I grew up on cereal. And not just the occasional bowl for breakfast. I mean eating the stuff morning, noon, and night when my brother and I would line up the boxes on the table, mix and match pounds of the various flavors, and down these overly refined carbs by the spoonful. And raise your hand if you’ve ever purposefully poured extra milk into the first bowl with the sole intention of knowing you’d need extra cereal so you wouldn’t “waste the milk.” (Every true cereal eater does this.)
Now if you take a stroll down the cereal aisle, there are so many options you don’t know where to turn. Grabbing for the boxes with cartoon characters is fine when you’re still living with your parents, but you can get your cereal fix without reverting to childhood indulgences and nutritional train wrecks to start your day. The first rule of thumb is to look at the fiber, sugar, and protein content. The benefit is that fiber and protein help fill you up, curbing your appetite later in the day so you eat less overall. Avoiding heavy sugar will keep you from crashing and craving more. Let’s take a look at some of the worst choices, and offer a better alternative. If you have your spoon ready, let’s go!
1. Golden Crisp
This cereal—marketed to kids with the friendly “Sugar Bear”—has just six ingredients on its food label. Sounds good so far, right? Well, until you find out the first of those six is sugar and the others are wheat, corn syrup, honey, caramel color, and salt. All this adds up to 14 grams of sugar and just 1 gram of fiber.
Try this: Kashi Honey Sunshine Squares
Still looking for that honey sweetness? Try Kashi Honey Sunshine Squares, which pack in 5 grams of fiber, just 6 grams of sugar, and 20 grams of whole grains.
2. Honey Bunches of Oats Granola—Raspberry
Though it starts strong with oats as the first ingredient, the next few include brown sugar, oil, corn syrup, and sugar. (Among a few others.) Unfortunately the oats don’t pack much of a wallop, with a 2/3-cup serving packing just 3 grams of fiber out of a total 40 grams of carbs. It also has a decent amount of sugar, coming in at 14 grams per serving.
Try this: KIND Cinnamon Oat Clusters with Flax Seeds
For nearly the same serving size, KIND Cinnamon Oat Clusters will soon pack more than double the amount of fiber—7 grams—and a nice whole grain combo of oats, brown rice, buckwheat, amaranth, millet, and quinoa. Add in the 5 grams of protein and this is great as cereal or as a topper for high protein cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
3. Froot Loops
When I was traveling to Iceland to speak a few years ago, I had an odd request from our host. “Can you bring some boxes of Froot Loops in your suitcase? It’s not allowed to be sold here because of the food colorings.” So not only is the first ingredient on the nutrition panel sugar, the cereal also includes partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat). The ingredients also list and a whole slew of food colorings like red 40, blue 2, yellow 6 and blue 1, which may increase risk for hyperactivity in children, affect allergies, and possibly increase cancer risk, according to some animal studies.
Try this: Cascadian Farm Organic Fruitful O’s
With 3 grams of fiber per serving and zero food colorings, this cereal offers the same “fun” colors without any artificial colors.
Don’t fall for the “whole-grain guarantee.” Three out of 10 of the ingredients are food colors, it’s lacking in fiber, and sugar rears its ugly head several times throughout the ingredient list.
Try this: Kashi Strawberry Fields
With 5 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and real fruit in the form of freeze dried strawberries and raspberries, this one will also leave you with some vibrant milk at the end from the colors in actual fruit.
5. Honey Smacks
The ingredients of this sugar bomb lists some form of sugar in three of the first four ingredients, followed by partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat), salt, and caramel color. This results in 15 grams of sugar and just 1 gram of fiber in each 3/4-cup serving.
Try this: Kashi GOLEAN Crunch! Honey Almond Flax Cereal
The fiber and protein in this cereal—at 8 and 9 grams, respectively—are impressive. With the hint of sweetness from honey and 500mg of omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a solid alternative to another bowl of Honey Smacks.
6. Good Morenings Waffle Crunch
Reading through the ingredient list, the second ingredient is sugar, and just a few below that is partially hydrogenated soybean oil (e.g., trans fat). Cereal can be good for one thing and that’s fiber—but with just 1 gram per serving, this isn’t one of the cereals that can make that claim.
Try this: Grape Nuts Vintage
This is old school, and I love it. You can’t get more basic than this ingredient list—just five easy-to-pronounce ingredients like “whole grain wheat flour” and “yeast”—a bowl of this has 7 grams of fiber, just 5 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of protein in just 1/2-cup. That 1/2-cup adds up quickly, so I always like this as a way to add a nice crunch to my Greek yogurt.
7. Kellogg’s Smart Start Strong Heart Antioxidants Cereal
Don’t let the “strong heart antioxidant” name trick you—even though it’s fortified with 100 percent of the RDA for many vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, which is known for its antioxidant “power,” it’s also one of the highest sugar cereals on the market with a hefty 14 grams per serving and just 3 grams of fiber. There are certainly better options.
Try this: Frosted Mini Wheats Original
There are very few ingredients in this product, starting with whole-grain wheat. And these few ingredients provide 6 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. So though the sugar is close to the other option, the amped up fiber and protein put this one out on top.