One of the most common choices for breakfast in the United States today is ready-to-eat cereal. But if you’ve walked down the cereal isle lately, choosing one or more of those cereals for you or your grandchildren can be a daunting task. It’s a long isle and there are so many choices! Many of the cereals are healthy but just as many are loaded with sugar, fat and artificial colors or flavors to look out for. Do you ever feel at a loss as to which to choose?
The cereals you pick as a breakfast or a snack for yourself and your grandkids can add valuable nutrition or a large amount of nothing to your diets. To narrow your list, let’s look at what a “healthy” cereal should provide. Four great healthy cereal attributes to look for are: made with whole grains, high in fiber, low in sugar and low in saturated and trans fat.
Fiber / Whole Grain
It’s worth looking for higher-fiber whole grain cereals. Whole grain cereals provide lots of fiber, which is good for us in many ways. Fiber helps prevent constipation and it may cut the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol. It also has been shown to reduce the risk of diverticulosis, and cancer. Add a few chunks of fresh fruit to add even more fiber. Aim for at least 5 grams or more per serving from your cereals and a minimum of 25 grams every day.
Low in Sugar
Try to steer clear of the candy-type of cereal and go for the ones that contain 8 grams or less. Keep an eye out for words that mean sugar like dextrose, maltose, honey, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose and corn sweetener. Look at the number of sugar grams on the Nutrition Facts label from your favorite cereal brands and buy the one showing the fewest grams, which indicates the lowest amount of sugar.
Low in Saturated Fat and Trans Fat
Most cereals are already low in fat but remember that there are lower-fat versions of granola on the shelves now.
There are many fiber-rich cooked cereals to choose from. They include oatmeal; cream of wheat, whole-grain couscous rolled oats and grits. “Instant” cooked cereals The nutritional content of “instant” cooked cereals is essentially the same as other cooked cereals. One mineral that the instant-type cereal may contain higher levels of is sodium, so read the Nutrition Facts label in case you need to limit sodium in your diet. To add flavor and nutrition to cooked cereals, try these ideas:
- top with fruit (fresh or dried).
- blend in chopped nuts or grated low-fat cheese.
- Instead of water, use low-fat or fat-free milk as the cooking liquid.
- add dry milk to fortify with extra calcium.
- sprinkle with your favorite spices (e.g. cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice).
Other Healthy Cereal Tips
Drink the milk left in your bowl when you’ve finished the cereal. Milk contains protein and lots of calcium which is important for all age groups.
Eat dry cereal as a nutrient packed snack right out of the box. Take some in a baggie to work or pack it in the grandkids’ lunch pail or bag.
Make your cookie recipes healthier by adding a whole grain cereal to your cookie dough for more fiber, nutrients and texture.
Now that you’ve done your homework and found a nutritious breakfast cereal for yourself and your grandkids you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that you’ve gotten everyone off to a healthy start every day.
Links for more ideas:
ClemsonUniversityCooperative Extension: Choosing Breakfast Cereals
The Bell Institute: Bridge to Breakfast
Healthy Alternatives to Sugary Cereals Video
Janice Wade-Miller is a nutrition educator in Tallahassee, Florida. She has earned her bachelors and masters degrees in Food and Nutrition from Florida State University. In her role as a health educator, she has assisted all age groups, from young children to senior citizens in learning about good nutrition, health and food safety. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.