber: 10 g; Sugars: 3 g

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Kashi Go LeanKashi Go Lean

Serving Size: 1 cup; Calories: 140; Fiber: 10 g; Sugars: 6 g

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Kellogg's Fiber PlusKellogg’s Fiber Plus Cinnamon Oat Crunch

Serving Size: ¾ cup; Calories: 110; Fiber: 9 g; Sugars: 8 g

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Kashi Heart to HeartKashi Heart to Heart

Serving Size: ¾ cup; Calories: 120 g; Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 5 g

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cereal-caramel-delightFiber One Caramel Delight
Serving Size: 1 cup; Calories: 180; Fiber: 9 g; Sugars: 10 g
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Cereal_All Bran BudsGeneral Mills All Bran Buds
Serving Size: 1/3 cup; Calories: 70; Fiber: 13 g; Sugars: 8 g
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cereal_multigrain_cheeriosMulti Grain Cheerios
Serving Size: 1 cup; Calories: 110; Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 6 g
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cereal_Kashi go lean crsipKashi Go Lean Crisp Toasted Berry Crumble
Serving Size: ¾ cup; Calories: 180; Fiber: 8 g; Sugars: 10 g
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Who says cereal is just for breakfast? You can also enjoy it as a great topping for fat-free or low fat yogurt. Top it with some fresh or frozen fruit, such as berries, for a sweet kick. Try out different cereals and pick the one that satisfies your taste buds.

  1. Patty Kirk
    April 2, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Excellent article!

    • Elana Zimelman
      April 2, 2013 at 10:51 am

      Thank you Patty!

  2. Susan Y
    April 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Very useful information! I’ve been eating Special K Cinnamon Pecan every morning. The label appears to be in line with the recommendations in this article. Anyone have other info on Special K cereals that should be taken as a not-so-healthy warning?

    • Elana Zimelman
      April 2, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Thank you Susan for your comment. Special K cereals tend to be a little lower in fiber. Keep enjoying the Cinnamon Pecan flavor and consider mixing it half and half with a higher fiber cereal for the extra fiber boost. Try out some of the ones listed in the article and see what you think!

  3. Colin Luckens
    April 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    what about Shredded Wheat?? this is my favourite by far…

    • Elana Zimelman
      April 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      Colin, thanks for your comment! Shredded Wheat, though not listed, is a great choice and fits the criteria. The original version is notable for having per 1 cup serving, 6g of fiber, virtually no sugar and 0mg sodium. Keep enjoying!

  4. Katherine Greenwood
    August 10, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Have you ever tried Uncle Sam cereal? I use it as a base and add a few chopped walnuts or pecans, fruit such as blueberries or strawberries or even chopped apples, sprinkle a little cinnamon on top. Delicious and nutritious. Makes a great dinner as well as breakfast.

    • Elana Zimelman
      August 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      Hi Katherine, thanks for your helpful tips! I do like and recommend to my patients at Cooper Clinic Uncle Sam’s cereal, so thanks for that suggestion!

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