How to Pick a Healthy Breakfast Cereal

November 24, 2014 Updated: November 24, 2014

The most healthful cereals are made with whole grains and not much else. If you’re trying to lose weight, control cholesterol or diabetes, or just need a lot of energy, your best bet is a hot cooked cereal of whole grains, such as oatmeal; or barley, brown rice or wheat berries cooked and served like oatmeal. Flavor it with raisins or other dried fruits, cinnamon, and perhaps a handful of nuts such as pinenuts.

If you prefer cold cereal, you need to check the list of ingredients carefully. The FIRST ingredient should be a whole grain. Then scan through the entire list and if you see the words “partially hydrogenated,” put the box back on the shelf. We recommend that you avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils (or “trans fats”), and they still show up in a few cereals (see the list below.)

Once you’ve eliminated all the brands made with refined grains or partially hydrogenated oils, check for ADDED sugars (you want little or none) and fiber (you want a lot.)

Raisins or other dried fruits will add a lot of grams of sugar to the listing on the nutrition panel; they are not distinguished from added sugars, so you can only estimate the amounts. Check the list of ingredients instead.

The fiber content listed on the nutrition label can be confusing because it’s based on serving size, and very light cereals (such as puffed wheat) show little fiber per serving, but an acceptable amount when you adjust for weight. Cereals made from bran (the outer covering removed from whole grains) will have higher fiber content than cereals made from whole grains (which have the germ and starchy parts of the grains as well as the fiber), but they can be hard to digest.

Update on Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats):I’m delighted to report that partially hydrogenated oils have been taken out of most cereals. My original list included 56 brands with PHO’s; my most recent check found only seven! The disappearance of PHO’s from cereal shelves shows that consumer pressue CAN make a difference. Still, read through the list of ingredients to make sure.

Is it really whole grain? Manufacturers have also responded to the call for more whole grains in our diet, so you will find a lot more choices that meet my recommendation of “whole grains as the first ingredient”. However, many that claim to be “whole grain” still include refined grains. You may need to do some detective work to see what you’re getting. One-ingredient whole grain cereals (i.e., shredded wheat, puffed wheat, oatmeal) are sure bets. If you see milled corn, corn meal, wheat flour or rice in the list of ingredients, you’re getting a mixture of whole and refined grains.

Note: The list below includes only major national brand cereals. Many minor brands and store brands meet the guidelines listed above; read the labels and add your own favorites to the “recommended” list.

Recommended: Cereals Made With All or Mostly Whole Grains

(No trans fats, little or no added sugars; but check the list of ingredients — recipes can change.)

Cheerios – General Mills
Chex, Wheat or Multi Grain – General Mills
Cinnamon Toast Crunch – General Mills
Cinnamon Grahams – General Mills
French Toast Crunch – General Mills
Golden Grahams – General Mills
Grape Nuts – Post
Grape Nut Flakes – Post
Great Grains, all varieties – Post
Healthy Choice Mueslix – Kelloggs
Healthy Choice Almond Crunch with Raisins – Kelloggs
Healthy Choice Low Fat Granola – Kelloggs
Healthy Choice Toasted Brown Sugar Squares – Kelloggs
Kashi (all varieties) – Kashi Company
Life – Quaker
Mini-Wheats, all varieties – Kelloggs
Muesli – Familia
Nutri-Grain, all varieties – Kelloggs
Oatmeal Crisp, all varieties – General Mills
Oatmeal Squares – Quaker
Organic Healthy Fiber Multigrain Flakes – Health Valley
Puffed Wheat – Quaker and others
Shredded Wheat, all varieties and sizes – Post and others
Smart Start – Kelloggs
South Beach Diet Toasted Wheats
Total – General Mills
Uncle Sam – U.S. Mills
Wheaties – General Mills
Barbara’s, Cascadian Farm, Mother’s, Nature’s Promise and other smaller brands that specialize in “healthful” cereals (but always check the list of ingredients).

Recommended: All Bran or High Bran Cereals

(no trans fats, little or no added sugars. )

100% Bran – Post
All Bran, all varieties – Kelloggs
Bran Flakes – Post
Chex, Multi-Bran – General Mills
Complete Wheat Bran Flakes – Kelloggs
Complete Oat Bran Flakes – Kelloggs
Cracklin’ Oat Bran – Kelloggs
Crunchy Corn Bran – Quaker
Fiber 7 Flakes – Health Valley
Fiber One – General Mills
Fruit & Bran – Post
Granola, Low Fat – Kelloggs
Oat Bran – Quaker
Oat Bran Flakes – Health Valley
Oat Bran Flakes with Raisins – Health Valley
Organic Bran with Raisins – Health Valley
Raisin Bran – Kelloggs
Raisin Bran Flakes – Health Valley
Raisin Bran, Whole Grain Wheat – Post
Raisin Nut Bran – General Mills
Shredded Wheat ‘n’ Bran – Post
Total, Raisin Bran – General Mills
Weight Watchers Flakes ‘n’ Fiber
100% Natural Granola – Quaker

Not Recommended – Cereals That STILL Contain Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Trans Fats) at Last Check

These cereals also are primarily refined grains and are high in added sugars.

Basic Four – General Mills
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pops – Kelloggs
Cocoa Krispies – Kelloggs
Corn Pops – Kelloggs
Froot Loops – Kelloggs
Mini-Swirlz – Kelloggs
Mini-Wheats Strawberry – Kelloggs
Smacks – Kelloggs

Not Recommended – Cereals Made from Refined Grains

Many of these also contain a lot of added sugar

Apple Jacks – Kelloggs
Cap’n Crunch, all varieties – Quaker
Chex, Rice or Corn – General Mills
Cocoa Frosted Flakes – Kelloggs
Cocoa Blasts – Quaker
Cocoa Pebbles – Post
Cocoa Puffs – General Mills
Cookie Crisp/Chocolate Chip – General Mills
Corn Pops – Kelloggs
Corn Flakes – Kelloggs and others
Count Chocula – General Mills
Crispix – Kelloggs
Frosted Flakes – Kelloggs
Fruity Pebbles – Post
Honey Bunches of Oats – Post
Honey Comb – Post
Honey Nut Clusters – General Mills
Kix – General Mills
Lucky Charms – General Mills
Product 19 – Kelloggs
Puffed Rice – Quaker
Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs – General Mills
Rice Krispies, all varieties – Kelloggs
Special K – Kelloggs
Total Corn Flakes – General Mills

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